When I was graduated from college lo these many years ago, I thought I'd seen--or rather heard--the last of Frank Zappa.
I'd better back up here, because Frank Zappa's name may not be one that rings a bell with everyone. But for those who stumbled through the late '60s with earphones on and stereos blaring, Zappa was one of the weirdest musicians around. Mind you, this was during a pretty weird time. And in the midst of it all, Zappa wrote at once some of the niftiest music and some of the most outrageous lyrics I've ever heard. Before or since.
Well, he's still kicking around. I know because of my 13-year-old daughter. He wrote something not too long ago called "Valley Girls" (his teen-aged daughter, whose name is something like Moon Child, is one of the singers). It highlighted a teen-age subculture in California with the result that it has spread east and transformed the vocabularies of my daughter and her friends.
Now, I'm told, thanks in large part to Zappa, Jennifer's conversation is littered with things like "grody to the max" and "geek."
I decided I had to come to terms with this turn of events moments after my 2 1/2-year-old daughter Hadley, who had been subjected to the newspeak for a few months, dropped on me her own first "grody to the max" a couple of weeks ago. That's when I asked Jennifer to write down a list of the "in" words used by her and her fellow students at Arlington's Swanson Intermediate School and define them. Here's what I got:
* Cool: someone or something "excellent;"
* Drab: "boring;"
* Excellent: "terrific;"
* Funky: "something different and fun for a change;"
* Gag me: means "you've got to be kidding!" And when you're really shocked, you say, "Gag me with a spoon!"
* Geek: "a square, someone not 'with it';"
* Grody to the max: when you use "grody" alone, it means things are pretty bad. But when used with "max" ("max stands for maximum," writes my daughter), it means things can't possibly get any worse;
* Kinky: "something different. Loud." Whatever that means;
* Like: "great to fill in gaps in sentences;"
* Nerd: "see 'geek';"
* Save me: "spare me;"
* Spare me: "save me." Please!
* Totally: when you want "to emphasize a word," as in "totally cool;"
* Weird: "strange, odd;"
* Wild: "crazy, something different than normal, out of the ordinary."
Now, what's interesting about all this, to me at least, is that there are an awful lot of words in that list that have tumbled once or twice from my lips in years past. Words like "cool" and "like," for instance. I must further confess to employing an occasional "weird" and "wild" even to this day.
So how do you deal with someone who is convinced that these vocalizations are so minty fresh--hot off the press, so to speak--that she feels obligated to define for her old man what "cool" means?
"Man," I felt like telling her with such supercool that even Marlon Brando would shiver, "I invented it!"
Needless to say--after all, I really am cool--I restrained myself. She would have called me a nerd, anyway. Or maybe something worse, like a geek.
Then, just the other day, I came across a picture of Zappa in a magazine. Yep, it was him: still looking as whacked-out as ever: long dark hair, kinda stringy--freaky, I think was the word we used to use. I shook my head and smiled: that guy was one far-out dude. Still is, it seemed. He might even be an endangered species, one of the last of the old weirdos who are forever uncompromising in their weirdness and scornful of middle-class values.
And then I read the story underneath the picture. Seems Zappa was teed-off over the fact that people were selling Valley Girl T-shirts--or something like them--without giving him a cut. The story said Zappa was so mad he was going to sue them.
Sue them! You mean Zappa did this to my daughters' vocabulary for money? Spare me.