Antidrug songs such as Prince's "Sign of the Times" and the Rose Brothers' "Life in the Fast Lane" are becoming national anthems for many young radio listeners these days. Even a song called "Uh, Uh, No, No Casual Sex" is showing signs of catching on.
It's not just the "fresh" beat of the songs that has turned kids on. It is the message -- and for a change, the youngsters are memorizing lyrics that may help them understand the danger of the times in which we live.
Hearing Prince sing of the "skinny man dying of a big disease with a little name" is as much as many kids will ever need to make them think twice about having unsafe sex. When he talks about "sisters killing babies because they can't feed them," perhaps some young person will think twice about teen-age pregnancy.
Many of the lyrics are drawn from real life tragedies. When the Rose Brothers sing of a young athlete who celebrated his rapid rise to stardom by taking a snort of cocaine, "which destroyed his brain," one can think only of Len Bias.
In a stark change from many rock lyrics of the past, the degradation of the street life is no longer glorified. Prince sings of 17-year-old boys whose idea of fun is "being in a gang, high on crack, toting a machine gun."
"Oh, why," he asks. "Some say man is not happy until he dies."
With boogie boxes and radios perched under arms and on shoulders, the youngsters today seem to have found a way to make sense of the confusing times. Both Prince and the Rose Brothers draw heavily from published news events, trying to make sense of such tragedies as the space shuttle disaster, the unprecedented number of drug overdoses and teen-age pregnancy.
"You see it on the evening news," the Rose Brothers sing. "The world is so confused. I think society has gone insane." Both groups urge their young listeners to change their habits "before all hope is gone."
The appeal is obvious. For so many of today's youngsters, life is truly a ball of confusion. Many are no doubt feeling cheated, for they are coming of age when a casual sexual encounter can easily end up being an unforgiving kiss of death.
Consider what David Seeley wrote in the June issue of the Texas Monthly.
"Ever since the 1980s, it's as if some ominous conspiracy has tried to make Americans behave, to homogenize our actions and morals, to make sure nobody has fun anymore. You can't have sugar in your gum, caffeine in your cola, salt on your steak. You can't have a beer without thinking about Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. You can't smoke a joint, because the president has declared a national war on drugs -- every night on TV, a newly dried out football star says, 'Just Say No.' You can't get a job without someone testing your urine or run for office without getting a 'moral report card.' You can't smoke anywhere."
In many ways, Seeley represents a large part of the population that feels it is being made to pay for the unbridled impulses that have come to characterize the 1960s.
And if the '70s were the Me Decade, Seeley moans, "then maybe we've just hit the No Decade." Seeley's tirade was inspired when he found himself trying to figure out the most discreet way to buy condoms.
He knew AIDS was a serious national issue. "On a rational level I can accept that. But on another level I was steamed," he wrote. "I didn't want to buy any damn condoms."
In the end, Seeley made the sensible choice.
Seeley's article makes a good point for young people, but unfortunately few of them will read it. For them, the message is in the music.