I’ve known this post was coming for the past six months. Last fall, I’d take every article about Gen X I could find from the Atlantic and write a two thousand word essays about it. By January, I was simply providing a monthly post linking to such articles. By May, I realized I hadn’t even done that in a while and was stumbling upon lots of worthy articles that had been published in the past few months. The thing is, I wasn’t even reading those articles myself anymore. Continue reading
When I was a child, I always wanted to be different without actually being other. If you tried to opt out of P.E. class or listened to Duran Duran, you might be called a faggot, but if you did the jock/metal culture just a little bit differently than everyone else then they might just leave you alone. When Guns N Roses became a thing I was listening to Aerosmith. In the land where Larry Bird and Bobby Knight were kings, I favored Michael Jordan and Gene Keady. When Spider Man and the Hulk were the darlings of Saturday Morning cartoons, I was reading Alpha Flight comics. And
when the King of Pop was making Coca-Cola commercials, when our small town featured a Coca-Cola bottling company, I was taking the Pepsi challenge.
Pepsi became my thing in junior high school. I owned about half a dozen Pepsi T-shirts, which was probably twice the number of Michael Jordan T-shirts that I had. It wasn’t that I particularly cared for their product more than any other, just that it was the most obvious thing I could find in my cautiously curious way that was somehow different in a land of tyrannical homogeneity. I lacked either the imagination or the courage to be any more different than that.
Ten months ago, a man from this company came to speak at my work about generational differences. I came in to the talk somewhat interested in what he had to say, as it was soon after I’d started this blog. I left with a bad taste in my mouth, mainly because he’d completely misunderstood and misrepresented our generation. One of the major mistakes he made was the impetus for this post, and I sent him an email pointing out his errors. I decided to wait a while before writing anything about it here, just to give him the benefit of the doubt. But it’s been well over half a year, so I kind of doubt he’ll respond at this point.
One of the things he said, and I’m just going to take him at his word in spite of everything else he got wrong, was that this commercial represents everything that the Baby Boomer generation was about.
When I saw that, it explained so much about why the past forty years have sucked so badly. First of all, it was a commercial. Secondly, it was a commercial for something that is bad for you. And where Boomers might look at something like this and see visionaries, we look at it and see imperialism. They are going to blatantly lie to us, they are going to “teach” us things, they are going to give us beverages that will rot our teeth. They say they want to buy us a home, but it turns out they are the ones that took away the homes we bought for ourselves in the first place. But somehow it’s not their fault. Somehow it just happened that way. If that song represents what the Baby Boomers are about, then I think this song is the perfect rebuttal.
I went to my first ever concert twenty-four years ago: Motley Crue. In a little over a month from now, they are going to start their last ever concert tour. There is also a movie and a tribute album being made by country musicians. Sounds like they are hoping for a big payout.
I remember a few things from that first concert. I remember a rumor that the only reason they were coming to play our small town had something to do with a funeral the guitarist was attending because he was originally from there: they were at the height of their career, and normally you had to drive to Indianapolis to see a band as popular as they were at the time. I remember that if they said anything between songs it had the word fuck in it. I remember that after this ridiculous drum solo where the drum set was moving through the rafters, the drummer mooned the audience and everyone cheered. I remember the lead singer kicked one of the roadies off the stage (literally, with his foot) like he was a stray dog or something. I remember my mom was very happy to see me come home afterwards, because on the news that evening they showed someone from the concert being taken to an ambulance and she thought it might have been me because he was wearing a black T-shirt. I remember thinking to my teenage self that I had tricked my parents into letting me go to that concert. But as an adult I heard their side of the story: they let me do something stupid because they thought I’d be smart enough to change my mind before the show. In retrospect, they were kind of a silly band, but I suppose that’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to individuation.
Somehow that silly band has lasted over thirty years: after all the car crashes, overdoses, jail time, and lawsuits against each other, here they still are. They’ve always been masters of marketing their image: whether it be doing something stupid because they knew they’d get arrested for it, setting themselves on fire, or putting warning labels on their records before warning labels were even a thing. Now it’s a tribute album by country musicians: yeah, I think it’s probably time for that last ever concert tour.
My last two years of high school resembled nothing more than Napolean Dynamite. Except I never went to the talent show. And Pedro didn’t win. In fact, there was no Pedro. So maybe it wasn’t that much like Napolean Dynamite after all. But in some ways that movie felt like how those years felt: I was desperately trying to be relevant in a place whose social constructs seemed completely foreign to me, and my friends were a haphazard assortment of acquaintances with no commonalities other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
My best friend at high school during those years was a guy I’m going to call Pierce, because he bore a striking resemblance to Pierce Brosnan. We met because my parents went to the same church as his mom for a few months right after we’d moved, and we ended up living on the same block. What I liked best about hanging out with Pierce was that I never had to prove myself when I was around him. I didn’t have to be cool. I didn’t have to be good at sports or compare how many phone numbers I was able to pick up at the Friday night hangouts. We just hung out. Pierce had a mostly cynical way of individuating that I could appreciate, perhaps reminiscent of Ferris Bueller more than anything else. We didn’t have the same tastes in music: I listened to Aerosmith and he listened to Prince, but he had a poster of Madonna1 hanging directly above his bed which made me wish I was brave enough to try something like that in my own house. He liked to hang out at Nordstrom’s and had lots of expensive clothing. Sometimes he’d give me the outfits he’d gotten bored with, which I appreciated greatly because I was still recovering from the mockery of wearing hand-me-down flannel shirts in junior high about a half-decade before they became popular. Continue reading
Last week while I was writing about mothers, Weezer’s first album turned twenty years old. That’s something that turned out to be far more important than anyone thought likely at the time it first came out. I remember being a Weezer fan: they were kind of a breath of fresh air after Kurt Cobain died. They were fun and silly and kind of nerdy. Back in the 80s and 90s, nerds and guitars didn’t really go that well together, so that was a nice change. But nobody really expected them to be anything special. It seemed like Weezer was to Soundgarden fans in 1994 what They Might Be Giants was to The Cure fans in 1988. You’d buy their music, wear their t-shirts, and go to their concerts, but you didn’t care about the twenty year anniversary of their first album when it came around: they weren’t really the soundtrack to anyone’s life.
Unbeknownst to me until sometime within the past seven years, Weezer was more than that. I discovered there were people ten years younger than me who thought about Weezer in 2008 the way I had thought about Aerosmith in 1988. Aerosmith had paved the way for bands like Poison and Motley Crue the same way that Weezer had paved the way for the emos or the hipsters, or whatever it is you call those guys who sing out of key about not having a girlfriend. I suppose there was emo before Weezer came along: bands like Sunny Day Real Estate who knew how to play their instruments and saved the falsetto whining to emphasize the music instead of the other way around. But it was Weezer that somehow gave every nerdy boy who has every had his heart broken permission to think that was important enough to share with the rest of the world.
I can’t say that I fully understand the cult of Weezer, but I’d probably be one of the biggest Weezer fans around if they’d come out ten years earlier. Though they are certainly a band we listened to and have fond memories of, I think the reality is they were part of the beginning of the end for our generation’s music. They were our voice spoken in a way that those younger than us could understand, take, and do something else with that is beyond us. If Kurt Cobain was the last rock star, maybe Rivers Cuomo was the first non-rock star. On some level I can appreciate that, and take pride in my generation facilitating that change. But on some level I know that I don’t get it any more than the adults got what we were doing in middle school. At least we’re not calling Tipper Gore on them.
I’m not sure if the following three songs are the most important songs from our generation regarding the subject of motherhood, but they are the three that came to mind. Considering that the kindest of these songwriters refers to his mother as a crack fiend, they probably seem less appropriate than they did when we first heard them in our teens and twenties. These are only the songs specifically about mothers, the selection of songs we had regarding parenthood in general is vast and derogatory, with everything from Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand” to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Our views on parenthood in general have changed dramatically in the past twenty years.
Happy Mother’s Day weekend to all you mothers. May your children’s music be more grateful regarding all that you’ve done for them than our own was, and may you forever be remembered by what you were for instead of by what you were against.