I took a chance in class the other day and put a Rolling Stone CD review of Kanye West’s latest release up on the projection screen, to talk about the writer’s use of language and sense of her audience.
I’m a casual fan of West’s music, though not necessarily his egotism. The review pointed out some of these aspects of the rapper’s character that may be wearing a bit thin by now. Meanwhile the CD, 808’s and Heartbreak, is apparently a creative stumble, and kind of a downer — understandable given the fact that West lost his mother and broke up with his fiance last year.
My mostly urban and minority college students seemed to appreciate this attempt to look at a subject of interest to them, nevertheless. A couple of the guys, in particular, seemed to perk up their interest more than usual.
The one moment that shocked me, though –it shouldn’t have, but it did– was when I brought up the name of Bob Dylan and about half the class didn’t know who he was. Dylan’s own classic downer/break-up album “Blood on the Tracks” had been mentioned in the review, by way of comparison.
It’s not like we’re talking about Pete Seeger here, or Lyndon Johnson, or even Marvin Gaye, right? They didn’t know Dylan! To me, this was like a speaker of the English language over the age of 14 saying “Shakespeare who?”, or an American not knowing who Thomas Jefferson was. Nevertheless, I tried my best to hide my shock, chalked it up to me being the only old white man in the room (even though I wasn’t even BORN yet when Dylan first hit it big), and to that whole “diversity” thing, and we moved on.
Makes me think of this terrific, somewhat recent song by Paul Simon, called “Old“. Here’s the first verse:
The first time I heard “Peggy Sue”
I was 12 years old
Russians up in rocket ships
And the war was cold
Now many wars have come and gone
Genocide still goes on
Buddy Holly still goes on
But his catalog was sold
And the last verse… my favorite, for obvious reasons:
The human race has walked the earth for 2.7 million
And we estimate the universe at 13-14 billion
When all these numbers tumble into your imagination
Consider that the Lord was there before creation
God is old
We’re not old
God is old
He made the mold
(Take your clothes off,
Adam and Eve)
So I may not be the hipster that I thought I was, but hey, I’m not THAT old! Am I?