Gretchen Peters, Foreign Correspondent
August 19. 2009
Bobby Hawthorne raised his daughter on The Beatles and Ray Charles.
Peter deHass took his son to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. Lisa
Shalter impressed her teens when she recognised riffs from the songs
of her youth in their rap music.
Four decades ago, when the Woodstock music festival transformed a
muddy field in upstate New York into a hippie love-fest, rock 'n'
roll both emblematised and glorified the sense of polarisation
between young and old.
However since then, rock 'n' roll has made an incredible journey from
"the defiant soundtrack of the counterculture to the most popular
music in the land", according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.
In 1966 a Gallup poll found that rock 'n' roll was by far the most
unpopular music in the country. Nearly half of adults (44 per cent)
said they disliked it, and only four per cent said it was their
favourite kind of music.
Today, the Pew Center reports, two-thirds of respondents say they
listen to rock often (35 per cent) or sometimes (30 per cent),
placing it ahead of the six other musical genres tested in the
survey: country, rhythm and blues, hip-hop, classical, jazz and salsa.
Not only has the gap between young and older generations softened,
today many parents cite music as a unifying force that helps them
bond with their kids.
"Some of the hip-hop stuff gets a little out there for me, but the
fact that Hans can appreciate stuff that I listen to is just
incredible," said Mr deHass, who himself plays jazz music, of his
14-year-old son. "There are bands that we have discovered together."
That is a far cry from the 1960s when three-quarters of Americans
polled, both young and old, cited major differences in points of view
between young and old as a major source of conflict. Music
exacerbated the differences between a generation of parents who grew
up in the post-Depression era and their kids, who wanted more freedom.
"My dad hated The Beatles and made fun of the Beach Boys. He despised
long hair on boys," said Mr Hawthorne, an author and former education
administrator in Austin, Texas. "As a baby boomer, I barely
considered the possibility that my parents were human. I talked to
them no more than they talked to me, which was never."
Today, according to the Pew Center, three-quarters of Americans still
say there are major differences in how young and old approach life,
but just 26 per cent view those differences as a source of major conflict.
"When I was young, there was a huge generation gap," said Mrs
Shalter, the mother of two sons who lives in Aurora, Colorado. "My
kids had much more freedom, which was how my husband and I wanted it."
Almost 90 per cent of Americans describe young and old as being very
different in the way they use technology. Another 80 per cent cite
major differences in work ethic and moral values, and about
three-quarters observe major diversions in the levels of respect for
other races and political views.
By lopsided margins, both young and old here view older adults as
superior in their moral values, work ethic and respect for others.
But a plurality of the American public says younger adults have the
upper hand where issues of race are concerned.
Many credit a greater sense of openness between parents and children
as the reason why difference seems less divisive than it was in the 1960s.
"My kids will tell me stuff I am not even sure I want to hear like
the time the police Swat team came to a party they attended," said
Mrs Shalter. "There are things they tell me that I still wouldn't
tell my mother."
Parents today say they work harder to stay in touch with what their
kids are doing, even if it is new and unknown to them.
"I do think my son's attitudes are different but I am keeping up with
it," said Mr deHass. "I like to see what Hans is doing on Facebook
and MySpace. I don't think my parents would have been into that
medium if it had existed when I was a kid."
Adults today said their parents had been more rigid and less
interested in their lives, in part because economic times were harder.
"They established rules and expected us to follow them, and when we
didn't, we expected to pay a price," said Mr Hawthorne.
Greater openness has its benefits, many parents believe, but they
admit it also comes at a price.
"We were always afraid we were going to get into trouble, but I don't
think authority carries much weight with kids today," said Mrs
Shalter. "Overall, I guess that's a good thing, but it's not always
that great when you are the parent."