Beth Dolinar

Generation gap really a chasm

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I don’t need reminding that I’m rather oldish. Thanks to my daughter, who is 14 and everything that age means, I am at the receiving end of exasperated eye rolling every time I speak, move or put on something to wear.


Forget what they say about 50 being the new 20 or whatever it is this week. There is a generation gap, and nowhere is that gaping pit more evident than in the college classroom.


So I’m teaching my class of university juniors this week about how to write an introduction to a radio interview. For the lesson, I’d selected the lead-in to an interview with a very famous singer. Here is how things went in the classroom:


Me: I’m going to play for you the intro to an interview with Linda Ronstadt.


Class: (blank stares)


Me: You know her, right? Linda Ronstadt, who sang “You’re no Good.”


Class: (some befuddled head shaking and shrugging)


Me: Um, “Blue Bayou,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”– ringing any bells?


Class: (dead silence)


Me: Don’t you people have parents?


Silly me. I thought the historical context of people in their early 20s reaches back to the ’60s and ’70s. But here was a group of 11 bright college students, and not a one knew of Linda Ronstadt.


“You guys are kidding me, right?” I asked, before finally giving up and explaining the singer.


Linda Ronstadt was the rock ’n’ roll goddess of the '70s and early '80s. She sold 100 million records before rebelling against the culture and heading backward in time to record albums of American standards with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. She now has Parkinson’s disease and can no longer sing.


Funny how we live in our own little worlds of memory, isn’t it? There was a time, when I was about the same age as my students, that I wanted to be Linda Ronstadt. Forget that I cannot sing – it was the essence of the artist I was after. She dressed in a cool, bohemian way, seemed shy like I could be, and she refused to be confined by what commerce and culture seemed to be expecting of women then.


I went to her concerts and found myself in a sea of other young brunettes who had tried to look just like Linda. At home, I’d hold her album covers while I listened to the record, spending hours studying her.


And now, 30 years later, I found myself facing a room of people born so recently the name Ronstadt means nothing to them.


Driving home after class, I thought about my own college professors, and what references they may have offered that were beyond my reach. Would it have been Rosemary Clooney? Ella Fitzgerald? Keely Smith? Those singers came before my time, but I knew about them (maybe because my parents played their records in our home).


“Well, radio is different now,” I told my students. “You have to go looking for older music.” I was trying to make them feel better, but what about my feelings?


“You guys make me feel so old,” I said, and they laughed. In my memory, the days of “Blue Bayou” were just yesterday. In truth, they were decades ago, long before my students were born.


Before we moved on in class, a student had a question. Who is Nelson Riddle, and what’s an American standard?


I did my best explaining, but to be honest, that was way before my time.



Beth Dolinar can be reached at cootiej@aol.com.


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