It was unmistakable - a guitar riff both familiar and yet so old it felt like it was coming from another lifetime. “Hey mum,” called my 14-year-old daughter from her semi-permanent position in front of the computer, “Have you ever heard of Jimi Hendrix?”
“Jimi Hendrix! I remember him when he was still alive.”
I only just remember, mind you, I was 12-years-old when he died.
“He is soooo cool,” she said.
This is exactly what I would have said about him 30 years ago, with the same intonation. I boogied up to her at the computer and she gave me the now-familiar scornful look - the one that says how embarrassing it is to have a mother who thinks she can dance.
Despite this, or rather because of it, my surprise about my children as they reach their teens (I also have a 17-year-old daughter) is not how much their generation differs from mine at the same age, but how little.
When I was 14, I played music my parents loathed - Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, The Doors and, of course, Hendrix. It was loud, intrusive, sexy, aggressive music - music they constantly demanded I turn down. My parents, for their part, played music I also loathed - the soft, slick, smooth music of Jose Feliciano, Herb Albert and The Tijuana Brass, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee.
These days, kids like so much of what my generation regard as our music. Current performers take that music, much of it 30 or 40-years-old, and sample it or do endless cover versions of it. Of the newer stuff, I’m not mad about hip hop and dance music - it seems deeply repetitive to me. I do, however, very much like Eminem. Not that there is much new about him. He’s a lyric poet, a storyteller - just the latest take on an ancient tradition. No, it isn’t the content of youth culture that has changed very much. What has changed is the method of delivery.
My kids and their friends don’t watch TV nearly as much as we did, despite having vastly more channels to choose from. I can still remember the intense excitement that greeted the beginning of Channel Ten. Neither do they listen much to the radio. We carried trannies with us everywhere, listening to the stations considered to be cool - 2SM and Double J - as it was then. My kids don’t even buy albums anymore - vinyl or CD. They download onto their computers and iPods, but the music they download remains frighteningly familiar. They don’t even listen to the radio while driving - they plug in their iPod instead.
This generation love technology and intuitively understand it in a way I never will, but I am not sure that it has actually liberated them. Sometimes, to my ageing eyes, they seem enslaved by it. Mobile phones, for example, haven’t given teenagers more freedom, they’ve given parents more control.
Our movements were much more mysterious and much easier to disguise from our parents than our children’s are to us. My daughters regularly get into trouble for not being constantly contactable. We insist on being able to ring them anywhere, any time - largely to soothe our own anxiety. Of course they can lie about where they are - though technology has already produced something to overcome even that - but at least we know they are still alive. Our parents had to have much more faith, not just in us but in society at large, and they did. Oddly enough, our increased control seems only to have served to make us more anxious. There is no doubt that we are a much more anxious and interfering generation of parents than our own parents ever were.
This obsession with technology, with constantly keeping up with gadgets and gizmos that continually change and improve, has also enslaved young people in another way. To keep up, they need money - much more money than we ever did. This generation wouldn’t dream of “dropping-out” to Nimbin or Byron the way we did, with no means of support but the dole, a surfboard and a few dope plants. Of course, my generation did eventually return to the city - disillusioned with communes and free love. We rejected society, or pretended we did. It was uncool to have money and uncool to want it. My children and their friends are the opposite. It is once again fashionable to be rich.