The 24/7 media coverage of the death of Michael Jackson and the aftermath reminded me once again how totally out of touch I am with the popular music of the last three-quarters of a century. I am not a total dork. I can talk The Young and the Restless with the best of them, I am well aware of what tribles are, and who, or what, the Borg are [or is], I have watched most of the episodes of NCIS, and, though I have never seen a single episode of American Idol, I knew, in my day, who the Fonz was. But I have simply never been able to establish any emotional connection with Jazz, Swing, Be Bop, Country and Western, Heavy Metal, or Rap.
Almost thirty years ago, I ran into my older son, Patrick, then a teenager, in the kitchen [a rare sighting, since he was usually holed up in his room studying chess]. He was listening to something with his headphones. When I asked him what it was, he said [I think] "Hall and Oates." I must have made a face, because he stopped me dead by saying, very earnestly, "You have to respect a person's music, Dad." I was properly chastized, and never again interfered with his musical preferences.
But though I am prepared to respect it, I cannot feel it. Since I have been thirteen or so, I have been enraptured by early music. I took out seventy-eight rpm recordings of Gregorian Chant and listened to them over and over. I courted Susie when we were fifteen by taking her to concerts of the Bach Aria Group and listening to her recording of the B Minor Mass. Classical music, especially of the Baroque period, has for me an erotic appeal as deep and as intense as that experienced by a fan of Jazz or Pop. I don't think I have ever actually listened to a Michael Jackson number all the way through, but if you told me that Paul O'Dette had died, or that the Boromeo Quartet was breaking up, I would be devastated.
Now, there is no accounting for tastes, so in a sense this is no more significant than the fact that I do not like pistacchio ice cream. But I consider myself a trenchant social critic [well, a social critic anyway -- I will leave "trenchant" to the obituaries], and it is hard to see how I can engage in serious social criticism if I am tone deaf to the dominant cultural phenomenon of contemporary society.