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What Defines a Classic?

The online American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition defines a classic as:


    1. Belonging to the highest rank or class.
    2. Serving as the established model or standard.
    3. Having lasting significance or worth; enduring.

It’s that second definition that troubles me.  I don’t find that it holds true in all cases, for what one person considers a classic, another might consider it mundane at best.

Take baseball.  The Great American Classic.  Although I am hardly a baseball fan, I can certainly relate it to the time in which it became “classic”.  In the pre-television era, fans huddled around vacuum-tube filled monstrosities, closed their eyes and peered through the static hum of relatively virgin airwaves to experience the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd and the passion of the team’s announcer.  But more than that, baseball comes from a time long past and, outside of its basic rule-set, is nothing today like it was then.  However, it is still considered by many to be the ultimate standard of sports in the USA.  Classic?  Perhaps.

Two straws!

Yet another classic, whose origins are still in dispute, is the infamous ice cream soda.  A simple root beer float, if you will please?  Not so celebrated today as it was way back when, but you can still get one at your local Friendly’s or non-franchised ice cream parlor.

Of course, you also have classic cars.  Many people deem the muscle cars of the 50s and 60s to be the ultimate in this category whereas others look farther back still to the antiques of old — classic merely in the fact that they changed a generation.

About a year or so ago, I purchased and installed a new radio in my not-yet-classic 2002 Dodge Dakota truck.  An Alpine ida-x100, with a direct connection for my iPod.  There is even a screen on the radio which mimics much of my iPod’s functionality. Since I’ve had my iPod (going on six years now?), I haven’t listened to broadcast radio– I’ve not needed to.

Until last week.

I took a short jaunt to town from our rural domicile, leaving my iPod at home.  I decided that I would just use the radio for the quick ten minute down, ten minute back trip.  Scanning the band, I found one of our local classic rock stations.  Yeah.  “Classic” rock.  In order, I heard: Dazed and Confused (Led Zepplin), Money (Pink Floyd), Sympathy for the Devil (The Rolling Stones), Break on Through (The Doors)… at this point, I scanned for the other local station.  I landed my dial on Van Halen (And the Cradle Will Rock) near the finale.  Next?  Money (Pink Floyd), Whole Lotta Love (Led Zepplin)… /click/

Is this really a classic car?

Not to detract from the talent and their place in music history, but when classic rock radio is full of the Stones, Zepplin, et al, I really have to wonder what has become of the industry.  That day, I was reminded why I purchased my iPod and stopped listening to the radio.  Just because something is air-played beyond its death does not automatically make it a classic.  Things which endure aren’t necessarily classic-worthy just because of the definition of what classic means.  In many states, a classic/antique car is one which has been out of production for only fifteen years … ah, the memories I have of my 1980 Ford Fairmont, now considered a classic in many parts of the country!

I still have some of these.

I don’t mean to come across as an old codger.  Music isn’t a sport with specific rules for the purpose of fair competition and sportsmanship.  Music is fluid; it changes with the times and is part and parcel of society, for good or ill.  Am I to understand that the only classic rock music is from a time of my infancy (or even earlier!) and is the definitive sound and style for the entire genre?  If so, I’ll keep my iPod, thank you very much.

Not all classics are things of the distant past, and they shouldn’t be.  Some things become classic simply by being the best there is of its kind.

Like me– a true classic!

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