A Weekly Column
Joseph Walker


Jon was outraged – or at least, as outraged as a 13-year-old boy can be.

“This song,” he sniffed, “is AWFUL!”

Generally, I don’t pay much attention to comments teenagers make about the music of my generation.  How can eardrums pounded into commercial submission by the likes of Eminem and Fifty (pronounced “Fitty” – I’m not joking) Cent hope to understand the subtle rhythmic nuances of the Moody Blues or the potent musicality of Chicago?

But “this song” was “Hey, Jude” by the Beatles – by most accounts one of the greatest songs of the rock-n-roll era.  It has gentle passages.  It has hard-driving licks.  It has at least one really good scream by Paul McCartney.  I couldn’t let Jon’s uninformed dig pass unchallenged.

“This song,” I sniffed right back, “is simply the most successful song ever released by the greatest popular musical group of all time.  It sold more than five million copies in six months and is still being played on music stations all around the world 37 years after it was recorded.  YOUR music will be as outdated as my polyester bellbottoms next week.”

“But listen to it, Dad,” Jon protested.  “LISTEN to it!”

I looked at my son as if for the first time.  Never mind that he is almost an exact replica of me at 13 – this couldn’t possibly be my child.  He may very well have my height, my dimples and my disposition, but if he doesn’t have my music in his soul it’s time to re-write the will.

I took a deep breath.  Perhaps if I explained the song to him a little he would understand it more.  I talked to him about the Beatles, and where they were on their musical journey in 1968.  I told him how the group had evolved through the years and how they were soon to disband and go their separate ways.  I explained Yoko Ono.

Well, as much as one can explain Yoko Ono.

I tried to help him see how this song mirrored one of the most chaotic, frenzied years of a chaotic, frenzied era: the U.S.S. Pueblo incident in North Korea, the Tet Offensive, the Battle of Saigon, the My Lai Massacre, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic National Convention, student riots, “Rosemary’s Baby,” the “black power” protests at the Mexico City Olympics, the election of Richard M. Nixon.

It took all seven minutes and 11 seconds of the song’s then-unprecedented running time to get through it all, but finally I thought I saw the slightest ray of understanding on his adolescent face.

“I think I sort of understand what you’re talking about,” Jon said.  “But I still don’t think its right to make fun of the Jews.”

Now it was my turn to be confused.

“The Jews?” I repeated.  “I don’t think I said anything about Jewish people.”

“But the song does,” he said, an unspoken “well, DUH!” written all over his face.  “It says `Hey Jews’ over and over again, and I just think . . .”

“What a second,” I said, trying really hard not to laugh.  “Did you say `Hey Jews’?”

“No,” he continued, “the Beatles did.  And I just think that’s wrong, no matter what the North Koreans were doing to Yoko Ono at the Democratic National Convention.”

Now, I’ve got to be honest.  Part of me is pleased that Jon was outraged by a perceived slight to another religious denomination.  Another part of me is hoping that his father (uh, I’m still assuming here that this would be me) will eventually learn to listen before he lectures.  But now there’s this other part of me that is suddenly, inexplicably, enigmatically wondering: what WERE the North Koreans doing to Yoko Ono at the Democratic National Convention?

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— © Joseph Walker

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