It’s the witching hour and this humble blogger is happily surfing the cultural time machine that is Youtube. Currently playing is Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower. Was Hendrix a God? No, he’s just a stone cold dead rockstar. But we can all agree that he died because God wanted guitar lessons. There’s no debating that. The instant abstract memory in my head is the color purple.
Not because Hendrix did Purple Haze. That’s not the association. It was 1982 and my buddies and all our foxy girlfriends hiked three miles through a shadowy German forest just to hang out at the “roman tower”. It wasn’t actually Roman. In fact, it was probably no more than a few centuries old, but we did have to follow the overgrown mound of an ancient roman wall to find it. The lure wasn’t historical. From that tower, we had a spectacular view of the whole valley and all the abandoned privacy in the world to indulge ourselves. Some were smoking weed, some were drinking, one of the girls was whipping her hair in circles in the corner of my eye, but I was focused on the music blaring from Sammy Danger’s boom box, trying to figure out the song‘s meaning. Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower had a legendary artistic mystique and I listened to it while leaning over the battlements, listened to its word puzzles and the way Hendrix bent the notes into an almost inhuman sonic landscape. A purple sunset with a soft drowsy look hung over the forests and great expanses of rolling farmland in the distance. The music, and the memory of the music, was colored by the light. The world was purple.
Anyway, that’s the association. I fight the urge to take off my headphones, switch the audio over to the powerful speakers connected to my laptop, and crank the volume. It’s what I want to do, but I don’t. I’m positive the neighbors would love this song so much they’d call the cops to listen to it too.
An annoying phenomenon crops up every time I read the comment sections of any Youtube video. What’s with all the Justin Bieber hate? The kid is used as a punch line for every comparison to classic musicianship. We want to feel the hammer of the rock gods and educate ourselves with knowledgeable criticism from the comments, and instead we get Justin Bieber bashing.
To be honest, I don’t know much about the kid, other than he’s the current flavored heart throb to millions of 13-year-old girls and has a kid’s voice assisted with a slight gloss of AutoTune. It’s all absurd. Justin Bieber probably knows the Justin Bieber phenomenon is absurd too. But he seems to have just enough musical talent that he might be able to do something we’d actually respect ten years from now, so just let it go and leave the boy alone. He’s fulfilling a societal role.
I punch his name in on Youtube’s search line and bring up a video. It’s an up-tempo lament about his rejection at the hands of someone he describes as his first love. It’s a catchy number and I feel my big toe tapping away to its rhythm. Justin addresses the little girl who jilted him with pleas punctuated by Oohs that supposedly function as representations of heartbreak.
Watching this video, I remember reading something about an interview he gave in which he was asked some deeper questions than he usually gets. Something about rape and abortion. The whole thing sounded like a set up for conflict, if you ask me. Seriously, who the hell cares what a teenage boy thinks about rape victims and abortions? Then there was the interview where the kid gets stumped by the meaning of the word German. He doesn’t understand it and claims we don’t use that word in America. Later, in a moment of damage control, he explains that he thought the interviewer had said Jewman instead. I’m not sure about this one. I can’t decide if it’s more likely to accidentally hear the word Jewman during a normal conversation, or that an underducated teen idol would be unaware of a European country. I’m thinking the latter.
I skip to another video and Justin Bieber is singing in concert. The decibel level in the theater rose painfully every time he shook his famous hair or took off his shirt. Hair is important with teen idols. You can’t be a boy toy unless you have great hair on your head and absolutely none on your chest. Body hair means Man, not Boy, and that’s scary to 13-year-old girls. It eliminates you from “cute” status. And teen idols, above all, must be cute. Like babies and puppies. They’re sweet and innocent and the safest form of first love. During my youth, the girls loved Donny Osmond and Leif Garrett. David Cassidy reigned as the king of teen idols. Their posters adorned bedroom walls. Real rock stars, like Hendrix or Mick Jagger, were too threatening and dangerous because they wanted more than just kissing and hugging and holding hands.
Crushes on teen idols are a female rite of passage. They’re not actually in love with the star, not really, no, they are in love with the idea of love itself. The Disney fairytale version of love. The kind that still makes my wife sigh when she’s loading the dishwasher and hears a Beach Boys song on the radio.
Justin Beiber is just another in an outrageous and amazing lineage of teen idols.
The Donny Osmonds and David Cassidys took their torch from the Ricky Nelsons and Bobby Shermans, and delivered it to the Scott Baios and C. Thomas Howells, who handed it off to the Kirk Camerons and New Kids on the Block, and eventually to Justin Bieber.
It’s all just a stage in the sexual development for girls when the budding expression of emotional affection starts and manifests itself in the swooning over slightly older, non-threatening type of girly boys. It’s not actually about desiring sex, of course, but rather about processing a brand new and healthy feeling towards the opposite sex. The girl crush stage is short, but precious and necessary. Too quickly, it turns to more complex and confusing feelings with real boys. Then the heartbreaks begin.
So, just leave Justin Bieber alone. He’s filling a societal role and doing his part for the sexual development of young girls. Soon enough, they’ll be finished with him and he’ll get tossed onto that heap of “Where Are They Now?” teen idols that couldn’t make it past their indulgent glory days of being every schoolgirl’s dream.