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The dangers of looking at old music through today’s eyes

[This was my weekly column for – AC]

After a couple of rough days (including having my parked car bashed while I was grocery shopping), I decided I needed some nostalgic laughs for relief. I searched around and finally decided on 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High because I remembered it being really, really funny.

Instead, I was kind of appalled at some of what I saw. Sure, Spicoli was still amusing and the relationship between Brad and his sister Stacy had its poignant moments, but there were a few scenes of teenage nudity that, had they been shot today, might be classified as kiddie porn in some jurisdictions. (To be fair, Jennifer Jason Leigh, the actress who played Stacy, was 19 when the movie was shot, but she was definitely playing someone much younger.)

This got me thinking about other classic movies that would cause outrage if they were made today. Would Mel Brooks have made Blazing Saddles (1974), a film loaded with racial stereotypes and N-bombs, in today’s environment? Think about the jokes made at the expense of Otis Day and The Knights in Animal House (1978), not to mention Pinto’s accidental statutory rape of the mayor’s 13-year-old daughter? Then there’s Airplane! (1980) which featured plenty of cracks about child molestation?

We can flip the conversation to music. It’s hard to imagine a song like Alice Cooper’s School’s Out (1972) becoming a hit in the era of school shootings. Or what about Ted Nugent’s homicidal rough sex fantasy in 1975’s Stranglehold? And you gotta admit that it’s creepy hearing Gene Simmons sing about his crush on a high school girl in KISS’ “Christine Sixteen.” (1977) (I have more examples here.)

All very un-PC material, for sure.

The good news is that all these examples (and our reactions to them) prove that we continue to evolve in matters of race, gender issues, sexuality, and other issues of societal behavior.

This long preamble brings me to an infamous protest against disco music at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 12, 1979, and its continuing dissection.

Keep reading.

As a bonus, here’s a song that was all over Winnipeg’s CITI-FM in 1979: Brother Jake’s “Disco’s in the Garbage.” Again, all we hated was the mindless nature of disco. That’s it.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38339 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “The dangers of looking at old music through today’s eyes

  • DUDE! *PLEASE* tell me you’re not one of those that wants to whitewash (Is THAT a “racist” term now?) history because things have changed! Now everyone is out LOOKING for reasons to be offended. Then they can run to Facebook and Twitter and post it to see how many likes and retweets they can get.

    Long time fan, and just waiting for the mother ship to come back and take me home.

    • Nope. History is what happened and any attempt to revise it is a bad thing. Whitewashing means we’re denying it happened in the way it happened. Context is everything. And we evolve, so we can’t judge the way things were using today’s standards.


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