- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2005

Hit pop tunes were once paeans to youthful romantic idealism. In “Just My Imagination,” the Temptations stirred fantasies of a day when “we’ll be married and raise a family.” In “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” the Beach Boys harmonized of what itwould be like “when we can be married — and then we’ll be happy.”

But American pop has gone from celebrating undying love — “Always and Forever,” as a Heatwave ballad put it — to the angst, anger, bitterness and lust now expressed by many rock and hip-hop hits.

The change reflects shifts in American culture, critics say.

“You have a whole new set of morals and values that are being brought in to the daily climate,” says Chicago music columnist Andy Argyrakis. “The whole structure has changed. Free love has turned into immediate gratification. People are kind of being drilled to make the demands they want to make and have those be fulfilled immediately.”

The loss of romantic idealism in music may have something to do with the decline of the family.

“I listened to a whole bunch of the best-selling bands in America,” says author Mary Eberstadt. “And to my surprise, the common denominator of that music is the theme of having been abandoned as a child. If yesterday’s music has the theme of abandon, then today’s has the theme of abandonment.”

In her new book, “Home Alone America,” Mrs. Eberstadt examines music that she says reflects the emotional desert created by the absence of parents. The music of rap superstar Eminem is a perfect example, she says.

“If you watch Eminem’s ‘Sing for the Moment’ video, it’s unmistakable about what’s going on there — that millions of kids are resonating to his describing a broken home, a stepfather he doesn’t want and how he gets in a fight with his stepfather. That’s what has them standing on their chairs and cheering.”

But musical depression and anger doesn’t stop with Eminem. If lyrics reflect the artists and their fans, then the alternative-rock scene is home to lots of lonely, directionless teenagers.

Many of the most popular bands have at least one song about a father — like “Emotionless” by Good Charlotte: “It’s been a long, hard road without you by my side. Why weren’t you there the nights that we cried?”

Simple Plan’s radio hit “Perfect” proclaims: “Did you know you used to be my hero? All the days you spent with me now seem so far away, and it feels like you don’t care anymore.”

“Saddest Song” by the Ataris describes a father, who as a boy was abandoned by his dad, now abandoning his own son: “I know what it’s like growing up without your father in your life. I hope someday you’ll find it in your heart to understand why I’m not around.”

At Washington’s 9:30 Club, a recent sold-out concert featured alternative band Something Corporate. The band’s songs, written by lead singer Andrew McMahon and guitarist Josh Partington, are based on their own lives, Mr. Partington says.

The inspiration is “different for every song,” he says. “The songs are about our life experiences.”

“Space,” the most popular song from the band’s most recent album “North,” is about family, Mr. Partington says. The song’s lyrics feature couplets like: “Home, is this the quiet place where you should be alone? Is this where the tortured and the troubled find their own?”

As the California band performed in the District, teenage fans sang along with every word.

“Man, I love them,” said one fan, a girl in her early 20s whose pink T-shirt said “Lost” in bold letters across the front. “I dig how they feel. I feel it, too. This shirt says it.”

Music today reflects the society that produces it, just as it has since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, says D.C. oldies radio personality Johnny Dark. And parental worries about rock are nothing new, he says. When Elvis Presley made his debut as the hip-shaking rock ‘n’ roller, parents were appalled the same way they are disturbed by Eminem today, he says.

“You have to remember that when rock ‘n’ roll first came around, it was attacked on all fronts with a considerable amount of negativity,” Mr. Dark says. “Adults didn’t like it. Look at what’s going on today. It’s new and different to adults, and they don’t like it.”

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