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The Post Contemporary Teenager

by Dear Jon
August 26, 2008

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ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

In my outdoor education class we were playing a music trivia game. My teacher said he had some old music on his iPod that we might not recognize and by old, he meant from the eighties. I listen to music older than that from times like the forties-sixties. I'm thirteen and people think I'm weird liking music that old.

Signed,
Elvis Presley Fan

Dear Presley,

Friend, you are no weirder than any other thirteen year-old. You, my friend, are a snob. You are now an initiated member of the Post-Contemporary Middle Brow. This is a high compliment from Dear Jon.

The difference between you and your classmates is that they think you are weird now for liking Elvis. In about two years they will all be embarrassed that they had once been hung up on the life of Hanna Montana. Five years after that they will be dating guys who drive trucks and listen to Elvis. Five years after that they will have "All Shook Up" sung at their wedding reception. And you will be smug.

Liking Elvis does not make you post-contemporary. You strike me as being post-contemporary because, as a thirteen year old, you chose to e-mail me in standard English rather than in Text short-hand. You also do not mention Elvis until your signature, and you list your range of musical preference as beginning in the 1940's.

A post-contemporary person is someone who is not consumed by the latest fads. A post-contemporary person enjoyed Swing music before the craze swept the country, and was Square Dancing before "Line Dancing" swept the country, and enjoyed Irish dance and Scottish bagpipes before "Celtic Music" swept the country as a fad. The post-contemporary power continues to enjoy all of these things even though the fads had faded. The post-contemporary person has an entire globe of cultures and several thousand years of history, of "fads," to choose from.

As for me, Elvis is all right but I don't dig that cat like I dig Count Basie, B.B. King, and Johnny Cash.

There is an important difference between being "post-contemporary" and  "old-fashioned." In other words, people my age (almost forty) who are grousing about "what kids call music these days" and tune their radios to "Pop 40" retread stations, are only "old fashioned." They had once been all about fashion, and then the fashions reached a point where they could no longer relate, or people began to look at them funny for trying to dress fifteen years under their age, and so they became "old-fashioned."

These are people who related to the shows "Friends" and "Seinfeld" back in the 1990's, back when they were hip, which is ten years ago and longer. Such people are still acting like Jennifer Aniston's break-up with Brad Pitt is news. They still talk as though the Nebraska Cornhuskers are a football powerhouse. They still vote as though Republicans are fiscally conservative and Democrats give a rip about labor.

The post-contemporary person will never be out-of-date or out-of-touch. Good new music is being produced and the post-contemporary person can "hear it" and choose to connect or not. 

The post-contemporary person can tell the difference between a good CGI movie (anything by PIXAR so far) and a bad one (Fly Me To the Moon). The post-contemporary person knows what it means to be embarrassed for George  Lucas.

The post-contemporary person is faintly annoyed with the JC Penny back to school ads that featured "contemporized" covers of 1980's classic hits: "Don't You Forget About Me" from the soundtrack of "The Breakfast Club," which remains one of the greatest movies ever made.

Being 13 years old, you are just at the beginning of your aesthetic formation. You didn't exactly ask for advice, but I'll give it anyway.

Read, listen to, and watch the good stuff, whenever it was made, because that's what you like.

Be patient with those who think you are weird. Some classmates who don't get it now, still won't after 25 years. They are probably not going to be good friends of yours. However, some others are in the "peer pressure" loop but they will snap out of it in a year or two and start seeing things in a better light. That doesn't mean they will be listening to Elvis all the time. Maybe for them it means The Guess Who or Carly Simon or Frank Sinatra. But it means they will be coming around and won't make you feel weird anymore.

If you are true to yourself and the good stuff you like, you will have more friends in high school than in junior high. By your third year in college, a whole lotta cats are gonna start digging your groove.

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