Been Down So Long, It Seems Like Up To Me

Written by Bill Leebens

As a parent, I’m used to my references being met with blank stares or an overt “Huh??” from my children.

But I know I’m getting old when more and more, I encounter the same reactions from regular folks who are otherwise polite. Somehow, “Huh??” is not considered rude. But then, I live in a place where half the adult males wear caps indoors, looking like 12/8ths versions of Beaver Cleaver. So what do I know about etiquette?

As usual, I digress.

So: dropping into conversation the phrase used as this article’s title is, these days, met with a laugh—and no sign of recognition. If I cite it as the title of a book by Richard Fariña—yknow, Mimi Fariña’s husband—y’know, Joan Baez’s sister…..

“Joan WHO?”



I get it, I’m old. But how is it that I’m expected to be able to tell the difference between Post Malone and Watsky—I’ll bet I lost you there— but the younger folk around me have no sense of anything that occurred before their birth, especially when it comes to music?

This is not the standard “bash the millennials” rant: I’ve spent a lot of time defending millennials and twenty-somethings, as I think they’re being left a world of diminished possibilities and an awful lot that’s just completely going to shit…and in general, I find them to be industrious, inventive, and resourceful. They have to be, just to get by.

So—here’s something that’s either amusing or pathetic—you be the judge: I’ve often gone to trivia nights at bars and restaurants, gone up to a group of —umm, youngsters, and asked: “do you need somebody who can answer questions about things that happened before 1990?”

About a dozen times, the answer has been, “sure!” And I’ve helped those teams to kick ass. The other times? Yes, I’ve gotten that look as though I were some type of creeper, and they turn back to their frou-frou fruit-infused beers. It’s a percentage game, like everything else.

There are basically two schools of thought regarding historical awareness. On one side is Henry Ford’s “history is bunk”–but keep in mind this is the man who, when faced with Chevrolet’s six-cylinder engine (introduced to compete against his four-cylinder Model T), said, “I’ve got no use for an engine that has more cylinders than a cow has teats.”

Yup, he said that. Look it up. You think Elon Musk is nuts? Read a little Ford history.

The other side of historical awareness is George Santayana’s “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”—which, like most well-known statements, has been misstated and spun in innumerable ways through the decades.

As usual, I agree with both— sorta. Being unaware of history has clearly caused some of the issues we face today; at the same time, I think it’s foolish to feel constrained by the precedents of history.

I really shouldn’t be shocked when someone in their twenties doesn’t recognize the name of Joan Baez. I remember rolling my eyes at my parents’ infatuation with big band and schmaltzy instrumental music, and only begrudgingly learned the names of Tommy Dorsey and my father’s inexplicable favorite, Carmen Cavallaro.

The flip side to not knowing Baez, is me not being able to tell the difference between dubstep and regular EDM, or bachata from reggaeton. I try, but they all run together for me.

I imagine my kids try as well, but somehow all the “whiny white chicks”—their global term for everyone from Baez to Joni Mitchell to Aimee Mann—run together for them.

I guess the moral of the story is that when you can’t tell when “millennial” stops and “Gen Z” begins, you shouldn’t be too critical of other people’s unawareness.

…but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be the graying curmudgeon who yells, “you damn kids! GET OFF MY LAWN!”

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