Happy Valentine’s Day, If Possible

Today is Valentine’s Day, although you probably wouldn’t notice it here at the home office. Ours is a contentedly solitary home life, shared only with a crabby cat named Miss Ollie, as we’ve had our fill of romance and true love and all that at this late point in life, but we nonetheless wish an especially good day to anyone out there who is still so foolhardy as to fall in love.
Based on our observations of our vast and very diverse friendships and friendly acquaintanceships, which includes a lot of young folk, ¬†falling in love is less common than it used to be, and according to an astute columnist at The Washington Post there’s more scientific proof of that. He cites a professor’s study that 85 percent of “baby boomer” and “Gen. X” high school seniors went on dates, but that had fallen to 56 by 2015. Between 1989 and 2016 the percentage of twenty-somethings who were married had fallen from an already low 32 percent to unprecedented 19 percent, and we can count many many solitary individuals among our friends and friendly acquaintances of all ages.
Having come of age during the height of the Sexual Revolution, when everybody seemed to be heeding The Beatles’ advice to “Do It in the Road,” we’re quite surprised and entirely unsure what to make of the evidence that there’s also less sex going on, as the percentage of twenty-somethings who admit they haven’t been getting any lately has reportedly risen by half over the same ’89 to ’26 period. It’s fine by us if more young people have forgone the ephemeral pleasures and lasting pains of doing it in the road, but the same conservative instincts have us rooting despite all evidence for the propagation of the species, and when we note the falling birth rates, except in the poorest and most primitive parts of the world, it seems a mixed blessing.
All of these desultory statistics are backed up by our anecdotal evidence from the nightspots we visit,. We’ll often see attractive young couples in the next booth, but they’re invariably looking at those confounded machines in their palms rather into one another’s eyes. Our younger friends and friendly acquaintances frequently tell us about their sexual attraction to some other young friend or friendly acquaintance, but they don’t seem very hopeful, and they very rarely confess the sort of romantic yearnings we used to share with anyone who would listen. Try as we might to avoid the contemporary popular culture, it’s so unavoidable that we’ve noticed it doesn’t encourage romantic love the way it did back in the days of MGM musicals and clean-cut pop song crooners. Our politics are full of porn stars and Playboy playmates and serial marriages, and that’s just the Republicans, not to mention all the scandalous behavior those damned Democrats have long been up to..
Which is a shame, on the whole, as we figure it. True love entails risks, as we can readily attest, but so does life itself, and there’s no way life can go on without it. Among our many friends and friendly acquaintances we count many who have been happily coupled for many years, and like Walt Whitman we revel in “the chaste blessings of the well-married couple, and the fruits of orchards and flowers of gardens.”
We’ve been happily spared the perfunctory chores of buying chocolates and cards and flowers and expensive dinners at any restaurants the past several Valentine’s Days, but if you’re currently obliged to do so we urge you to do it hopefully. It might just work out happily ever after, and even if it doesn’t we can assure you there might be some memories you can warmly recall in some cold winter of your old age.

— Bud Norman

Popular Culture and Politics and Same-Sex Restrooms

Due to our upcoming brief appearance on the local amateur stage, the rehearsals for which have been taking up way too much of our time, we’ve lately been in contact with younger people. Worse yet, we’ve been in contact with their music, which is as awful as any more seasoned music-listener would expect, and also the similarly suspect political views that go along with it.
We’ve still found enough time to in the day to note a recent spate of stories on the internet about the alleged rights of self-identified transgendered people to choose the public restrooms of their choice and how people who object to same-sex marriages don’t have any right to decline to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies, and we’ve noted how what’s left of the popular culture has responded. Big time rock stars are canceling gigs in states that refuse to toe the currently acceptable line on such matters, including some that pre-date even our aging selves, and we glumly acknowledge the culture has been declining for a while now. Our musical heroes and heroines from the good old days never had to confront such questions, and who knows where the likes of Little Richard of Chuck Berry might have weighed in if he’d been asked, but we still fondly recall an era where none of this even came up.
The cultural rot has been occurring so long now that even we recognize most of the names. Bruce Springsteen was a big deal back when we graduated from high school, and we still like that “Born to Run” song about the highways jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive, but we can only roll our eyes at the news that the well-heeled one-percenter is declining a gig in North Carolina because he doesn’t like the state’s rule that prohibits people from penises from using a women’s public restroom in the state. We’re also old enough to remember the 15 minutes of fame that someone named Byian Adams had, and to note that he’s canceling a gig in Mississippi to make sure that some Baptist baker there is coerced into catering a same-sex wedding. Even Ringo Starr, one of The Beatles, who date from our early childhood and who actually were pretty damned good, is eschewing dates in North Carolina for its refusal to force those damned Baptist bakers to bake that same-sex wedding cake.
One of our old and non-rock-star-or-theatrical friends recently had some dinner and drinks with us, and he commented that most of his homosexual friends seemed to be faring well enough and that he didn’t know any transgendered people who were having any problems with the local accommodations, and that he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. We also don’t know any transgendered people who are having problems with the local restroom accommodations, and although our friend has a son we know some fine people with daughters that would rather not have them encountering some guy who claims to be transgendered in the public accommodations, and it seems danged strange we have to be even considering the question.
The young and relatively young people we’ve been running into lately seem a reasonable lot, though, by and large, and we think we can reach some reasonable agreement on these matters, no matter how egregious their musical tastes might seem.

— Bud Norman

When the Music Stopped

A television was on Sunday evening at one of the locally owned stores we frequent, and as we made our purchase we caught a glance of what looked like Madonna cavorting in a skimpy outfit among a chorus line of beefy fellows in what looked like minotaur costumes. We momentarily assumed it was a Super Bowl half-time show before recalling that a Super Bowl had recently been played, with some other scantily-clad chanteuse doing the half-time honors, and we figured there probably wouldn’t be another one until next winter, so we asked the clerk and he explained that it was the annual Grammy awards ceremony honoring the best of the recording industry. That was all we saw of the show, and the snippet of the forgettable song being performed was the most we’d heard of the recording industry’s latest offerings in a long while, and we didn’t worry that we’ve been missing out on anything.
The next day’s news was full of stories about the event, however, with some of them spilling over into the political pages that usually command our attention. This led us to wonder if we were blissfully ignorant of some important cultural phenomenon blasting through everyone else’s car stereos while we’re listening to the monophonic sounds of Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee on the old folks’ station, and if we might soon arrive at some social event and find ourselves in the embarrassing position of being the only ones there not wearing a minotaur costume. Then we headed out to a writer’s meeting for the upcoming Gridiron Show, a satirical song-and-sketch fund-raiser that is our annual amateur theatric experience, and were confounded by all the unfamiliar titles of songs that the younger members of the ensemble wanted to parody. We had thought that popular music was no longer a significant influence on the broader culture, not like in the days when shaggy-haired, shirtless rockers were exhorting the youth of America to burn to their draft cards and speak truth to power and do it in the road and all the rest of that youthful rebellion schtick, but apparently one is still expected to have some familiarity with the sort of music that is being played on those newfangled FM stations and performed at the Grammy’s.
Judging by the breathless coverage of that extravaganza, studded with stars whose names we vaguely recognize, it hardly seems worth the effort. The big brouhaha of the evening involved someone named Kanye West interrupting one of the winner’s acceptance speeches to protest that the award should have gone to someone named Beyonce, which is apparently his habitual practice at these sorts of affairs, although there was also scandalized talk of the outfit Madonna wore off-stage that revealed her 56-years-old but still shapely buttocks. At the edges of the conservative media there was worry that prominent Democrats Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz were in attendance and might have been there on the taxpayers’ dime, and others were mocking the president’s video-taped statement made the dubious claim that one-in-five American women have been raped and urged the audience to knock it off, but at this point it hardly anyone seems to find it worth mentioning that the entirety of the recording industry except for a few studios in Nashville is outspokenly associated with the Democratic party. If these people do exert an influence on the broader culture, all the more reason they should be ignored. This Kanye West fellow strikes us as merely rude rather than revolutionary, even the most callipygian fifty-something should have acquired some sense of dignity and decorum, and with no draft cards left to burn and speaking truth to power no longer required during a Democratic administration all that seems to be left of the youthful rebellion schtick is doing it in the road, which seemed to be the Big Profound Message of that Madonna number we happened to catch at the store, and so far as we’re concerned the Democrats are welcome to it.
We console ourselves with the belief that the popular culture isn’t so popular as it used to be, and that the recording industry’s influence in particular has waned along with its rapidly declining sales. That’s largely because the music streaming freely through the internet has dismantled the industry’s old model of pitching music through a limited number of radio stations and then selling it on long-playing albums or cassette tapes or compact discs or MP3 downloads or whatever the tech guys have lately come up with, but we suspect it’s also because no one thinks it is worth paying money to have the music permanently. The plethora of terrestrial and satellite and internet radio stations has fragmented the market, which happily allows listeners to indulge a taste for doo-wop or Dixieland or polka or Hawaiian slack key guitar or techno-house whatever other obscure genre they might prefer, and no one seems to have a truly mass appeal even if the marketing schemes for them existed. A handful of highly publicized acts still dominate free streaming audience at sites such as YouTube, and cash in with concerts full of elaborate choreography and high-tech stagecraft that fill huge arenas at exorbitant ticket prices, but none are nearly so ubiquitous as Glenn Miller in ’41 or Elvis Presley in ’56 or The Beatles in ’64, and even the most hyped of them will likely have little effect on the sizable chunk of the country that won’t shell out for the over-priced shows.
Although we’re heartened that the likes of Kanye West aren’t a particularly pressing problem, it’s kind of a drag that there isn’t a popular American musical culture. In a golden age that ran from about the early ’20s to the early ’70s there was a flood of great of music pouring out of America’s radio speakers, from low down blues to up-tompo swing to rough-hewn country laments and sophisticated pop standards to fervent gospel and rowdy rock ‘n’ roll straight from the garages, and sharing the experience of the best of it with everyone else was one of the cultural advantages of being an American. We’d love to see that old American musical inventiveness revived, and a new generation of performers emerge who will cover up their buttocks and ditch the elaborate showmanship and share some lovingly hand-made music at reasonable ticket prices, and we’d even shell out for a vinyl record or compact disc or whatever else it takes to put it permanently on our shelves to share with posterity. In the meantime, we’ll be tuned into the old folks’ station.

— Bud Norman