Voices

Parental laments

Many of the rock and rap songs that adults despise are the bitter result of adult abandonment

Issue: "Bush: Hail to the chief," Jan. 29, 2005

Adults who remember the music they listened to when they were teenagers as being idealistic, or at least fun, are often taken aback by today's popular music. It is so depressing. If today's rock 'n' roll is not anguished and miserable, it is angry, even furious. As for rap music, it is filled with violence, promiscuity, and hatred, especially for women.

Adults from the peace and love generation next wonder, "What are these kids so mad about?" Then, moving into old-fogie mode, "These performers are multimillionaires who have everything they want. They've got no reason to be so negative all the time." Then, "What's the attraction? Why are so many kids buying this stuff?"

Christians worry about the influence such music has on young people and on the culture as a whole, and rightly so. But Mary Eberstadt, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, suggests that adults not only consider what the music does to young people, but also what it tells us about them.

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In one section of her book Home-Alone America (reviewed in WORLD, Nov. 27), Ms. Eberstadt shows how songs that family-values advocates most oppose prove the case for family values. She argues that today's rock is the music of abandonment, compulsively complaining about broken homes and families, and especially absent fathers.

Ms. Eberstadt studies the lyrics and the lives of the most popular performers, from alternative rockers to rap stars, and finds this to be a single, obsessively repeated theme that shows up explicitly in song after song.

Papa Roach sings "Broken Home," with the lines: "I know my mother loves me / But does my father even care." Everclear sings "Father of Mine" about a father walking out on the family, with the plea "take me back to the day / when I was still your golden boy." And in Everclear's "Wonderful," which some call the best rock song about divorce ever written, the singer yearns for the way things were before his parents split: "I want the things that I had before / Like a Star Wars poster on my bedroom door." Blink-182 had a hit with "Stay Together for the Kids," which recognizes that there is no easy solution: "What stupid poem could fix this home," but then adds, "I'd read it every day." In Pink's "Family Portrait," the singer pleads with her father not to leave, making poignantly childish promises: "I won't spill the milk at dinner."

Kurt Cobain, a pioneer of such confessional music, said that he had a happy childhood until his parents got a divorce when he was 7, an experience that he wrote about again and again in his music. Ms. Eberhardt finds the same subject matter in songs by Good Charlotte, Pearl Jam, Linkin Park, Slipknot, Disturbed, and Korn.

Many rappers never even knew their fathers, and this fact, according to Ms. Eberstadt, is lamented in the lyrics of nearly every hip-hop artist. One of the most violent, the late Tupac Shakur, raps in "Papa'z Song Lyrics," about how he "had to play catch by myself," and prays, "Please send me a pops before puberty." Snoop Dogg in "Mama Raised Me" says, "It's probably pop's fault how I ended up / Gangbangin'; crack slangin'; not givin' a f-." And as for Eminem, perhaps the most foul-mouthed, angry, bitter-and popular-rapper of them all, Ms. Eberhardt shows that rage at his mother and father for abandoning him is the emotional center of virtually all of his songs.

These songwriters and performers are drawing on their own experience, and all the fame and fortune cannot make up for the pain they still feel. And they have a huge audience, since 50 percent of American children spend at least part of their childhood living without a father in the home. These artists put into words and music what half of American young people feel.

Yes, this music is often vile and a bad influence. And divorce, abandonment, and bad parenting are even viler and have a worse influence. Christians concerned about the culture can strike a mighty blow in the culture wars by being good parents themselves.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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