Monday, 6 August 2012

Good Taste in Popular Culture

I grew up in a family that didn't really follow the popular music scene (except my eldest brother, who even then had rather moderate taste). We listened to our national radio station, lots of classic albums (okay okay, my Mom may have owned a few Cheech and Chong albums we laughed our way through), oodles of musical theatre, and a large quantity of folk style music from the 60s and 70s. The first CD I ever owned was the soundtrack to Evita (still listen to it today). I got more excited about a newly discovered Sondheim play than whatever New Kids or Boys to Men album had dropped. That wasn't because my folks didn't want us to listen to pop music or had some sort of ban of what was "cool", it was because that wasn't their taste, and they didn't have a problem commenting on the style, or lack there of, of whatever we listened to. My folks could be swayed by a band that played with real talent and style (the Barenaked Ladies were a great example), but if it was garbage, they had no problem telling us. They didn't stop us from buying whatever music we wanted with our own money or even as gifts, but they instilled in us an ability to see past what the radio was telling us was "good" to figure out what was music written by truly talented musicians. We are a musical family, and we wanted our music to be well written, lyrically deep, and to have staying power. That's probably why the Beatles had more play in our house than the Backstreet Boys. In the 90s as so much of the music was overproduced, ghost written or lyrically just atrocious, I was glad that I had been raised to have good taste rather than popular taste.

The same went for books. Most of the books on my parents book shelves today are the same authors as they were back in the 80s. Usually if they're purchasing a new book it's a replacement of an old copy that has become so worn through multiple readings it has fallen apart. Books are like friends, to be treasured and visited often. Lots of great, classic sci-fi, fantasy, military, thrillers, and of course the English classics. Besides my Dad's ever growing collection of Clancy books, the most modern thing on our shelves was probably by Hemmingway. As a kid I read all the usual suspects (included my fair share of Scary Stories anthologies and Judy Bloom books), but side by side I was making my way through a fair collection of books I would still read today. In grade 2 I read the Hobbit for the first time. I tried the Lord of the Rings the next year but found it boring. My University degree in Classics proves not much has changed, except that my reading selection has gotten even older and dustier. I am a great troller of used book stores. Lately I've made my way through some new writers whose epic stories (yes, the word epic is deserved here) and easy reading stories have kept my attention. I'm talking about the Harry Potter series, anything by Jasper Fforde (get out and read some of his well written, clever books!) and the Hunger Games more recently.

I think one of the greatest legacies my parents taught me wasn't to stay away from culture, for better or for worst, but to have real discernment for what I choose to spend my valuable time on when I go out and seek it. I have fallen prey to some awful music over the years, but when I'm in the mood for something that speaks to my souls, I will always turn to the Beatles, James Taylor, The Mamas and the Papas, and other such solid, beautifully written music. The same goes for books. I might get a thrill out of some hilariously trashy reading once in a while, but after reading A Moveable Feast, I'm reminded that real literature is something you become emotionally attached to. It's a book so well loved and leafed through that it passes from hand to hand, generation to generation, never losing its charm. So, while I won't keep my kids from reading whatever the latest incarnation of popular music or literature is out there when they're old enough to enjoy it, before I throw them into the fray of pop culture, I hope to have built in them the same good taste and critical eye I was gifted with by my parents.


  1. Couldn't agree more with the sentiments here. We're finding our children tend to gravitate towards good books, music and movies all on their own because we've been filtering out the lower quality media for years. A little foresight when they're younger really helps them develop a good eye, ear, etc. when their older.

    1. Thanks Kelly. We really work hard to, as you put it, filter out the lower quality stuff. For that reason, our kids by and large don't listen to "kids" music. We admittedly went through a Doodlebops phase, which has left us with a few musical relics in our daily sing-song language. Other than that, the most we've done is censor foul language out of our own collection and have a hefty list of simply good music that's great for both generations. We of course allow kids' movies, but even those are screened for quality. If you're going to watch some 100 million times, it had better be good. haha! I suspect we'll do the same with books as they become old enough to read on their own.