Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Way We Were

I've been feeling oddly nostalgic about high school lately. Which is weird considering that I don't believe those were the best years of my life and I tend to come down on the "If those were the best years of your life, then you need a new life." side of the fence.

But, I've been doing this thing where I completely eschew new music and only listen to the gems that we screamed out the window of my '82 Bick SkyHawk in 1995. And, no, that is not a typo. The U fell out of my BUICK and so I drove a Bick. Like the lighters but with a K. It was funny when I was 15.

I've been watching Dazed and Confused over and over again. I've even gone so far as to get online and re-watch all 7 episodes of My So-Called Life, the shortest run TV show in history to still be referred to over ten years later.

The other day the intern in my office (21 years old) and I were talking about music. My Pandora was playing Pearl Jam. She mentioned that she hates Pearl Jam. Now, I was always more of a Nirvana kind of girl and while Pearl Jam was definitely on my radar, they were no where in my top ten. But, come on, Pearl Jam.

"How do you hate Pearl Jam if you love grunge?" I should insert here that I was totally weirded out by this conversation anyway because she was talking about loving grunge the way I talked about loving Led Zeplin. I am not this girl's mother and that is just not fair.

"Well, okay, I don't know much of their music, but I hate 'Jeremy's Spoken.'" Herm. Shall I correct her and tell her the name of the song is just "Jeremy" or ignore that completely?

"Well, 'Jeremy' was arguably the song that made them a phenomena. It was pretty big and it's a pretty good song. Why do you hate 'Jeremy'?" There, don't correct, just say it a bunch. Good compromise.

"Well, okay, I mostly hate the video. Have you seen the video?" Have I seen the video? Do you even know what 120 Minutes is, baby?


"There's a kid. Like a high school kid. And he brings and gun to school and kills himself. I just think it's kinda in bad taste."

So, I spent the next 20 minutes explaining that number 1: it was pre-Columbine, so it wasn't quite the bad taste issue it is today. And more importantly number 2: back, way back, in the stone age of the '90's, bands sang about real stuff. Stuff that was happening, stuff that mattered. It was just how it was and if someone hadn't done a song about school shootings in all the minor ones that led up to Columbine it would have been weird. Because it mattered.

I was upset. Justifying my generation. Explaining (like every generation before me) why mine is better than yours. I pointed to early U2 that was about war and religion and hatred and stupidity. And new U2 which is about... Well, to tell you the truth, I can't listen to them anymore because it's just not the same so I don't know what it's about, except not war and religion and hatred and stupidity. And yes, Bono rocks. But he does it in his private life now and not on his albums. And I can't help but think that sucks, even if he's getting more done this way.

And maybe I'm wrong. Maybe music isn't about real life but escaping. Maybe Fergie's onto something with her made up words and "Hey look at my butt!" But I still look at all her craptacular music and then look at that one song by the Black Eyed Peas that was about something and wonder if that was a fluke or if there is somewhere a member of the band going, "C'mon guys. Another dance hit?!?"

It feels to me that we were more real than this generation. And I don't know how to put it better than that. I know that everyone feels like that, by the way, so I'm nothing special. In fact, one of my friends, a 50 year old Deadhead with a daughter my age, doesn't get my generation at all. "Let's all conform to the same nonconformity," she says, "Let's walk around in our flannel shirts and our torn jeans and pretend we aren't all trying desperately to be the same as everyone else." And, I can see her point. I can see how we were all just followers, claiming to hate followers.

But at least we were claiming. At least we were trying. To be different, to be real, to care about things and change things and hate the status quo. We rebelled. Even if we all did it together in weird socially-approved ways. This generation, with its pop music and no underground, its preppy chic clothes and perfect hair, its SUV's filling the high school parking lot and movies making fun of movies. This generation isn't even trying.

Except maybe they are. Maybe they're rebelling against my generation and our dirty, uncombed hair and untucked shirts and torn jeans. Our out of tune singers mumbling to off-kilter guitar licks. Our underground being bigger than the aboveground. The clunkier the car, the cooler attitude and watching Trainspotting in the "artsy" theatre.

I wonder if this is how the hippies felt about disco.


Jenn-Jenn, the Mother Hen said...

My favorite H.S. memory (other than the speech tournaments and plays) was going to the midnight movie at the K---- theatre downtown in that unnamed wanna-be big city nearby. Looking back, I realize youth is definitely wasted on the young.

Jessi said...

I wanted to go to a midnight movie a couple of months ago, but I didn't becuase I was afraid I would fall asleep. Youth is definitely wasted on the young.

Strangeite said...

Jessi, I think you might have pegged the current generation incorrectly. I have an 11 year old son and several cousins that are teenagers.

I think what is happening with their generation is pretty profound. When we were in high school, the communities we could join were mostly dependent upon proximity. We tried to find like minded individuals with similar interests, but they needed to be fairly local for any chance of friendship to develop.

Not so today. I started playing with Scratch, a programming platform created by MIT. The median age of a user is 13. When you read the forums, it is obvious that these kids have developed real friendships around their interest in Scratch, but they are located all around the globe.

Riley plays D&D, is on the academic team, performs in the school musicals, but still plays a tackle on the football team.

I think the preceived lack of rebellion and an "underground" is because the kids today have torn down alot of the boundaries that existed when we were young.

It is a product of the internet. Whatever your taste and interest, there are thousands (maybe millions) of others online that you can connect a socialize with. It is my opinion that this has created a far more broad view of the world and by extension their place in it.

Do kids still have self-esteem issues and feelings of inadequacy? Sure, but the community of support that they can develop exists beyond a 20 mile radius.

Jessi said...

I think that all of that is true, but I think it misses the point.

I believe that healthy society needs a healthy underground. And that underground should be filled with our youth. It seems to me, perhaps because you can find anyone who shares an interest with you online, that the youth today are dangerously accepting of the status quo. I hear, "Yeah, it sucks, but that's just the way it is." way too often. They don't recognize their intrinsic power to change things and they are extremely apathetic.

Making the world smaller has certainly had it's advantages, but since studies repeatedly show us that online communities actually make teenagers less able to communicate in a real life community, I think the biggest problem is that it's taken away the sense of urgency.

And what I really mean is social change, but as an example, let's use music. There is good music out there, I'm sure. There is, in fact, great music out there, I'm sure. But thanks to the online world there is no such thing as "local music" anymore and the good bands have little online cult followings, leaving the airwaves to be filled with the mass-produced crap. No one is interested in changing this because it's all out there somewhere, and everyone believes that they are a tiny minority, unworthy of being marketed to. This doesn't stop people from marketing to teens, but means that everything is marketed to teens on the lowest common denominator, which is usually sex; rather than music, art, politics, or really anything bigger at all.

Also, I think Riley is a little young for the generation I'm referring to. I'm thinking a little more like the 15-22 crowd. I have a lot of exposure to this group. I have hope for the next generation, maybe they will be able to reconcile all the changes and make something more grand and powerful.

Also occurs to me that perhaps this was closer to the blog post I wanted to write. Oh well.

Strangeite said...

I don't know. This generation is more civically engaged (i.e. working for a political campaign, volunteering for the library, etc) then any generation since the WWII generation.

I think the "underground" is there, it is just very different than we have ever seen before. Where before the "underground" was primarily homogenized now it is more diffused. In the late 50's the counter-culture was Beat, the late 60's it was long hair and drugs, the late 70's it was punk, etc. but for the most part it was a large collective group all rebelling in a very similar way. I guess the best analogy I can come up with is comparing how the underground resistance in Europe in WWII was organized to how Al-Qaeda organizes. One has the same principal goal and each member operates similarly, where as the other is organized in small cells completely independantly of any other cell.

Plus, I don't buy the studies that online communities makes one less able to communicate in real-life. Real-life is changing. Look at this blogging world. The communication and sharing of ideas through these blogs is no less valid than sitting on ones front porch drinking lemonade. It is certainly different. These kids have a leg up on us when it comes to becoming fluent in the new mediums.