Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Shark Week has brought the classic parental dilemma: the kids want to see the shows, but get scared to death while they watch. The Girl is suddenly scared of sharks in the shower. Part of me wants to shield them from the shows, but part of me thinks that learning to manage fear is an important part of growing up, as long as it isn’t much fear, and it isn’t well-founded. I remember being the same way about UFO’s as a kid. I’d watch some program on them -- In Search Of was a particular favorite -- and then be all jumpy for the rest of the night.
I hate to see them spooked, but I also remember kind of enjoying the idea of UFO’s.
So we’re rationing the viewing, and sometimes accompanying them while they watch. And appreciating the fact that it’s only a week. Shark documentaries just aren’t nearly as engrossing as Leonard Nimoy talking about spaceships.
I heard today that a key rule changed this summer. Apparently, part-time enrollment will now be enough for students to be on their parents’ health insurance. (Until now, they needed full-time status.) Not surprisingly, we’re seeing a sudden change in the ratio of part-time to full-time students, with the former growing and the latter shrinking.
If the usual trends hold, this will result in lower “on-time” graduation rates, but I’ll take it anyway. I just hope the folks who like to punish us for graduation rates don’t take this as ammunition, but something tells me they will.
Slate magazine is pretty hit-and-miss, as a rule, but its series this week on “progressive rock” is a hoot. I grew up in a cultural wasteland that was years behind the rest of the country, so the backwash of the prog rock movement was the soundtrack to every school bus ride for years. Burnouts with boomboxes would blast Rush from the back of the bus while the rest of us wished we were someplace else.
Seeing prog rock placed in some sort of musical context feels like solving a puzzle. I had heard many of the pieces over the years, but couldn’t make sense of them. Apparently, some of its early proponents were quite self-aware about building rock on European -- as opposed to African-American -- music. That’s why they were all about “trilogies,” and “codas,” and umlauts, and all the rest of it. (It also helps me appreciate This Is Spinal Tap even more; the druids/stonehenge sequence was pure prog rock.) It was both angry and intensely theatrical (“welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends...”), which is probably why I found it unlistenable. It’s just awful. It’s preposterous, yet entirely without humor. It manages to be technically complex, yet basically simpleminded.
To this day, I can’t hear “New World Man” or “Mr. Roboto” without wanting to leave the room immediately, and, preferably, take a shower (without sharks).
So it’s helpful to see that this wasn’t just some sort of beer belch from the gods of music. It was actually trying something. The thing in question was misguided, racist, and stupid, but in its time and place, you can sort of see how they got there. And knowing that it was still in the air years later, where I was subjected to it incessantly, tells you everything you need to know about growing up in a cultural afterthought. There’s nothing quite like revisiting the sounds of the school bus to feel better about life today.