Rolling thunder drifting into Coldplay


Somehow my name had popped up on the Serbia’s Ambassador to the world website. I’d Googled my name to see if my blog postings would come up, and there I was on this Serbian site. Oh, I realized after clicking in, it was the old “Serbia isn’t California” remark from a few columns back—the one in which I’d made a couple of faux pas.

The Serbian ambassador had written a short feature on my error, and several people had commented. The first was a young lady we’ll call Hayley—in fact that’s what she called herself. In two lines she dismissed whatever I had to say as irrelevant, as I’d spelled ‘Schwarzenegger’ incorrectly. So I clicked on her profile. Her blog came up with maybe 8 photos of her—one shirtless in a B-cup bra—confessing in her bio that she was 22 years old and trolling for dates. Always nice to get a sense of one’s critics, I thought.

In the good old days, before the Internet, editors controlled what hit the media. The dross was pre-vetted for the reader, leaving relatively sane, ready-for-publication information. That form held true through centuries of book printing, newspaper publishing and the relatively recent radio and television broadcasting. Now, with the Internet, anyone can express an opinion.

Yet editing is one of the most important and fundamental human skills. It isn’t unlimited creativity that sets us apart from other creatures—it’s the ability to edit out the irrelevant, to jettison the immaterial, in order to focus on and recombine into unique set of specifics. All human “discoveries”—and expertise—come from this ability to edit and focus.

And now we have the Web, with all its undisciplined, unrestrained opinion on full display for all to see and read. Rather than becoming a vast pool of valuable information, the Internet has become a vast cesspool of disinformation.

But one thing is certain. Whether the information is accurate or not, the Internet characterizes the tonal rhythms of a new century. In the last century, the tonality was mechanical. The sounds we came to love were the heavy-metal poundings in rapid percussive precision inside mechanical monsters of all types—printing presses, cannons, ship’s engines, paper mills, foundries, cars, transport trucks, railway locomotives and of course, Harley Davidsons.

An artist friend once stopped on a street to watch a Harley drive by. “A thing of beauty,” he said to himself reverentially, almost inaudibly. It looked like a ratty red heap to me, and a whole bunch too noisy. But it carried the rider low in the saddle, had lots of burnt chrome, and did that blat-blat-blat-blat farting sound that young kids and bikers seem to love.

Our little Charlotte County towns will be viscerally experiencing 5000 of these sounds up close in the first week of July next year. In case you haven’t heard Atlanticade is coming. There’ll be dresser Harleys and Sportsters and Fat Boys and gleaming custom choppers and Gold Wings and big imitation Harleys—the big twin Hondas and Yamahas and Kawasakis. There’ll be a few BMWs and old Triumphs and BSAs too, I’m sure, and a lot of sport bikes—crotch rocket Suzukis like the Hayabusa—and maybe even a Ducati or two. Just to put it all in perspective, at cruising speed, 5000 bikes riding three abreast will stretch out for almost 5 miles (or 8 kilometers if you prefer).

Now that’s rolling thunder. But one of the more interesting things about Atlanticade is not the noise but the demographic. These guys and gals are older—a lot older and a lot more affluent—than the young Born to Be Wild image they’re reliving. Which bodes very well for tourism, I expect, at least for one short week here next summer—that is if we can find enough ways for them to spend their money that quickly.

But for all their age and affluence rock and roll still courses through their veins as much as the sound of their bikes. Which brings me to the music my 17-year-old daughter downloads on her iPod. Every so often she hands over her ear buds wanting to see what I think. And what I think is this. It’s not exactly rock and roll.

It’s more like, well, I don’t know what. A lot of it doesn’t have much of a beat at all. One Radiohead tune seemed almost bland. And then it hit me. This is the Coldplay generation. This is the first generation of digital listeners. It’s the other side of the Internet phenomenon. While opinion and privacy go unedited, all those mechanical internal combustion engine sounds have been edited away in favour of a new, digital sensibility. The sound is more vacant, more ethereal, more lyrical—and less rhythmical than ever before.

Where the previous mechanical-industrial generations were primal, jazz being the highpoint of refinement, the new digital generation seems to have more in common with the past. This new music doesn’t seem to show up on the radio (which is mostly car-based anyway). It’s downloaded direct from server to iPod to ear. To me this music—like the Cocteau Twins tune, Alice—has more in common with the Impressionist compositions like Erik Satie’s Gymnopaedies or much older compositions from the Middle Ages or the Elizabethan Era.

It’s a bit like taking all the salt and sugar out of your diet. At first the food tastes bland, until you become accustomed to the real flavour of the food. So maybe there’s some decent editing going on here after all.

There’s something else to this transition that’s striking, too. Biker conventions like Atlanticade are graying anachronisms—the fading rumblings of old iron horses—in an age of dwindling fossil fuel reserves. Maybe our kids are consciously or subconsciously preparing for the post partum days to come.

Sure, there are still kids cruising around with the low-rider Hyundais with the huge 500-watt boom-box bass speakers in the back pounding out 120-decible hip hop. But there are a helluva lot more who are staying at home, downloading oh-so-cool tunes on iTunes and posting on Facebook.

I’m pretty sure even the girls in Serbia are well into this new digital paradigm. Come to think of it, I’ll have to consult Karl, the Serbian ambassador on this. I’ll keep you posted.


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