Name that tune…

“Music is a world within itself with a language we all understand. With an equal opportunity for all to sing dance and clap their hands.”

–Stevie Wonder, “Sir Duke”

How good is your musical knowledge? Does it matter a whit? If you can’t identify the flavor of the month (Vanilla Ice, anyone?) well, that’s fine. After all there is a lot of music out there, and not all of it good, or even to your taste. Not knowing who Rihanna is– fine. Not knowing who Stevie Wonder is? Not so fine.

Being able to name all the members of KISS and identify them without make-up? That makes you either a fan girl or a teen boy circa 1981. Having some idea that the members of KISS dressed up in face paint and platform shoes, and were popular with a certain demographic?? Pretty basic in the common knowledge encyclopedia.

Last month, a member of a message board I’m on stated in a post that she had never heard a Beatles song.  Too many people joined her.  One of her defenders thought a guy named Paul McCarthy may have been in the band. However, a goodly number called her bluff. (Not me. I lurk, and shake my head in rapt astonishment sometimes, but rarely join in the fray.) But the concept of this hasn’t left me.

We are talking about a woman in the area of (total guess by her avatar photo only) 28-33? American. Lives on the East coast, in an urban environment, not in the middle of a corn field in Iowa. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) She’s single, college educated and a career woman, not a SAHM OD’ing on Barney and Diego. (Just Say NO!)

She says– and I think the bit that has been chewing on me is the pride in which she continues to hold her ignorance in high esteem– she listens to Urban and Hip Hop, as do her friends. That’s what they play in the clubs she frequents. That is probably true; it’s a current dance and popular sound. Therefore, she has no idea of any Beatles song, and can’t be swayed that she should educate herself at any level. She doesn’t know who (nor does she care) Johnny Cash is. Elvis, she’s heard of.

However– The grocery store. The doctor’s office. Ever been? Or Walmart, the mall, an elevator? The Muzak played in the public areas of our world is somewhat varied but usually mild and inoffensive (unless you are shopping in a store geared toward a certain clientele). You may not hear Revolution at the Food Lion, but you have on Nike commercials.  But, I Want To Hold Your Hand? Michelle? The Long and Winding Road? All You Need is Love? Yellow Submarine? That’s a nursery song now. Watching movies. Watching commercials on TV. Watching Entertainment Tonight?

Unless you have your own personal cone of silence, The Beatles are just there. They should be. As should a good number, but only a tiny fraction of those who do record music. Because you can’t follow or know everyone. (And just for clarification, knowing doesn’t equate to having to like.)

Do you know Buster Poindexter? No? How about Talking Heads? Black 47? Genesis? The Corrs? Def Leppard? Chicago?  Cyndi Lauper? Madonna? Simon and Garfunkle?  Elton John? Enya? Mozart. U2? Bruce Springsteen? Yo-Yo Ma? Garth Brooks? Loreena McKennit? Bob Seger? Bette Midler? Evanescence?Bryan Adams? Bon Jovi? Carly Simon? Dave Matthews? Type O Negative? The Eagles? Beethoven? Fleetwood Mac? Jimmy Buffett? Itzak Perlman? INXS? Prince? Dougie MacClean? Aretha Franklin? Billy Joel? Debbie Gibson? Michael Jackson? Queen? Black Eyed Peas? New Kids on The Block? Pink? Lady Gaga? Jay-Z? Iyaz? Miley Cyrus? Usher? Jay Sean? Moby? Coldplay? Daughtry? Shania Twain?

Should you know them all? Probably not. I have a pretty extensive and varied list of music on my Ipod. Can you guess where the line is drawn between stuff I listen to versus music I might recognize (either the music or the group name) falls? Knowing a fringe, alternative or one-hit-wonder falls more to fans. Knowing legends? Pretty much falls to humanity.

There is a type of commonality in music—it’s like a shorthand in our language, in our shared experiences, and that to me, was more what this girl, and those who reveled in not knowing a Beatles song, is missing. She is proud of her ignorance.

And is it too far to take this scenario than to assume that someone who refuses to know a Beatles song (she has to have heard one, just doesn’t know it) and carry it to the natural end point of, “Why should I have to know when the Civil War happened? (Extra points to anyone who can educate our  Governor that one of the reasons for said unpleasantness was slavery.) Why should I have to know that Grover Cleveland was a president? How is it relevant to me?” Another person was fine admitting that what she knows about Vietnam is directly related to what Forrest Gump experienced.

I don’t listen closely to a lot of hip-hop, urban, or current pop. But I like Pink (she reminds me of Pat Benatar for some reason, or Joan Jett)  and I think Lady Gaga is the real deal. (And if you don’t know who Queen is, can you appreciate how she chose her name?) Listening to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” and them singing, “Mazel Tov, le heim”….  If you live in your small, insular, secular world, and you don’t show any interest or curiosity in learning,  do you understand or care what he’s saying? (BTW, I predict this is this years PARTY till you drop song!)

Like music, TV and movie  quotes are signs of our shared experiences. Sound bites, if you will. My husband is notorious for speaking in movie quotes. And some of them are obscure—(to me, at least. My knowledge base, as he says, is identifying flowers as something other than ‘daisy’ and knowing my music. His is movie lines.)

A shorthand for happiness when your ‘favorite’ boss quits might be humming a few bars of “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead….” (Don’t tell me you’ve never done it!!!!) I’ve used a few little ‘blurbs’ throughout this piece, and if you aren’t a native English speaker from America, you might not ‘get’ them. But if you ARE a native English speaker from America and you still don’t ‘get’ them….well, you may be voted off the island.

This is where we are failing. We talk, and others don’t listen. We say things, but other people don’t ‘get’ where we are coming from, so they misinterpret. My continuing to use the  Beatles in this conversation  is really shorthand for how willing people are to remain ignorant. How do you perceive and understand other cultural comments? Disney does this very well. Things that the parents appreciate in the language and phrases go right over the kiddo’s heads, but keep us from pulling our hair out at the movies.

How can you accidently not absorb this information? The other week, a high school protested that Phelps man. Teens. 14-18 years of age. They sang “Give Peace a Chance.”  Simply by osmosis, the cultural information that bombards us does become a part of us. Hardly anyone would scratch their head if we told them, “No soup for you!” right?  I know of Survivor, but have never seen the show. I have never watched DWTS, American Idol or John and Kate Plus 8, but I know of them.

How does one handle small talk if you don’t have the slightest grasp that the Superbowl is about to be played? (No, you are correct, it isn’t. But right now we are in somewhat of a slump for major sporting events, unless you are waiting for the Stanley Cup.) You don’t need to watch, but how can you not be aware? And lets say you are not of the Judeo-Christian persuasion; does that mean that all the shorthand Biblical references that are used consistently in TV, movies, newspapers, books— are going right over your head?

They are commonalities in your world. There are so many things people say, that they probably don’t even clue in on as being a cultural reference, yet idioms are so much a part of what makes our language so rich (and, yes, so confusing.)

Obviously knowing the 50 states, how to find Italy on a map, and that the Vietnam war came after the Civil War is more important than knowing who the Beatles are…(or Eric Clapton, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly) But sadly, it seems even that information is lacking.

There are acres of empty spaces in my knowledge base. I don’t go all Rain Man when it comes to music, or books or trivia of any kind.  But, I am capable of acknowledging to myself, and to others, when something goes over my head, and even rectifying it on occasion! If an unfamiliar word is used, a reference in a news article doesn’t resonate, I look it up. Don’t you?

Or do you just not care, or figure that if it was ‘that important’ someone else would have explained it to you already?

I am really interested in what others think. How many people can you find today who can’t name a Beatles song, or have any idea who the Beatles were?

Or am I simply getting old?

~~~A quick PS~~~~FREE SHIPPING on all orders over $15 at my photo website from now until Mother’s Day.  Only ground, only USA.  Code is MOM

10 thoughts on “Name that tune…

  1. I find that this whole post is very limited in its scope. If I got your point, you mean that there are certain things that are so important, so all-encompassing, that everyone should and will know about them, regardless of who they are, where they come from and where their interests lie.

    But the thing is, who decides what’s important? Personally, I feel that everyone in the entire world should know what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights say. Do you know what it says? My boyfriend feels like everyone should know who developed Linux. Do you know who did it?

    You feel that the Beatles were so universal that everyone, even someone who wasn’t even alive in the 60’s when the Beatles were big, should know who they were and what they played. I’m 20-something, and I know who the Beatles were. I know who Elvis was, but I do not take for granted that everyone knows this. I’m sure there are a million things and artists and events that a younger generation feels like everyone should know, and yet, I’m sure 60-year olds have no idea what these things are that are so important to the kids.

    Often you’ll hear people of a certain generation whine about the “uneducated” youth, who doesn’t have a clue about the important stuff, like Beatles, the Vietnam War or who the first president of the United States was. And honestly I couldn’t care less about the Super Bowl. Who dictates what everyone should be able to make smalltalk about?

    What I’m trying to say is that, saying that everyone should know about certain things, is a little naive. Sure, many of those things are around us wherever we go, and someone might feel like we can’t help hearing it, or learning about it. But if I hear a Johnny Cash song in an elevator and don’t particularly like it, why would I take note? I’ve heard thousdands of songs that I never took note of, never learned the words, the melody, or the artist. What makes certain artists worth taking note of? And I’ve heard about sporting events, without going home and looking it up, just so I can make smalltalk about it.

    This was a very good post, I’m not saying it wasn’t, but not everyone feels that the things their generation found important are what everyone else should, and will, find important.


    • Kim… thanks for your thoughtful reply. I think maybe you did miss my point, to some small degree. It wasn’t simply the Beatles, rather, (and this message board thread went on for MILES, lol) it was about a simple commonality, knowledge, curiosity, etc.

      I do know Linux is a computer operating system, but no I am unaware of the developer. I however would (to your boyfriends horror, no doubt, lol) say that the majority of the humans in developed countries do know the names Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. Hey, its a start.

      Again the Beatles comment by this woman was a catalyst, and my carrying it throughout the post was basically a shorthand for all of the various things that we collectively experience. The reason I wrote this was because I was reading an interview by Peter Steele, the singer of a heavy metal/goth band (Type O Negative). He just died the other day. In the article, he mentions how the Beatles were most influential to him. (He was 48) Their music is so diametrically opposite in sound to the Beatles, in case you are unfamiliar with them. And if you don’t know them, really, its not a biggie, because they AREN’T the Beatles, lol!!

      Now, following this around in my (admittedly circular) thinking, was this thought. His fan base are NOT 48 year-olds. They are teens, young adults. People indeed, the same age or younger as this woman. And if they read that he was influenced by the Beatles, and had no knowledge of them, then what???? Do they just let it slide over their heads? Shrug and move on? Do they have any curiosity, and go on ITunes and listen?

      At what point IS it important to know ‘historical’, ‘cultural’ or just plain old facts? Do you think not knowing the names of ANY of the astronauts who landed on the moon is reasonable? Should you even know we DID land on the moon? And when? If it isn’t relevant at all to your personal day-to-day life, should you been given a pass? At what point? Knowing New Mexico is a state, not a country? Do you need to know who is playing in the Superbowl? Probably not. Do you know WHAT the Superbowl is?

      It feels like an exercise in a bad “Jaywalking” skit!

      Yes, some of it IS generational. But if I am to avoid being called ‘out of touch’ because I don’t know who Iyaz is, and he’s only been around a short while, (and may be either a one hit wonder or the next BIG THING,) is it unreasonable to think that the younger generation might not put a bit of thought into some of the older things, things that probably have influenced the next big thing? Things like the Beatles, that have stood the test of time? One Johnny Cash song to me is like another. But if I am in the grocery store every week, and I keep hearing What Goes Around…Comes Around over and over, I might look into who sings it, because I like it. Can’t imagine that any Beatles song hasn’t been ‘in your face’ long enough to spark some curiosity.

      Again, I do thank you for the time you took to comment!


  2. The poet Mary Oliver said: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. ” I love this. It is not a matter of knowing what you need to know it is a matter of how much richer your life is if you have “paid attention.” Don’t know a Beatles song? I am so sorry for all that you have missed–beauty, joy, inspiration.

    Great post. Thanks!


  3. On the one hand I am a bit honored that my wife gives me credit for my movie line knowledge, but even I must admit that there are many classic films that many references have come from that I’m probably still unaware of. I think the main point here is not that someone else chooses what we know as important or not, but more along the lines of some events and people reach far across their original boundries. Not that you have be one of their fans, but just knowing of them .
    I see this great deal nowadays with the entire video gaming culture. I am not a gamer, but that number of people who are is a huge figure. The time has already arrived that things from games will become part of our pop culture and I’m quite sure I am already woefully out-of-the-loop. I probably wouldnt even know to say this if not for the fact that my son is an avid gamer, and I have gleened much from my conversations with him.
    One of the strongest examples of this “knowledge divide” came when I went to see Frank Miller’s “300” and I was astounded at how many young adults (and even older ones) had no clue who the 300 Spartans were, or their contribution to history. I dont call this pop culture at all, I call it the glaring omission of a pivotal moment in history, be that at school or in the home. But if a film like “300” provides a level of education about such events, then it becomes an even more vital part of our culture and society as a whole.
    Besides, if we all knew all the background information, then no new singer or band would ever have a successful cover of an old song no had heard in ten years. I dont think it would hurt any of us to learn more about the world around us each day, be it music, film or just talking to other people about things you dont know, it how we enrich ourselves in ways money cant buy.


  4. The problem is a general lack of cultural literacy. It doesn’t help that the arts are the first thing cut in budget-crunched school districts (and states also at this point. Our Gov. in LA wants to cut arts funding completely). I taught a Fine Arts survey course for several years, and it was not uncommon to hear, “What do we have to learn THAT for?” (required for the college-prep track and for cultural literacy, that’s why) I think I heard I got the most resistance during the dance unit, specifically ballet, followed by all those dead composers (Bach, Beethoven, and all those other guys who wrote the Looney Tunes soundtracks). It’s not like I didn’t try to make it interesting, either. We watched a couple versions of “Nutcracker”, including “The Hard Nut.” Male dancers in pointe shoes & tutus kind of blew their minds. At one point, I decided the unofficial motto for that school should be, “Ignerint & Prowd off it.”

    Of course, ignorance is not limited to 20-somethings and not all of those fit that label. My 22 year old daughter has choreographed to several Beatles pieces, along with Ray Charles, the BeeGees, and Vivaldi. Of course, she was brought up with music, art, and dance, and it makes a huge difference. Ignorance begats ignorance.


  5. Wow! As a child of the Great Depression I’ve been absorbing information for a long time — and there are still gaps in my knowledge, which is why I am so in love with Google. When I read or hear something I know nothing about but find possibly interesting I Google it and add incrementally to my understanding of the world in which I live.
    I have long felt that the main purpose of education is not the stuffing of brains with facts but the encouragement of curiosity and the provision of tools with which to satisfy it.
    If our younger generation finds itself bored it is because they have no intellectual curiosity. Somehow it is not universally expected that they will question and explore so they are not educated to do so. That said, there are exceptions — as there are to all general statements — but not nearly enough.
    There are so many things in our world to find out about and enjoy — or not — but first must come awareness of the possibilities.


  6. “And if you don’t know who Queen is, can you appreciate how she chose her name

    I have to ask…who is this Queen of whom you speak? I’m thinking cultural shifts and Freddie Mercury…


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