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November 26, 2012

Don is unimpressed by that good-time rock-and-roll crap. (Imagine if he had to listen to rap.)

There’s an episode in the fifth season of Mad Men, where Don Draper, now 40, can’t tell the difference between The Beatles and another mid-sixties band. By the end of the episode, his new wife–fourteen years younger–introduces him to The Beatles 1966 album Revolver, specifically the song Tomorrow Never Knows–which represents to some, a irreversible step in The Beatles transition from the moptops that graced Ed Sullivan and filled Shea Stadium, to the long-haired hippie freaks they must have seemed to many parents of the time.

After all, the world was going to hell. The order of the fifties–a wonderful respite after decades that featured the Depression and the first–and hopefully last–truly world war–was evaporating. There was uncertainty all around. Crime. Drugs. A new pop culture that took the previous largely harmless rock and roll and extended it to new, depraved lows. Suddenly Elvis’s hips seemed quaint in contrast.

Don is singularly unimpressed by the song. He lets it finish, gets up, and goes to bed. He doesn’t care to engage in it.

This symbolic rite of passage happens to everyone at some point in life. You wake up one day and realize that while the world has evolved, your tastes haven’t. And while the current soundtrack is a mashup of rap, country, and dozens of different types of pop music, it doesn’t match yours. While the rest of the world is enjoying the endless plethora of choices, you’re still checking out those trusty Cheers re-runs on Netflix.

The eighties, after all, was a simpler time. Cheers would always be funny. The 49ers would always be good. And there would always be baseball on Saturday afternoon on NBC, the way there had been for as long as you remembered. People had political disagreements, but they didn’t define relationships by them. And although your party might have gotten beaten in the election, there was always the next election, and you figured you had a shot then.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world, Sammy, and I’m wearing Milkbone underwear.

Time changes everything. It has to. If Happy Days hadn’t run its course, there wouldn’t be room for Cheers or for Friends or The Big Bang Theory. And while it brings back fond memories of an era you liked. Der Kommisar wasn’t really that good a song, even if you’re listening to the Falco version rather than the After the Fire version. And was baseball really better when you got one game a week on NBC, rather than any game at any time on your computer? It might not have been better, but it was more precious.

The bottom line is this–those feelings are real. There’s a line in an old song that says as bad as they seem, these will become the good old days. When you stop wanting to believe that, you’ve reached a point in life. I don’t care who Snooky is, and Lady Gaga isn’t something I care to get. The only thing I want to occupy is my bed each night–and earlier than I like to admit.

These are universal concepts, both of acceptance and longing. They are the satisfaction that you’ve accomplished much and that a lot of the struggles of figuring things out are behind you. But those struggles are valuable and defining.

It’s not the music that makes you feel old. It’s the changing perceptions and the realization that the world is passing you by so others can get a chance.

A deep and cliched idea to try on you characters.

One Comment
  1. November 26, 2012 10:41 am

    Teachers and police officers are advised not to use slang when talking to kids because they will never be up-to-date. The kids will laugh at them. When I write characters I don’t use slang because I expect that by publication my slang will be out-of-date, too. Also, I write science fiction, so who knows what the slang of the future will be anyway?

    In movies the people of the future speak with Enlish and Australian accents so the directors can avoid American slang. That doesn’t work either. Maybe time has passed me by, but I still can’t stand ‘frack you’ on “Battlestar Galactica.” Is it just me?

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