It's the out-of-touch adults, not kids, who misread music lyrics.

Published April 26, 1999 7:00PM (EDT)

In the wake of the Littleton, Colo., disaster, publications are beginning
to weigh in on whether or not "satanic death music" -- as Jefferson County
Sheriff John Stone referred to it on MSNBC last week -- might have been one
of the factors that caused Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris to go on their
killing spree. Ann Powers, in Sunday's New York Times, has written one of
the smartest pieces on the subject so far, pointing out that adults
(including journalists) who aren't familiar with current rock 'n' roll
"quote lyrics out of context and misinterpret jokes as threats." Powers
knows that most young fans are able to pick up on those jokes, and although
the music "theatricalizes rage," she points out that "most fans simply
leave their frenzy at the concert hall door. But organized adult responses
to this difficult music often fail to grasp the difference between metaphor
and reality."

Powers isn't kidding when she talks about how detached most adults are from
the music of "youth culture." For proof, all you have to do is turn to the
Sunday Styles section of the same edition in which Powers' piece appeared.
For the -- in this case, aptly named -- "Counterintelligence" column, Alex
Witchel took a spin around New York with Derek Khan, a stylist who dresses
the likes of Lauryn Hill, Puff Daddy, Salt 'n' Pepa and Monica. Witchel
writes, "Now, I admit it had to be explained to me that the Monica in
question was not she of the Oval Office, but a hip-hop artist Mr. Khan finds so fabulous he says,
'The minute I saw her, I dropped on the floor and kissed it.' He was so excited telling the story,
I didn't have the heart to ask what hip-hop was."

Perhaps Witchel intended that last sentence to be ironic. But if she can't identify Monica as a hip-hop artist, should we be willing to give her the
benefit of the doubt? When an established writer for the nation's alleged paper of record makes a blithe joke about not knowing what hip-hop is, you
have to wonder if it's possible to trust anyone over 30 when it comes to pop music.

And by the way -- Paul isn't dead.

By Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

MORE FROM Stephanie Zacharek

Related Topics ------------------------------------------