One of the more surreal experiences I had in high school was a ski trip with a friend’s youth group in Colorado. After a day on the slopes I was treated to a whiplash of, say, a lecture on the evils of macroevolution followed by getting drunk in a hot tub with my fellow brainwashees. There were also harrowing “study groups” that consisted of groups of a half dozen boys (or girls, although they were on another floor altogether), with a single, stone-faced parent, who would quietly and forcefully induce a strange combination of conversation and indoctrination, a process that strangely could be easily be derailed by asking a few questions or changing the subject. It was clear by the second day that the crew-cut head of our group didn’t enjoy his role any more than we were enjoying ours. The whole escapade climaxed on the third day, when he broke down crying, saying “I’ve made some mistakes in my life that I don’t want you boys to have to experience.” This was the only part of the long weekend that I couldn’t roll my eyes at, although I did have a little bit of fun trying to figure out exactly what this transgression might have been. I came away from the whole thing horrified at my taste of evangelism but convinced that it wasn’t nearly as dangerous, insane, or effective as alarmists might make it out to be.
I say this not to establish my fundy cred, but rather as a long introduction to this solitary point: what that poor dad was trying to do in Breckenridge is the diametric opposite of the aim of an average pop musician. His frantic sheltering was being actively countered by the frantic exposure in every song we listened to, endlessly flaying us with heartbreak and regret. What is interesting is that this man clearly experienced something analogous to what you get from your Wonder or your Cobain; these musicians are not only pantomiming heartbreak for the adolescent; they are also fixing and remembering it for the old.