Sweet Music to My Ears
If total strangers asked you to sing out loud, would you do it?
Being that many of my passengers are young, I often get a request to turn on some music. Here in the South Bay, this often translates into hip-hop. Some are content with the radio, others prefer to listen to their own tunes. However, most middle-age passengers prefer conversation over music. On a warm Saturday night in June, a couple in their 50s would prove that theory wrong and show that they had some rhythm too.
I am a musicophile, and enjoy various genres including blues, classic rock, indie, and occasionally even classical or country. Foo Fighters one day, Ray Charles the next. However, current hip-hop has never been my cup of tea. I can do some of the old-school stuff, like Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Outkast and Eminem. The style is the question. Whether it’s the G-funk groove for the young Latin girls, pop-rap for the teens, or edgy gangsta rap for the angry white boys, hip-hop transcends age and color.
Despite my aversion, modern hip-hop does make sense. It represents the same ideals rock and roll did for my age group-a younger generation’s voice. It is a vehicle to comment on relevant social issues, and tool to voice frustration over things as they are. It’s the polar opposite of voice-synthesized pop music. Amen. In the end, it’s also about sex and money, which is also the basis of good old rock and roll. One might compare it to the punk scene in the 1970s, except this genre is not simply a musical period in time, it is evolving, and we have many successful rappers who have gone on to start multi-million record labels, act, produce, and create music empires. What can I say, I am an old white guy. Guess I don’t have as much angst as I used to.
Don and Francine were partying on Santana Row, a popular upscale collaboration of high-end lofts, expensive retail shops, movie theater, and no shortage of good food and cocktails. Splunk, the growing data analytic and app delivery startup, moved in as anchor tenant in 2016. This strip gets very crowded on the weekends. Massive crowds fill the streets, making turns in your car a lesson in patience. You can even drop $100K on a Tesla, as the luxury manufacturer has a retail showroom there. It is a destination spot for wealthy shopping tourists, locals looking for a fun night and out-of-town visitors seeking one of San Jose’s better nighttime areas.
Normally, older couples are generally more subdued, closing most evenings between 10:00pm and 11:00pm, ready for a rational night of sleep. Don and Francine were far from that. For starters, they got into my car with a burst of enthusiasm.
“HEY SHAWN, HOW’S IT GOING?” Don started the conversation in a deafening tone that startled me. New passengers often greet drivers like they have known them for years, after getting their first names from the app on their phone.
I really enjoy riders like this, as they make trips seem shorter and far more tolerable. I was in an amiable mood, and fired back at them with the same energy, “Great kids, how are YOU doing?”
“We’re awesome!” Don bellowed back. I knew this would be an interesting ride.
Don was a big man, assertive in an easygoing way, complete with a full grey beard. Francine was tall and lean, with a quick smile and infectious laugh. Both were gregarious, likable, and super cute together. It was obvious they had a few glasses of wine at dinner and were feeling no pain, but were not overindulged.
Without prompting, Francine chimed in, “We are in town from Phoenix. Don has clients to see. We thought we would make a weekend of it here in the Bay Area.”
“That’s sounds fun,” I obliged.“Welcome.”
“Thanks, do you have any tunes in this car?” she asked, obviously wanting to continue the good mood.
My radio has two preset levels. I have one with almost every musical taste, that I use mostly with passengers. The other is mine, and has only rock, indie and NPR.
“Of course,” I replied and started to go through the list of stations. Starting with the pop stations, I quickly moved to the indie channel, then a bit of R&B, waiting for an emphatic confirmation.
“Come on, don’t you have any old school rock?” Don asked with a bit of impatience, like there was no other type of music people listened to.
I laughed. “Gotcha covered”, and quickly switched to my stations. I hit the first of six preset channels. It would take me a few tries to hit gold.
Pushing my first rock button, Metallica’s Enter Sandman came on, as James Hetfield growled “Off to Never Neverland” through my speakers. Definitely too hard I thought, and Francine concurred.
On to the next channel, the alto voice of Steve Perry of Journey serenaded us with Don’t Stop, Believing. Francine seemed to like this one, but Don quickly jumped in with his two cents, “Good song but a little too mellow.”
On the last attempt, one of AC/DC’s very recognizable anthems struck a nerve:
"Cause the walls were shaking
The earth was quaking
My mind was aching
And we were making it and you
Shook me all night long
Yeah you shook me all night long"
“That’s the ticket!” Don screamed and began singing along.
Now when I say singing, I don’t mean a level slightly above a speaking voice. He was at now serenading us at full capacity. I secretly love this kind of unbridled enthusiasm. It didn’t take Francine more than two seconds to catch the fever too, as she began singly as loudly as she could.
Don paused the duet momentarily and asked, “Do you know this one Shawn?”
Now I have listened to AC/DC since high school, when Bon Scott, before his untimely death, was the band's front man. Their 1979 album, Highway to Hell, is in my humble opinion, one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded.
“Come on, I grew up with AC/DC!” I barked back, obviously caught up in the mayhem.
Don hit my shoulder in an encouraging thump, and yelled, “Then sing Shawn, sing!
Francine immediately nodded and doubled the pressure, “Yea, sing with us!”
Well... what would you do? In reality, it wasn’t really a choice, and I was more than happy to oblige. We cruised down the 17 South Freeway, hit Highway 85 toward Almaden Valley, windows down, volume high, and sang in unison:
"You really took me and you
Shook me all night long
You shook me all night long
Yeah, yeah, you shook me all night long
You really got me and you
Shook me all night long
Yeah you shook me
Yeah you shook me
All night long"
Here we were, three old geezers, reliving our high school party days and having a grand time. It made me realize that life is what you make of it. You're either a wallflower or a participant. I choose the latter. A special thanks goes out to this special couple. Keep rocking and singing till the music stops!
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