Headlights Look Like Diamonds – Arcade Fire (8.9)
Part of the problem with being me (sigh) is a constant concern about where I fit into the world. Don’t worry, this is not some soul-searching existential weep fest where I pose rhetorical questions about “finding my place” and “blossoming where I’m planted.” I mean this solely from a historical perspective. And by “me” I don’t mean me. I mean us. Specifically, I mean where do we fit in this late 20th century rubric of the generation. And I think I’ve figured it out…mostly.
O.A.D. (Oxford American Dictionary) Definitition: Generation n. 1. all of the people born and living about the same time. (N.B. Vague enough?)
History: Their are four major American generations that were first identified/coined in the late 20th century. From them have spun sub-generations (N.B. the creation of another, I am about to argue for).
(N.B. Obviously, there are numerous problems with defining a generation both in time frame and with similar qualities. So lumping any 20th century American into any of these groups necessarily involves some stereotyping. It’s unavoidable, so don’t get your feelings hurt, because I beleive the mind’s capacity to stereotype is almost limitless.)
The four “major” American generations most of you are familar with, or have at least heard of before, are:
First: The Greatest Generation (a/k/a the G.I. Generation, but Tom Brokaw coined the GG for the title of his book): bulk of which born from 1901-1927. For the most part, these are our grandparents. They fought in/experienced WWII. They brought about America’s post war boom and generally did everything (built things, governed responsibly, got married/fucked a lot/had a lot of kids (See: Baby Boomers)) that made America great and populous in the later half of last century and which we (Gens X and Y) are chided for no longer doing (N.B. except for the fucking).
(N.B. I’ve read about the identification of another generation between these two called the “Silent Generation” born from 1928-1945. Obviously, some of our granparents are in this group. They fought in Korea, and generally did things pretty much the same as the GG, but Tom Brokaw didn’t write a book about them. I’m not omitting/forgetting them. I’m more lumping them in with the GG. So feel free to push GG’s end date to 1945.)
Second: The Baby Boomers (a/k/a our parents) born in the post-war boom from 1946-1964. I don’t have to tell you about your parents. You know what they’re like. Blame them for Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. (N.B. Not Obama, because Kenya’s socio-cultural-generational structure was a complete clusterfuck compared to those of real Americans (N.B. teetering close to a rules violation there. Sorry.).
Third: Generation X (a/k/a us) born from 1964 – 1977/1980. (N.B. I’ll get into some of the defining characteristics later, but the O.A.D. defines us as The generation born before the mid 1960s and up to the late 1970s, typically seen as lacking a sense of direction and feeling they have no role in society.)
Fourth: Generation Y/Millennials (a/k/a us) (N.B. I’ll go with Millennial because I like it better. It sounds more self-centered and pretentious than Gen Y) born from 1977/1980 – late 90s. (N.B. O.A.D = no definition in the desktop 2008 O.A.D. hmmmmmm)
The date ranges on the final two should illustrate one general problem with generational labeling, and should also illustrate WD’s very specific problem with his generational label.
I, and several of you since you are my friends/contemporaries, fall in the hazy area between the end of Gen X and the beginning of the Millennials. In the past I’ve referred to us as Late State Gen Xers (“LSGX”), and I’ll continue with it for reasons I’ll hopefully set forth below.
What I mean by LSGX is that you were born in 1977 to 1981 (N.B. Admittedly too small a time frame for a proper generation). Much earlier than that, I’m afraid you’re a full on Gen-Xer. Much later I’m afraid you’re a full on Millennial. Let the stereotypes abound…..
Why do I think that LSGX is its own separate entity (N.B. apart from WD’s own egocentric need to believe he is part of something more distinct/unique from the categories cultivated by those far more studied and intelligent than he)? The “yeah, buts” are why.
Let’s first look at some of the generally agreed upon qualities/cultural landmarks of Gen-X.
The O.A.D. definition set forth above: “The generation born before the mid 1960s and late 1970s, typically seen as lacking a sense of direction and feeling they have no role in society.”
(N.B. And yes, as a preliminary note, I recognize the rhetorical deficiencies (maybe even fatal ones) in making the arguments I’m about to make with an underlying premise that the way I reacted and am reacting to the world was/is similar enough to the rest of LSGXers to make the assumption of some kind of universality for the LSGX crowd. I encourage you to point out the places where my assumptions go too far.)
Yeah, maybe I/we lacked direction, and couldn’t fathom what our place in society would ever be, but, I don’t think many of us ever really felt the cynicism the poorly crafted O.A.D. definition connotes. Theory: Something about living your teenage years through the 90s, while not really instilling us with a sense of purpose, let us know that one was out there, could be had, whether we were the chubby son of an Arkansas single mother, or just had some really good computer ideas. It was a decade, that to those in their teens, where success or a place in the world didn’t seem preordained. This gave us (dare I say) hope, that I assume many of the deeply immersed Gen-X’ers never had…in their flannel shirts and soul-patches.
Historical events that shaped Gen-X (from Wikipedia): 1973 oil crisis, the 1979 energy crisis, the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the 1987 Black Monday, the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.
LSGX Response: Yeah, I remember most of the end of this list, but how much did they shape my outlook on the world? Close to zero. I was 8 when the Challenger went down. 11 for the Berlin wall. Did it, or the rest of it, give me my first sense of mortality, or the frailties of government, or the limits of technology, or the political realities of the world. No. 9/11 did. Yeah, LSGXers remember that stuff, but none of it effected our world views like 9/11. (N.B. Oklahoma-centric, would certainly be the Murrah bombing.)
(N.B. And it says something about us, Oklahomans specifically, that the two defining historical events of our youth were also the two worst terrorist attacks in American history. I won’t hazard a guess about what it means on some socio/psychological level, but I bet it’s important.)
Most of the Gen-X shaping historical events are history to LSGXers, like the great-grandparent we can vaguely remember, but that our families talk about like we should remember them with perfect clarity because we saw them before they passed away. Yeah, we were alive, but what did they (N.B. The events, not the grandparents) really add to our understanding of the world? The world we grew up in was an extension of them (N.B. The events and the grandparents), but in no way we could really understand what it was the rest of the world (N.B. Gen-X) experienced.
Gen-X Cultural stuff: the introduction of the home computer, the beginning growth of video game era, cable television and the Internet. Other attributions include the AIDS epidemic, the crack cocaine epidemic, the War on Drugs, Operation Desert Storm, the Dot-com bubble, grunge and alternative rock, and the global influence of the hip hop culture and music genre. They are often called the MTV Generation (N.B. Because MTV meant something to them when it mattered, when shows like The Real World had cultural relevance, the tough topics they took on didn’t include where my super 16th was to be held, and (sigh) they played music videos.)
LSGX Response: Yeah, I remember all of this stuff, but it was stuff important to the high school kids, not to a sixth grader. AIDS may as well of been the bubonic plague for as applicable as I thought it was to me in middle school. Yeah, MTV was ubiquitous (even if it wasn’t available in the ten church/no bar home town). But by the time I got to college, MTV had begun its unfortunate (yet strangely unavoidable) turn from something that might have seen it be the most relevant platform for the cultural zeitgeist of the new and strange President Bush/9-11/security state to…… whatever you want to call the cesspool it is now.
So what is the LSGX cultural stuff?: Monica. For the rest of our lives, the thought processes we have when the word politician is heard will in some ways be reflective of the Monica Lewinsky stuff. Did it inform our cynicism of politicians? Absolutely, no matter what side you were then, or might be now. Politics for us started with Monica.
A not depressing thing: Definitely Saved by the Bell. No single television show (with maybe the minor exception of 90210) unites a generation like SBTB and LSGX (N.B. I had a friend last week tell me he and his wife were considering naming their soon to be born baby Zach. It immediately registered to me as a cool name. Still.); While the “experts” claim that the rise of hip-hop culture was a Gen-X thing, I’d say just barely. The LSGXers wrestled it/followed it to the mainstream.
I know there’s more. What is our stuff?
Closing remarks on the Gen-X/LSGX distinction: All of the ingredients were there for us to be full on Gen-Xers. But it’s almost like we’d been over cooked, then chopped up only to be used in the new batch with a completely different generational recipe. Generations work like that. I reckon.
Now the Millennials (also from Wikipedia)
“Millennials are sometimes called the “Trophy Generation”, or “Trophy Kids”, a term that reflects the trend in competitive sports, as well as many other aspects of life, where mere participation is frequently enough for a reward. It has been reported that this is an issue in corporate environments. Some employers are concerned that Millennials have too great of expectations from the workplace.”
LSGX Response: Yeah, this phenomenon had begun by the time I was moving on from youth sports, and I saw its beginnings as parents became more and more into their kids’ participation (showing up at practices, critiquing coaches, yelling at referees, and that crap), but I’ll just say that it didn’t necessarily touch me (N.B. and I’m prepared to concede that it may not have touched me due to my own upbringing (small town/broken home (sniffs)), but would be interested to hear anyone else’s take.)
“Millennials are also sometimes referred to as the Boomerang Generation or Peter Pan Generation, because of the members’ perceived penchant for delaying some rites of passage into adulthood, longer periods than most generations before them. These labels were also a reference to a trend toward members living with their parents for longer periods than previous generations.”
LSGX Response: Again, inapplicable to me, and I think most of you. I moved back home the summer after my freshman year in college. Then never came back. I can’t say I was fully on my own after that, none of us were. But can you conceptualize moving back in with your parents (absent a life changing event, or temporary readjustment) after you graduated college, or turned 21? I can’t. This feeds into the next point.
“As a group, Millennials are said to be much closer to their parents than their parents’ generation, the Baby Boomers were. While 40% of Baby Boomers in 1974 claimed they would be “better off without their parents” according to one study, 90% of Generation Y’ers claimed to be “extremely close” to their parents in another study.”
LSGX Response: (N.B. This may be another individual distinction, as well). Yeah, I’m close to my parents. That is, I don’t hate them, such that it might have once motivated me to form a rock band to vent my angst. But neither of us (my parents or I) are in that weird parent/child co-dependency vortex that you and I both see being acted out by co-workers and their teenagers. So did we hit the sweet spot in the evolution of the parent/ child relationship where we didn’t hate them, but weren’t creepily dependent on them either? I think I did.
Cultural Stuff: Technology might be the single most important distinction between LSGX and the Millennials. It’s a subtle, but crucial one.
Most LSGXers had begun secondary education before Internet/cell-phones/email/social media (The Big 4) became omnipresent. But the fundamentals of their ubiquity started when we were in college. When we started college, email was a curiousity, deployed and utilized almost as Skype is now, or as telegraphs were 170 years ago. By the time we finished/graduated, email was the norm, and we had helped bring it there. No one had yet learned the sheer ease of writing a term paper with Google under your fingers, or the 2:00 a.m. mating call of the mass text, but by the time we left, those were two of the more powerful tools in our arsenal.
But I think the most important part for this analysis is that we can remember a time before all of them. LSGXers are close to the youngest people in America that can remember, vividly, a time before any of the Big 4 and that is a key difference between us and the Millennials. Again, like with parents, LSGXers hit the middle ground of the transition where we didn’t have to be drug, kicking and screaming, into a Big 4 ubiquitous world (like the proper Gen-Xers, and later our parents did), but also to where our very social life-bloods don’t depend on the Big 4 (Like the Millennials). We remember a world without the Big 4. We got to “come of age” as they came of age, and, frankly, looking back, the Big 4’s progression into the “mainstream” mirrored our own in some strangely unique ways. Now that the Big 4 are truly the four most important vehicles of our culture, our existence, maybe (N.B. and sure some of us disdain one or more of them, but none of us disdain all of them. I’m looking at you, Bradley), I’d say we have a unique perspective on how they are useful (crucial even) in today’s world, but we also have a unique perspective on their limitations and especially their obligations. And we can judge those younger than us for their total reliance on them, but never bat a lash we when engage in a portion of that total reliance ourselves. This might make us hypocrites (N.B. Even you, Bradley, as you read this on your wife’s cell-phone) but of the best kind, because we are the only generation who can do this, our feet firmly planted in both the pre and post Big 4 world. Not fully comfortable in either, but able to understand both. I’d say that makes us, LSGX, unique.
So there we are, eager little brothers to one generation and wizened older brothers to another. Have I convinced you?
The place I’m aiming for, the place I guess I should be aiming for, is our music (N.B. and ups to Dr. GSL as the seed for this was planted when she asked my opinion on a generation’s music for inclusion in proper academic research. I only assume she was disappointed with my response.)
The last three generations have been, will be, and identifiy themselves by their music (but not for the reasons you think for the last one). While there was music for the GG, I would argue that theirs is not nearly as significant a cultural touchstone as it is for the following generations (N.B. Likely because they were too busy kicking German/Japanese ass, then building an America where their kids and grandkids could rock out, to trouble themselves with such inane pursuits.)
For the most part we know what the music of the baby boom generation was. It was the birth of rock-n-roll. Make fun of your parents all you want, but they’ll always be able to say that they came of age almost simultaneously with the greatest cathartic/rebellious art form of the 20th century. A straight line can be drawn from the music they loved to that which you jammed out to in your car today. If our parents didn’t love Bob Dylan, would we have John Mayer or Fiona Apple? No Pearl Jam without The Who, No Ryan Bingham without John Cash, No Arcade Fire without Springsteen. If our parents’ didn’t love The Beatles, do you think we’d have….any of them? During any given day, most of what I listen to can be directly attributed to something our parents made popular. So think about that the next time you have to listen to the Doobie Brothers on repeat.
The only thing we know better than the music of the baby boomers is the music of Gen-x, our music. I think the conventional wisdom is that it begins with U2 and R.E.M in the early 80s, staying underground from a popular standpoint, until Nirvana/Pearl Jam, and then slowly fading out with the century with Creed/Nickleback. That once short sentence hoped to encapsulate the music of our generation.
Music for the Millennials (so far at least). What’s grabbed me about the music of Millennials is its diversity. You can begin an explanation of the reasons for this with any of the cultural revolutions and technological advances set forth above. Millennials will never have to listen to the same 30 pop songs for a whole year played from the megawatt AM radio powerhouses. They won’t even have to listen to Jeramy three times a day on the local “alt” rock station while praying to hear the Pixies. In fact, they’d refuse to. Music for the Millennials is not something to accept, to get used to, to recall fondly. It’s something to acquire. They go get the music they want, be it dub-step, emo, psychobilly, Nederbeat, proto-punk, or even just good old Mike McDonald (N.B. I had to look up most of those). They don’t wait for it to come to them. They can just go get it, whatever they want individually. Their specific tastes drive their music, they aren’t driven by the top 40 decision makers. As such, the Millennial’s music will prolly never be cohesive. As a generation, they will never look back fondly on a Beatles, or a Beach Boys, or a Stones, or a Nirvana, or a Missy Elliot, or a Pearl Jam and it may never be that way again. Popular music once united generations because of its scarcity. It won’t ever be like that again.
There was an inflection point when this began, this ability to get the music you wanted, instead of listening to what’s on the radio, or the next song LP. I posit that the technology that changed music (maybe for the better, maybe not) was the fast forward button on a CD player. The ability to be “finished” with what you were listening to, and find something else you wanted to listen to more instantly. (N.B. There’s prolly a whole different WD on this point) As such, I’ll refer to the Millennial’s music as Post Fast Forward (PFF) music.
So where are we, LSGX? Again in the middle I say. Music history for LSGXers began in 1991 with Nirvana/Pearl Jam. We were 10-14 years old, and music had finally become a thing from the outside world, and not just something captive and controlled by our parents (N.B. I’d argue every generation as that point, where music become their thing). If the most popular/ubiquitous rock-n-roll then hadn’t been Seattle “grunge,” but had instead stuck with Axl and G’n’R, how many of us today would reflect on 90s as being Axl’s decade. (N.B. I prolly would have). Regardless, the explicit explosion of the Seattle scene followed the LSGXers through the 90s, and into college, and now out of college. And it almost always felt like our music.
But it wasn’t. It was theirs.
The true beginning of all of the above, was something I briefly addressed in WD VIIN21. I’ll identify herein as the Pearl Jam Problem (PJP). What is the PJP? It’s the slow realization I had after a decade plus of not just Pearl Jam fandom, but of Pearl-Jam-is-and-always-will-be the-greatest-band-in-the-history-of-rock-and-I-will-argue-in-favor-of-them-until-we both-pass-out-drunk, that Pearl Jam wasn’t the band of my generation. Or maybe I wasn’t in Pearl Jam’s generation.
During the PJP I realized they made passionate and relevant and killer music, all the things I love about them, but it wasn’t music about the world I understood. It was music about the proper Gen-X world, how they experienced it in the early years even to how they experience it today. And they did, and still do it wonderfully, but it just wasn’t something I can fully get my head into…..anymore (i.e. once I started seriously overthinking it.)
(N.B. now to my Pearl Jam loyalists, I still absolutely know in my heart that PJ is America’s Greatest Rock Band, so please don’t accuse me of turning my back on you.)
So I wandered for a time without someone to call the band of my generation. But I knew I needed one. I never fully felt the tug of the musical diaspora allowed by PFF music. I had to have something to call “our own.” There may never be an official one, but I needed there to be (N.B. stuck between two generations?).
For purposes of WD, I’ve decided to go with Arcade Fire as the band of the LSGXers. Reasons List: They are themselves LSGXers (Win Butler born in 1980, Regin Chassagne born in 1977); I love them; They’re how I want LSXGers to be eclectic, topical, rooted in the past, passionate, but unforgiving; They won a grammy; but I, and plenty others, had to go out and find them, we weren’t force fed them; They fit the bill of a cobbled together mix of the rock certitude of the generation before them, and unique eclecticism of the music following them.
So Arcade Fire is the band of LSGX. Maybe I’m wrong (N.B. And if you refute most of my argument above, Arcade Fire is still the band of LSGXers, I’m just the only one.) Maybe getting here was the point. Maybe proving up the generation allowed me to see it as something that might go well with musical accompaniment, but didn’t have to have it…