On Teenage Rebellion

“Cali Sky and Brodie walked toward the McDonald’s entrance as Philip slowly drove the Bronco away. Two solar systems separating into different sides of the cosmos: the parent solar system of Philip’s design, rotating around the warm glow of protected innocence, nervous love, and embattled patience, where God’s in his heaven and all’s wrong with the world, versus an imploding system of unsustainable volatility, populated by anthropomorphized planets personifying the most extreme emotions, planets that make Mercury look like a stoical octogenarian, hurtling along their unpredictable spheres toward a cosmic intersection immortalized in the title of a rock-and-roll song: ‘Teenage Wasteland.’”

This scene from Golden Notes depicts a division central to many coming-of-age stories, a division that is as old as the tale of the prodigal son in the New Testament: protective parents who want the best for their children over against children who rebel against the protection of their parents.

And while this stand-off is age-old, I am convinced that the birth of rock and roll exponentially expanded the division, widened the breach, ripped asunder the bond that seemed so right and natural for the first thirteen or so relatively harmonious years of the lives of children who grew up in the 60s and 70s. Rock and roll supplied the vehicle for rebellion; teens now had an outlet for their anger, frustration, angst, and a thousand other reckless and raging emotions. Moreover, rock and roll from its beginning was always more than music: It was a vocabulary, a look, a lifestyle, a way of being.  At the expense of parental authority and peace of mind, rock and roll revolutionized youth culture.

And I sometimes wonder what youth culture did before rock and roll. Where did all that need for rebellion go? I find a precursor to this rock-and-roll phenomenon in Goethe’s 1774 cultural landslide, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Goethe’s character was a young iconoclast, a rebel against conservative mores. Young readers of Goethe’s novel began to talk like Werther, dress like Werther, act like Werther. He was a rock god before rock and roll, and young people wanted a piece of him. Unfortunately, since Werther ends up committing suicide, so did a few Werther wanna-be’s.

So what about today? I think we live in a post-rock-and-roll culture. In fact, I think we’re past even that: Perhaps it’s fairer to say we live in a post-post-rock-and-roll culture. My eleven-year-old daughter listens to, and enjoys, my music. Where can she channel her forthcoming rebellion? What could possibly step into the massive shoes that rock and roll left behind in the 1960s?

Perhaps thankfully for me (and unfortunately for her), nothing much. These days, rock-and-roll rebellion is quaint. I last sensed its dim presence in the music of Nirvana—and even then, it sounded ironic, even futile to me. But you never know: The various offspring of rock and roll may yet have something up its sleeve. And as long as parents will over-protect, their children will rebel.