Let’s see what happens when we run a former Gen. X’er through the ringer of the Bush administration. A music scene dominated by the mall like musical stylings of Britney Spears and whining fashionable Emo. A technological revolution that has brought everyone both closer and further apart. America’s election of it’s first African American President and the unfortunately predictable, backwoods backlash it brought in its wake. Then top the experience off by surrounding the confused subject with a swath of citizens adorning hats usually reserved for AARP members; and watch as the subject tries to relate to his new reality.
For context, let’s start with a little history.
When I was a young lad growing up in the neon, neo-con, wilderness of 1980’s America, preening acts like Loverboy, Prince and Duran Duran spun regularly on my silver turntable. Some short years later those same performers would appall my jaded teenage sensibilities, only to subsequently return to me in time to be accepted in nostalgic parody.
In countless car rides with grown ups as a child, I endured the same cycle of classic rock songs that your local monotonous music stations still dish daily. As much as these artists and their tunes would inform my young musical mind, they would ultimately go onto suffer the same fate as my former favorite saccharine 80’s artists, and be left behind to catch up to me in nostalgia.
I was at the perfect angst ridden age for alternative grunge mania to strike. Breaking away from the hairspray days of spandex sporting cock rockers and the manufactured sing along fluff of Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice, a slick young sax playing President led the way into a more progressive era. There was a beautiful brief window before the industry invented the term “Alternative”, when they where still dumbfounded by the new vein of gold that they blindly stumbled across. So as they sanitized the sounds and boiled everything down to a flannel nightmare, people began to annoyingly refer to the 90s as the 60s just turned upside down, and alternative became just another commercially sponsored rebellion.
As we transitioned into the new 21st century, we were greeted with a regressive Republican regime, and a musical landscape that looked more like Disneyland than CBGB’s. Git’ er done culture was in full effect, and intellect seemed to leap out the window. People’s cinematic and musical knowledge seemed only to stretch to The Breakfast Club and Flock of Seagulls. We seemed stuck in a cul-de-sac of repeating eras, and I began to doubt if an original future lie ahead. American society appeared to be growing through it’s awkward, adolescent, trying to fit in phase, made apparent by such geeks as The Learning and History Channels both becoming purveyors of programming equal to redneck porn. Even the marketing and designs of certain children’s toys and cartoons stooped to a disturbing sexy element to hawk their wares. As well as a generation of entertainment bent with a general jealous bully mentality, which seemed to celebrate failure rather than success.
Tweener tunes ruled the air waves, and I began to feel like a fossil leftover from a bygone era. I watched the music industry morph from a drunken moronic manufacturer of glorified early death, to a business of scrambling to sanitize the next pre- pubescent pop star of the moment. I started getting nostalgic for songs I had long discarded or didn’t particularly care for years ago, just for their retro sentimentality. I started feeling like the creepy cat with the cop stache and Rolling Stones shirt at the all ages show.
Regardless of my inability to relate, the ability music has of shedding its skin is what keeps it beautiful with every turning generation. For as I once heard veteran bearded rocker Gregg Allman dismissively disclose, “Rap is crap.” Thankfully history has shown us time and again, that the kill-it-cause-it’s-different mentality proves fatally unwise. The importance of encouraging curiosity and cultivating creative environments cannot be understated.
What I’d forgotten when I was in my own depths of damning a generation for their perceived lack of musical appreciation and ridiculously doubting the future of music, is that we’ve all been there. Because inside every beaming, brace faced tweener sporting the hastily homemade Beiber tee, there’s a little part of all of us. The part that is still fascinated by the shiny and new. When my own narrow scope started to see beyond the suburban borders of Pink Floyd and Star Wars, I got to see the birth of the alternative nation. Just as when the tweeners of today finally grow out of singing along to Taylor Swift, they’ll be able to define the next century with what they create by dipping into the toolbox of the past, as well as utilizing the technology they have available at their fingertips on a daily basis today.
DIY has finally fully arrived. The ability to create and immediately release your own material has never been more prevalent. That’s exactly what we wished for growing up playing in garage bands, creating four track demo tapes to distribute to friends. We wanted to reach a wider audience without having to compromise with some corporation to do so. The responsibility of technology and the need to keep the concentration on useful innovation as opposed to trivial convenience, is something we may always have to deal with. So hopefully in the future we’ll have less energy invested into creating the next Smart Phone app, and more emphasis placed on how to use our ever changing technology to help alleviate a terminal patient’s pain.
For all my curmudgeonly complaining these are ultimately the days I’ve been waiting for. We’re crossing and combining cultures to create a bouquet of many colors to brighten our future. We’re sowing an historic hodgepodge of seeds on a level never reached. And I’m grateful I get to be a witness and be apart of the turn of the century generation.