Old music favorites get better with age

The following is an exchange with Todd Gallagher, author of "Andy Roddick Beat Me With A Frying Pan," about the state of popular music in high school. Gallagher is working on a second book, the subject of which is his return as a 33-year-old man to high school in Pittsburgh to see whether he can do better the second time around. (For more: see toddversushighschool.com).

I'm taking advantage of Gallagher's status as an embedded reporter to help settle some questions I have about the musical taste of today's youth. Specifically, I want to drive at two things:

1. What are high schoolers really listening to?
2. Is today's popular music as bereft of rock music as I think it is, especially as compared to 15 years ago, when Gallagher and I were both in high school?

But generally, I want to see how many groups of people we can offend in the course of several e-mails.

Todd --
When my musical past comes up in discussion, I'm often tempted to revise history. I want to believe that my high school self listened to better music than he actually did.

In order to take apart this phenomenon, let's first examine the year 1994, which spanned the end of my sophomore and beginning of my junior year of high school.

Albums released that year included Nine Inch Nails' "The Downward Spiral," Nirvana's "Unplugged in New York," Oasis' "Definitely Maybe," The Prodigy's "Music For The Jilted Generation" and Jeff Buckley's "Grace."

I was listening to none of those albums. In 1994, I was infinitely more excited about the release of Bon Jovi's greatest hits compilation, "Cross Road," than I was about anything made by Trent Reznor. I was also listening to more than my share of Boyz II Men, Salt N Pepa and even, gasp, Mariah Carey.

But all is not dark in the deep recesses of my musical past. That same year, I bought the Beastie Boys' "Ill Communication," got excited about Weezer's "Blue Album," decided that Stone Temple Pilots was palatable enough that I could handle "Purple" and, on a whim, bought Soundgarden's epic "Superunknown." (But mostly because I wanted to impress my friends.)

So, while I was by no means cutting-edge, my formative musical years were far better than they should have been, considering my location in a tiny town in Kansas. Or so I think. Again, it's possible that I'm looking back at this with cool-colored glasses. For a more direct comparison, let's go to the charts:

The top 10 albums on this week's Billboard 200 (Dec. 1) are a Bon Jovi album of new material, a Christmas album by Andrea Bocelli, something by country singer Carrie Underwood, the music from the Michael Jackson movie "This Is It," "Fearless" by Taylor Swift, a NOW compilation, a Michael Bublé record and an album by the near-metal band Flyleaf, with the list rounded out by sound tracks: one from the Fox television show "Glee" and one from the "Twilight" movie.

In 1994, the top 10 were:

1. The aforementioned "Unplugged in New York," Nirvana
2. "II," Boyz II Men
3. "Murder Was The Case," Soundtrack
4. "Youthanasia," Megadeth
5. "Smash," Offspring
6. "Big Ones," Aerosmith
7. "Bedtime Stories," Madonna
8. "Wildflowers," Tom Petty
9. "Monster," R.E.M.
10. "From the Cradle," Eric Clapton

When I started this note, I actually had no idea the difference would be this vast. Because to me, it seems that today's Billboard chart is overrun with horrible, horrible music. And that's probably generous. By contrast, the chart from this week in 1994 is fairly respectable, at least to my admittedly prejudiced eye.

The 1994 list seems to me to be fairly representative of what was on the radio and what I was hearing. Following that reasoning, current high school students must be hearing what's on the current top 10.

So here is my task for you, my valiant embedded reporter: Find out. Print out the two lists and show them to a fellow student or three. Ask them if the music on today's chart is what they're listening to. And feel free to tell me a little about your own musical remembrances from high school.

-- Paul

Dear Paul,
Before we get cranking, please keep in mind that I like only older music. Not because it's older, mind you, but because most everything post-mid-'70s is terrible. The only two concerts I've been to in the past 10 years were Brian Wilson and Brian Wilson. Nonetheless, I'm always on the lookout for new bands to like that I end up never liking.

Aside from classic rock, also known as "rock" or "rock that doesn't have synthesizers," my only other musical leanings are things like Phil Spector, Motown and some '50s stuff. That's about it, even though sometimes I'll wear an AC/DC T-shirt to seem cool and dangerous, and occasionally I'll pretend to like Dave Matthews to fit in with other people or to encourage a girl I'm trying to sleep with not to start talking about Chingy. Sure, there's a song here and there I'll get excited about and listen to over and over again like Sufjan Stevens' superfeminine "Chicago" or Bright Eyes' "When the President Talks to God" and an album like The Killers' first, but after really, really, trying to like newer indie music, I've learned the best route is to ignore it entirely and not waste my time. To paraphrase something I vaguely remember Steve Martin saying on "Let's Get Small" or one of his other albums I'm not looking up, "Being closed-minded is good because that means I don't have to waste my time on things I don't like so much because it's not as good as the stuff I already know I like!"

Sorry, buddy, one day I'm sure I'll see the brilliance in these crazy kids.

(Just to be clear, and in the event you think this is a weird way to respond to Paul's e-mail, the conceit of an e-mail exchange is purely a literary device. Paul and I do not actually send e-mails to each other like this. Most of the ones we do in real life are more like "DID U SEE MIKE MILLER THE OTHER NIGHT??!?! DAWG THAT WAS COLD!!!" or "I am sad.")

This attitude is not very different from the attitude I had in 1994 when I was in high school the first time. When "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came out I was like, "Why are people all of the sudden wearing plaids and listening to this awful noise?" "Monster" I thought was kind of subpar because I was judging it against earlier R.E.M. and just coming to the realization that Michael Stipe was a completely unbearable pansy. "Wildflowers" I liked and listened to, but it wasn't in the rotation for long and paled in comparison to "Full Moon Fever." Certainly none of them was in the category of even a second-tier Kinks album. Overall, even at age 17, I already felt like the music being made wasn't for me.

But there is a disturbing trend for sure, and looking at those two lists is jarring. I distinctly remember discussing with my friends in 1994 (to beat this point into the ground, as well as every year since) how bad popular music had become. In fact -- and I don't want to offend your indie sensibilities here -- I believe music has fallen more in the past 30 years than any other art form. At the very least I think we can agree that mainstream music has fallen more than mainstream books, movies, or television. (My good friend Tad Conlin -- no relation to Bill Simmons' friend J-Bug -- a high school pal and rock music aficionado, recently had me take a look at the top albums of 1969. "Everybody Knows this is Nowhere" wasn't even in the top 10! "Nashville Skyline," which would win every Grammy this year, wasn't on the radar! "The Band" by The Band was ignored! There were literally like 50 great albums that year, each of which would be the best album of 2009.)

But still, there was enough decent material around when I was in high school, mixed with some solid greatest hits coming out, that I thought the problem was cyclical and we would soon be back into the days of The Rolling Stones and The Who. At the very least I thought the next wave of bands imitating them were around the corner. I was ohhh so very wrong. Without further charting the descent of music, writing a 200,000-word treatise on the Telecommunications Act of 1996 or just sitting here for 20 minutes while asking the reader to go turn on the radio and come back, let's just say that things have gone very, very, wrong for the average suburban male since those days as it relates to popular culture. The rock fan, who once drove the music industry and to a larger extent pop culture, is now a disenfranchised silent majority begging for anything to cling on to. This is why we have artistically drained once-greats like Bruce Springsteen and The Stones selling out stadiums and have people doing backflips and giving Grammys to them for their awful new albums. People are dying for it so bad, they're even willing to stoop to these lows for their fix.

Given that, I'm surprised to see that in 1994 there was at least a little of the fighting the good fight going on. I had friends and knew normal people who owned "Unplugged," "Wildflowers" and "Monster." So, all in all, the entire top 10 wasn't that bad in 1994, and people I was friends with actually owned multiple top-10 albums. Today that idea seems inconceivable. None of those same kinds of people in my current high school, or my adult buddies for that matter, is listening to today's top 10.

For as bad as things are musically, one thing that is very good and has made me happy is that the students I'm around in Pittsburgh are not into the terrible, terrible music dominating the charts. While in the early '90s it's conceivable that you could be a normal person and like MTV, now there's zero chance that you would think the MTV Video Music Awards are cool.

That's not to say that pop culture is totally being ignored at my school. There are girls who are obsessed with Taylor Swift. I hear people rapping and whatnot, but the base has not moved as far as I had expected going into high school life.

There are still people listening to Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, only now they've added U2 or Tom Petty to the playlist. A group of freshmen in my Spanish class were discussing how great Judas Priest is. There is a vague awareness of good music and that liking what is on the MTV Video Music Awards is a bad thing.

But for the most part, what most of them are listening to is painful. The dominant music at my school is overproduced, kind of boring, commercialized pseudo-indie, pseudo-rock. Let's just call it "pansy rock." Rock for pansies.

The good news is that it's not urban-influenced fake tough guy nonsense like Limp Bizkit, nor does it involve bling or Kenny Chesney in any way, so that's good. It's kind of post-emo? ("Emo" is a term, right? I may not be using the term correctly, so just think of what I imagine emo to be.) It's attempting to be smart, but the primary focus is on being cutesy. In that sense it's total poo. There is no normal adult white male alive who could possibly listen to this music. To put it in different terms, it's music that feels as though it was inspired by the uber-cutesy comedy stylings of Michael Cera. Inoffensively bland, mentally dull and incredibly PC. Like Wes Anderson's aesthetic but without talent or intelligence.

Please be advised that I am in no way tough nor do I ask that of my music. Paul Simon is fine by me. Cat Stevens is A-OK, David Bowie and Mick Jagger can "Dance in the Streets" or whatever we're allowed to call what those two did all they want. But what is going on in music, from my limited perspective, is the intellectual and emotional neutering of the suburban rock fan.

And buddy, that ain't good!

Yours truly,

P.S. To your point about our personal music taste not being as great as we thought it was, that's certainly the case. Music taste, like taste in food, movies or anything really, certainly evolves. As you get older, you become more desensitized to mass marketing and your tastes get more refined. Things you thought were good or at least tolerable in your teens become intolerable even in your mid-20s. There's certainly some of that going on. Kids who have pretty good taste and will end up being normal human beings still listen to some crap.

Dammit, Todd. You done went and stole my entire readership with your "Everything then was awesome, everything now sucks" thesis. Now, I have to be the stick in the mud, albeit it in a weirdly reversed role, as I'll be the one arguing for people to try new things and you'll be the one arguing for them never to give up their Foreigner collection. Under normal conditions, you'd be the codger in this argument. But I'm afraid you'll find far more allies in these pages than I will.

I want to get back to the main thrust (I love using that term) of our argument later, but first I have to address the point of your militant stance regarding the horridness of today's popular music. Because I respectfully disagree. Actually, I disrespectfully disagree. I save respectful disagreement for people like my parents and Christopher Beam. I've never spent an afternoon at Chateau Marmont yelling at passing girls with those people. I have done that with you, which means I can get away with calling you an idiot.

A few months ago, I crafted a piece about why I don't care about The Beatles. Most readers of that column stopped reading about two lines into it, insecure as they were about their own musical tastes, and fired off e-mails that fit neatly into two categories:

1. Paul, you're stupid and, while I usually like your stuff, I think you missed the mark here.
2. Paul, you're stupid and, while I've never read your stuff before, I can honestly say I will never again. Also, you're a [insert vile English curse word].

Suffice it to say that I didn't gain a lot of fans with that column. But I stick to my point about rock music (to help make it, I'll lift from Oasis, a band I used in that same piece to further bolster my outlandish claims by using a song title from their bloated but terrific third album): "It's Gettin' Better (Man!!)."

The problem, of course, is that It's Also Gettin' Harder (Man!!) to find the music of which you and I speak. And by that I mean: good music, which I think we can define as music that is highly listenable but also has some semblance of depth. In other words: not The Fray.

In the '60s and '70s, when all the music you claim to love was being made, there wasn't anything besides rock 'n' roll on the radio. Or so I gather. I wasn't around in the '60s and wasn't conscious of what was happening for the two years of the '70s that I was around for. Thus, I'm going off what I've "heard," which is never a perfect way to make an argument.

And when I say "wasn't anything besides rock 'n' roll on the radio," I understand that there was some country and western and probably a little R&B on the radio. But for the most part, it was rock music on the push-button stereo of your '71 Chevelle.

But as music grew, intermingled and, yeah, integrated, styles were co-opted, mixed and combined. And -- AND (capitals because this is important) -- money got involved. Or rather, got more involved. Because I'm sure it's always been a factor.

Record labels started to figure out that they could make dump trucks of cash by pairing Michael Jackson with Quincy Jones. And presto: Black music is again made palatable for white people. Only this time, instead of the performer doing it (Elvis Presley), the white guys behind the scenes were doing it (Epic Records).

Throw in charts, market research, cable television (which made the appearance of the artists in question that much more important) and, finally, the Internet, and it's no wonder that people generally listen to what you and I would deem "bad" music. You can't blame them. It's sort of like when poor people eat McDonald's all the time. Sure, it's terrible for them. But there's a reason they're poor -- they had bad parents. And bad parents don't teach their kids about leafy greens. They teach them about being lazy. And then their kids see that it's four dollars for a meal that's (A) delicious and (B) filling, and of course they eat it.

The music on the radio is the same: If I were a babe in the woods of the FM dial, I'd listen to the easy stuff too. If I didn't have anyone to explain to me the beauty of the concept that is the rock album or to patiently remind me that music can be deep and rewarding art, I'd be skipping from Lady Gaga to Pink to Taylor Swift all day long.

That's not to say that there's anything wrong with those artists, actually. It's just that their music isn't good over the long term. Kind of like McDonald's. I can't argue with McDonald's as a hangover preventer, just like I can't argue with "Just Dance" at the club. But for lifelong patterns, I'll take a decent wine, a well-seasoned piece of grilled chicken, green beans and brown rice. Just like I'll take The Gaslight Anthem's "The '59 Sound."

Of course, it's hard to find this stuff. I can't argue with you there. It's not easy to find the grilled chicken and good wine among all the McDonald's. But once you get plugged in, a whole new world awaits. This is counterintuitive to people like you and me, because we spend 765 hours each week on the Internet. Many of our friends do as well. But our friends are not normal. Joe Junior Bacon Cheeseburger probably still listens to the radio. And if he doesn't listen to the radio, he's probably hearing music on television, in malls and at his 13-year-old sister's birthday party, which he's creepily trolling for prospects. There are still more Joe JBCs in the world than there are people like you and me. So, while the Internet is an advantage for some people, it doesn't solve our musical dilemma. People still don't get to hear the good stuff.

Try this for me, Todderick. Listen to this song by Kurt Vile. It's called "Blackberry Song" and it's from his album "Childish Prodigy." Give it a fair shake. What do you think? Because I think it's amazing. But I also think it's just the tip of the iceberg. There's so much more where that came from. None of it is on the radio, but it's out there.

But back to the original "thrust" …

I think we've pretty much established that you and I were not cool in high school, at least as cool is taken to mean "plugged into good culture." At my high school, such status was the rule, not the exception; the only people who regularly listened to what I now view as good music were the quite obviously troubled kids. I was generally untroubled in high school, largely because there wasn't much to be troubled about in Meriden, Kan. My troubled days were waiting around the time line bend, though. When they found me, I discovered my personal musical Jesuses, in the bands I listened to in college and the years that came after.

So, how are kids today doing compared with us? Because it sounds to me as if they're actually doing BETTER than we were. We had the advantage of charts stocked, or at least semistocked, with mostly good music. And we STILL listened to mediocre stuff. Your classmates, as it were, have almost no chance, as long as we keep the charts as our guide, but they seem to be doing passably. Do you agree?

It needs to be said that I genuinely and sincerely loved your article on why The Beatles are overrated. It's one of the best things I've read over the past couple of years. You brought a great point to light about the need to separate importance from entertainment value. Also, the McDonald's analogy in this last e-mail, although another thinly veiled attack on the welfare system and another attempt to bring the poor down a peg, is excellent as well. See, I am capable of saying positive things! Now the bad news: Even though I believe what I said, I am starting off by saying positive things just so that I can then say negative things!!!

1. The concept laid out in The Beatles article that culture is improving is not true when it comes to music.
2. The McDonald's bit is missing one component: While the poor, lazy, dirt people as you call them are just consuming bad music (and food) because of their plight, you are rich and smart and putting in effort and going out of your way to find bad music! That is worse! (Though not worse than being poor!)
3. You say: "That's not to say that there's anything wrong with those artists" referring to Lady Gaga, Pink and Taylor Swift. Is this like when people say "Not that there's anything wrong with that …" but don't mean it? I don't understand. Clearly not only do we hate Pink but also hate, as a person, anyone who has ever listened to her, right?

Now a semiunrelated jag, although l guess it sort of relates to Bullet Point 1 in Section 2, Page 1 of E-mail 2. Looking at the overall picture of entertainment, there is no possible way that anything can be as good as it was PTBOP (Pre The Birth of Pink), if for no other reason but the rise of political correctness. Of course there are a million other reasons as well, but this is the one I want to complain about.

Take movies, for example. Go watch "Animal House" and count how many fantastic jokes wouldn't be allowed to be in that movie today. OK, at least think of some of the funniest jokes in that movie and imagine they aren't in there anymore. Strip away enough of those jokes, and "Animal House" goes from an all-time great to good. Taking away huge chunks of comedic and intellectual territory from artists is always going to lower overall quality. This applies to music as well. Also, to writers! And that hits close to home, since that's sort of what we do! How many jokes from what I originally wrote will make it into this correspondence when edited? Combine that with how many times I edited myself mentally before I even put joke to page, and we're talking about a significant amount. I understand the need to do this given all of the considerations, but when there's this kind of environment nationally you're going to lose artistic quality, or in the case of this correspondence, you're going to lose a lot of really awesome and mean Kobe jokes.

When it comes down to it, the top-10 lists are always going to be polluted with garbage for morons. That was mostly true in 1994 and is certainly true today. I would agree that the top 10 is worse now than it was then, but really the discussion at hand hinges on where you see the state of rock.

As much as I want to like Vile so we could share some common ground that would make my criticisms stronger and even more stinging, and I did listen to him and gave him a chance, it just sounded like a poor impression of a Stones song. Or at the very least, he was doing a poor man's Jagger. And as much as I wanted to like it, what it really made me do two minutes in is think "Wow, were The Stones good. I need to listen to 'Sympathy for the Devil' like 1,000 times in a row the moment I am done giving Kurt Vile a fair chance."

Vile's heart is in the right place, but there's no spark to him, and the music is just kind of dreary. Where are the harmonies? Where is the composition or musicianship? Why do all of these new bands have so much discordant sound? Is this the emo-punk influence? Why don't they just try to make things sound nice? Furthermore, a lot of high school tunes involve electronica, which clearly is terrible and basically rap for white people and takes very little talent. Bad poetry (also known as poetry) over fake rhythms is not appropriate at any age.

To get a feel for how much better quality was back in the olden times, go put on a Neil Young album and listen to the quality of everything from the recording to the performance. For that matter, put on a second-tier boy band like The Monkees and listen to the quality of their session musicians versus what's coming on today.

Now that the nail is driven into the coffin of modern music by my scathing CRITIQUE, let's get down to putting the brass tacks on the corpse here, Shirley, and take on the original thrust of your question: Was I cool in high school? The answer is an emphatic yes. (Paul's note: I know for a fact that none of this is true. Is this the same guy who goes only to Beach Boys concerts?) And you know what, between scoring the game-winning touchdown against East in The Big Game and nailing anything that moved I listened to a Keith Moon drum solo every day on the ride to school and "Let it Bleed" every day when I left. So no, you don't have to be troubled in high school to like good music, and in fact, I think it hurts. While I was jamming to rock and or roll, those geeks I was terrorizing were sitting in a corner trying to figure out if Robert Smith or Morrissey was a better kisser. Nowadays they're probably listening to Bullet For My Valentine and the "Twilight" soundtrack.

Look, theoretically the kids in modern times should be doing better overall. They have the ability to go look up the top 100 albums of all time online or read Lester Bangs (whom I've never read) or just do some independent research and five minutes later be listening to "Astral Weeks." If they don't like it they can find something else amazing that it took me years to unearth. But they're also at a major disadvantage in that they're in an environment where Pink not only exists but also is celebrated on multiple levels. Not that this is a primary criterion for being a good musician, but it is illustrative of how terrible things are now. When was the last time there was a musician where you thought "That is a good musician that I can somewhat relate to as a person"? Eddie Vedder? At least there were people like that in the mainstream in 1994.

And at least when we were in high school, when I'd get bummed about the state of music, I was just getting sad about how far rock had fallen. Now rock doesn't even exist and certainly doesn't exist in the mainstream. There's barely an awareness of the kind of albums I was pining for in high school, let alone a hope they can make a resurgence. Literally, the students at my high school call bands like Guns 'n' F'n Roses oldies. Oldies! They say it's an outdated style of music and doesn't sound like modern stuff. It's effing rock music, and if "Welcome to the Jungle" were released today, it would be a No. 1 hit! How can you possibly recover from being in an era when this kind of mentality toward and a lack of appreciation for real music is what's going in people's heads? The answer is you can't. In the words of the late, great Christ Jackson, founder of H.O.P.E.:

"Two million 13-year-old girls are driving our culture, and I'm not sure the rest of the country is smart enough to notice."

Keep on thrusting and the next time we're in town together, I'm taking you to a Tom Petty concert. Assuming he is still alive then!

Todd --

Because I'm the writer on record for ESPN, I get to finish off this monstrosity. One might think that that would be an advantage. I could carefully craft a well-planned rebuttal and leave you, a quivering mass of intellectual jelly, lying in the grass while I fade into a Technicolor sunset.

Unfortunately, I feel that, by the readers' judgment, you will have won this argument. I feel like Mondale, Dukakis and Gore. Modugo, if you will. You've taken the populist (effective) route of scaring the citizenry with how bad things are now and how much better they were before.

Before I march off to lick my brain's wounds, a few points.

1. I actually think Pink's "Sober" is probably one of the best songs of the past two years. Sure, she didn't write it. That was the job for the girl from 4 Non Blondes. But she can SING it. However, I'll grant you the point that Pink is mostly soul-destroying.

2. Your point that rock is dead is valid as we apply it to the charts and to popular music. There is very little "cool" mainstream rock music, largely because the cycles of cool are so fast in this day and age that it's impossible to remain cool if you're also successful. See: the Kings of Leon. If the Internet/cable television hadn't come along, the Kings of Leon probably would be better received than The Who were.

The problem with your main contrarian point, I think, is that you're searching for music that reminds you of what rock music used to be. There is no new Tom Petty because if someone sounds like Tom Petty, we'd say, "Quit trying to sound like Tom Petty." My love of rock music is derived from its ability to change. Of course, this means that "rock music" becomes harder and harder to define. It's constantly morphing, creating new subgenres that most people find annoying but that I find reassuring, because each of them is another chance for someone to find music that speaks to him. Before I started writing this response, I was listening to an album by Crystal Castles. That act's lead singer is WEIRD. And what they do on a record is WEIRD. But it's also very rock 'n' roll. It doesn't sound anything like The Rolling Stones. It doesn't sound anything like anything that's ever been made.

The problem inherent to any argument about music is that there truly is no right or wrong answer. I think we can say, probably, that the kids at your high school are mostly doing better than they should be, but that's because they're hyper-Internet-savvy. I'm sure they could reprogram my laptop from Pittsburgh just by having access to your e-mail address.

But I worry about their futures. That's a problem -- we have enough to worry about with the current state of things.

It's interesting to discuss this with you because you're probably closer to normal than I am. I have an obsession with music that is not normal. You like music, but you don't let it take over your life. That is, you behave like a normal human being. (Todd's note: Saying that I behave like a normal person is probably the most incorrect thing that's ever been written.)

My sadness, then, comes from the realization that you've given up on finding good new music. And obviously, that's where someone -- the program director at a radio station, the head of your favorite label, the manager at Best Buy -- has erred grievously. That person, or group of people, has decided that it's better to go after the dollar of the person who responds to the music of The Rolling Stones and The Kinks by attempting to reproduce their sounds. (Or by continuing to tour those acts.)

That's why the music on rock radio is made by Shinedown and Nickelback. But that's a losing battle, because people eventually get tired of Shinedown and Nickelback, throw up their hands and say, like you, that they'll be happier listening to Tom Petty.

It's nearly the same on the alternative or indie stations. The music continues to get sissified, because that's what sells, and the result is a huge gap. No one's hearing Manchester Orchestra because it doesn't sound like The Rolling Stones, and it's just a little too heavy for 14-year-old girls, so we're left with a gaping chasm that should be filled by, say, Crystal Castles.

But it won't be, because people like you -- and I'm not saying that in a condescending way; as we've discussed, you're normal -- have given up on anything new. If you hear the name Crystal Castles, you think, "Eh, never heard of it."

Don't you see, Todd?! (I'm winding down, losing steam, pleading with you.) Of course you've never heard of it. That's what makes it interesting. But you have to be ready for it to sound different, just like our forebears were, for whatever reason, ready for Chuck Berry to sound different from Glenn Miller.

And so, while at first blush it appears that the kids of today are better off than we are, they may actually be ripe to be pushed off the cliff like a herd of mastodon. (The now-extinct megamammal. Not the rock band. Who you should listen to, by the way.) Because although they may be in good shape now, what's waiting for them is the long fall and the unforgiving crack of bone that is a world bereft of tolerance for the next new thing. They aren't being taught -- by people like you, or by their older brothers -- that their favorite new music may not sound like their favorite old music.

Signing off,

With that, I'm declaring this argument over. I can't say for sure who won or lost, and as I type that, I realize that we didn't actually start out with an argument in mind. We set out to figure out what today's kids are listening to and whether they're doing better than we were.

My summary, and I think Todd would agree, is that what they're listening to is mostly not great, but that what we were listening to was no better. And although in the short term they're probably better off than we were, thanks in large part to the Internet, I fear for their long-term musical development.

So, kids, if you're out there reading this, take heed. Todd and I may not agree on good versus bad, past versus present, happy versus sad, but I think we can agree on this: When it comes to music, don't listen to anything anyone tells you. Go out and find it on your own. It should be weird. It should be loud.

And it should be like nothing Todd or I have ever heard.

Paul Shirley has played for 13 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams: the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. His book "Can I Keep My Jersey?" -- which is available in paperback -- can be found here. He can be found at Twitter (Twitter.com/paulthenshirley) and you can e-mail him here.