366 Songs 333: I Don’t Know What’s Happened To The Kids Today

Based on the lyrics alone, I feel like I should hate Labi Siffre’s “I Don’t Know What’s Happened To The Kids Today.” It is, after all, the rantings of a confused and angry old man who doesn’t get the kids today – He even calls them “the kids today”! – and says things like “Didn’t have none of this crazy music/Didn’t have none of these crazy clothes/We didn’t have guys gettin’ high on the doorstep/We didn’t have none of those/No, no, no.” But this is a majestic song, a deconstruction of that attitude in which the music – initially, just Siffre’s repetitive, gentle-yet-insistent acoustic guitar – both softens and ultimately overwhelms the complaints and the bitterness. By the time you reach the strings, Siffre’s narrator has gone from a figure of contempt to a clearly sad, heartbroken man dealing with rejection from his family and unable to deal with it, and as he repeats “I don’t know what’s happened to the kids today” over and over, the music answers him with the sudden appearance of drums and bass, then strings, then horns, building to something that’s just beautiful; the promise of a new beginning that’s bolder than the hate and small-mindedness that’s come before. Like Super Furry Animals’ “No Sympathy,” a song that would come years later but which I’d hear first, this is something that provides its own meta-textual critique, a song that offers a hateful outlook and then emphasizes how small and petty it is without needing to use words at all.

I love this song.