Wednesday 23 January 2019

Mary Kenny: Generations in harmony

Music brought together mothers and daughters at the tragic Manchester event

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Mothers and daughters: daughters with their mothers: that was one of the most striking images that emerged from the terrible Manchester atrocity. Ariana Grande's concert attracted, overwhelmingly, an audience of young people - which turned a wicked massacre into a tragedy of even greater dimensions - but it was evident that the family attendance was inter-generational.

Perhaps the most enduring picture from the Manchester Arena was that of Millie Kiss, aged 12, being tended by a woman police officer - an oversized coat around her shoulders to keep her warm from chill and shock - as her mother Michelle, aged 45, who was with her, died from the bomb blast.

Aunts as well as mothers were with the girl fans. Hollie Booth (11) was with her mother Claire and her aunt Kelly Brewster: it was a night out for the three of them. Hollie survived because her aunt, Kelly, shielded her from the blast - and died herself. Grandmothers were there too. Pauline Healey was with her 14-year-old grand-daughter Sorrell Leczkowski. Sorrell died: Mrs Healey was seriously injured.

When the survivors spoke it was nearly always about family. Mothers - and fathers - who were waiting to collect their teenage daughters. Mothers and daughters who had planned this treat together ever since Christmas.

Whatever happened to the "generation gap" which used to be such a feature of our lives? When I was young, we couldn't wait to get away from our parents and the elder generation. Attend a pop concert with your mother or your aunt? Unthinkable!

The generations' taste in music would be utterly different: the Frank Sinatra generation couldn't stand anything after the Beatles (just as Sinatra himself couldn't abide the pop music of the 1960s.) Elvis Presley may have eventually won over the mammies after he sang Love Me Tender, but in the early days, he was anathema - representing everything respectability deplored, from "common-looking" hairstyles to sexualised hip gyrations signalling the loss of self-control, that defining ethos of bourgeois decorum.

Lyrics in popular music were once a protest against parental order, parental control, parental values. The Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan - still on his feet, playing to mixed reactions if not mixed audiences - troubadored his famed The Times They Are A-Changing. It was almost a hymn of contempt to parents. The "mothers and fathers throughout the land" are told not to criticise what they don't understand, because "your sons and your daughters are beyond your command/Your old world is rapidly ageing". The central appeal was that elders would deplore the whole schtick.

But then, gradually, the scene shifted as the mothers and fathers throughout the land began to share, rather than to deplore, the values of popular music. When did it happen? Was it with David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, the "glam rock" of Marc Bolan, Queen, Wham!, Duran Duran (Princess Diana's favourite), the Spice Girls, that the generations began to like the same music and meld together?

One of my own offspring suggested that the key moment was when Take That reformed in the 1990s, and mothers and daughters began to have common musical tastes. And then perhaps the rise of stellar female performers like Madonna - though her Papa Don't Preach was a salvo against parental authority - Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry also became an influence in bringing mothers and daughters together in musical taste. Girls having fun is such a strong theme in this genre.

Then, maybe, the sheer endurance of some of the 1960s generation pop idols - the Stones, Ray Davies from the Kinks, veterans like Lulu, and even Petula Clark, still touring, as well as old Dylan himself - has had the effect of making pop and rock an all-generational phenomenon.

And yet I am struck with a sense of wonder - and even a little envy - at the way in which so many mothers and daughters today have these similar tastes in music, as well as sharing common interests in other values and pursuits. Looking back, I'd love to have gone to events with my mother, but apart from young children being taken to a panto, or perhaps to a museum or a travelling fair, I don't recall it ever being the usual practice. Parents and children were deemed to have separate interests, separate worlds.

Yes, there were noted historical examples of mothers who were close to their daughters: the scientist Marie Curie worked closely with her daughter Irene Joliot-Curie, and Emmeline Pankhurst's strongest collaborator was her daughter Christabel. But I doubt that in their generations there was much shared musical taste. In its time, jazz horrified previous generations.

Some of the younger girls attending the tragic Manchester event obviously needed to be with an adult, but it was still noticeable how conscientious the parents were in either accompanying the youngsters and teens, or being there to collect them (and two mothers died while waiting to pick up their teenagers). This is a generation which, quite remarkably, seems to stay together, and music seems to be a focal point of that intergenerational harmony.


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