Rock and roll is here to stay, but parents might not find that comforting anymore


Mick Jagger is a grandfather. Crosby, Stills and Nash have enough gray hair and paunch to get them into a VFW meeting. The daughter of a Beach Boy has her own talk show.

I pound the steering wheel in time as the car rocks with the Allman Brothers, and my daughter humiliates me by pointing like John Travolta on the posters for "Saturday Night Fever."

My son saved his money and bought a CD player, and suddenly I think Tipper Gore didn't go far enough.

My parents were right. Rock and roll will make you crazy.

My first album was "Meet the Beatles." I was a charter subscriber to Rolling Stone magazine. I have lived my life with a soundtrack running in my head, and when I hear certain songs, they produce an involuntary surge of memory in me as sharp as the taste of metal in my mouth.

Rock and roll has energized me and comforted me and exposed parts of me that might otherwise have shriveled in the sun. In its lyrics have been feelings I could

find no words of my own to describe. If Simon and Garfunkel had not written "The Sounds of Silence," I might not have made it out of adolescence.

Why does music fail me now?

Who is Green Day? Who are the Cranberries? And why am I so afraid?

My 11-year-old listens to lyrics I cannot understand sung to a beat, not a melody, and I am my father yelling to turn that garbage off.

My 9-year-old daughter loves Boyz II Men and Babyface and music that undulates like the act of love, and I want to lock her in her room.

Suddenly, hatefully, rock and roll has become one more thing for me to police. Like movies, television, homework and the fat and caffeine content of my children's snacks.

"My oldest was 11 years old, too," said the vice president's wife on a recent visit to Baltimore. She spoke kindly to me. "That's when I started. That's why I started."

When Tipper Gore began her campaign to label music with offensive lyrics, I was a childless libertarian, and I thought she was an air-head Southern belle. The kind of Kappa Alpha blonde who wore Villager skirt and sweater sets to class while the rest of us wore black anti-war armbands.

Now, I want to write a check to the Parents' Music Resource Center, which she helped found, and take it off my taxes.

"It isn't about feeling vindicated. I always felt I was right," said Mrs. Gore. "The question was: How do you handle this in a free society? You don't ban music; you empower families, educate them.

"And the kids themselves. Ask them, 'Do you want to give your money to groups that sing about the rape or degradation of women?' "

The flood tide has caught up with Mrs. Gore on her beachhead, and, in response, the recording industry announced last month that it is beefing up its voluntary program of advisory labels on records. It is encouraging retailers to include ratings in advertising similar to those used in movie ads. And it has proposed similar warnings for music videos.

And I am grateful.

Parents such as I still don't want censorship -- we know that the mop heads from Liverpool only suborned our generation for a little while -- but we want sexual or violent lyrics labeled so we know what is going on when our kids shut their bedroom doors and crank up the bass.

Music lyrics will be another thing we argue about with our children -- the way our parents argued with us -- but our reaction does not have to be the visceral one our parents had. It can be informed, empowered. We can ask our kids, "Do you want to give your money to a group that sings about hate or violence?"

Our children only want what we wanted -- songs that tell their stories, a soundtrack for their lives, a beat that matches the pumping energy inside them.

So, when Hootie and the Blowfish come on the car radio, I crank up the volume and sing out loud, "I only wanna be with you."

My son is embarrassed, but he smiles. And it is like music to my ears.

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