in the blink of an eye

Posted: October 16, 2011 in Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Every August Beloit College publishes what they call The Mindset List. It’s a puddle of facts designed to illuminate the rest of us about things which help shape the worldview of the incoming college freshman class. (The most recent list contained such sobering thoughts as “Amazon has never been just a river in South America” and “The Communist Party has never been the official political party in Russia.”) But the list does more than that. It also shows the past is much closer than we may think. When events are placed in context through time you realize how recent the past actually is, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Another reminder of this truism floated my way a few days ago.

On Friday I decided to go out for lunch rather than brown bag it. I work at a University so any jaunt outside pretty much requires immersion into the bubbling froth of youthful verve that is the student body. As I strolled across campus I was stopped by a young man who couldn’t have been more than 20. He was with two friends and called out to me. “Sir? Excuse me, sir?” I didn’t stop. You’d think by now I would be used to being addressed as “sir”, but every time it happens it still feels like a novelty.

When I realized he meant me I stopped. “Have you ever heard of the song Bohemian Rhapsody?” he asked. Have I ever heard of Bohemian Rhapsody? Did he just ask me if I have ever heard Bohemian Rhapsody? Don’t tell me he just asked if I have ever heard Bohemian Rhapsody. Geez louise. He might as well have asked me if I had ever heard of Abraham Lincoln. Despite my incredulous internal reaction I answered politely. “Yes, I have.” He must have expected this based upon the lightning fast delivery of his follow-up question. “It’s a famous song, right?”

Now we all know when a “right” is tacked on to the end like that it’s not really a question. It’s a plea for validation. His friends looked bored in that amateurish way only college kids can pull off, but it was also clear they were listening. When I agreed it was famous he turned to one of his buddies and shouted, “I told you it was famous!” Then back at me, “Everyone knows the song, right?” “Apparently not everyone,” I replied throwing a withering look at his buddy who, God bless his barely disenfranchised soul, was having none of it and immediately volleyed back with, “Maybe it’s famous, but it’s not relevant.”

I could tell my walk-on role was played out and this conversation was headed down a new track, a track where they would wade through the different shades of fame and relevance, so I veered off. But as I thought about this brief exchange over Kung Pow Chicken I was once again reminded how close the past really is.

As these things go Bohemian Rhapsody is old, especially if you’re 20. Hell, it was released in 1975, 36 years ago. It’s easy to understand how this song, despite its enduring radio life, could escape the radar of young people. Well 36 may be old for a song, but is it really that far in the past? I don’t think so. To put it in perspective the following things were just 36 years old when Bohemian Rhapsody first hit the airwaves.
– The film versions of The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind
– Hitler invading Poland
– The publication of Steinbeck’s seminal novel, The Grapes of Wrath

Much like Bohemian Rhapsody probably stinks of ancient history to today’s youth, Gone with the Wind and Germany’s invasion of Poland did the same for the youth of 1975. But to the people who were around when Freddie Mercury first scarmouched or Tom Joad first told Ma “I’ll be there”, 3½ decades seems like nothing more than a few blinks of the eye.

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Comments
  1. The #1 song (according to America’s Top 40) on October 15th was Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.” I wonder how many 20 years olds listening to the song know who Jagger is? Or if they think he’s relevant.

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  2. H.E. ELLIS says:

    My favorite thing to do is to sing along with the songs of my youth that my kid’s generation remade. Totally worth the eye rolling.

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  3. This reminds me of an exchange I had with a few younger friends. By younger, I mean late 20s and early 30s. I made a reference to Animal House and was met with blank stares. I couldn’t believe that they had never even heard of this movie, so I started naming off other movies from my youth and finally hit on one they had seen – Jaws – released in 1975, the year I graduated from high school.

    I’m right there with you with the sir thing, only it’s ma’am with me. i never do think they are talking to me.

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  4. sparklebumps says:

    You should have asked them if they had ever hear of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”, Since that came out the same year- I bet THAT would have been considered relevant…

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