In honor of my return to blogging, I want to start drama. Specifically, I want to talk about a phenomenon I've noticed that seems to be growing like mold the dark corners of the refrigerator of Generation Y. To begin I'm going to engage in Gen Y's favorite past time, which is to tell you about something they read on Facebook. So anyway, I recently logged in to Facebook and saw that the top post on feed was from a friend around my age:
"Probably the most important question facing my generation: which is the better version of Ceremony by New Order?"
What I found interesting about this status update, and what got my my mind fermenting around talking publicly about this topic, was that these two singles were released in March and September of 1981, respectively. That is to say, "the most important question facing my generation (people between 20-30)" about music was a New Order single that came out before the person who made that status update was even born and when I was 3-6 months old.
I know the Facebook post was intended with no small amount of hyperbole, but wether this be via Pitchfork continually obsessing over the "next" Dylan, to graphic designers seemingly always listening to The Clash on repeat, to the ubiquity of Sex Pistols t-shirts, to every band interview seemingly involving name dropping a 70's underground act, or the ever lurking presence of Lou Reed in art colleges across America, the question at hand is: Why is it that Generation Y are fixating on bands that peaked before they were born?
To re-contextualize the question, thirty years equates to someone living during the Summer of Love, saying that the most important question facing their generation was which Bing Crosby single from two years before America's involvement in WWII was better. (Yes, I spent far too much time on Wikipedia working out the specific dates on that example.)
Let's rephrase that visually:
|Bing Crosby, "Stardust" 1939|
|Hendrix @ Woodstock, 1969|
I'll share one more example that should hopefully highlight what I see as the negative effect of this fixation, namely that it encourages people to withdraw from contemporary music.
A friend of mine who was a talented musician that I looked up to in high school recently posted a somewhat confused reply to a admittedly only moderately-funny list of what your top record choice of 2011 said about your personality. His response was that he didn't know any of the records of the list. (http://flavorwire.com/243565/stereotyping-you-by-your-favorite-album-of-2011)
Sure, that's one person. But go check out that list. Now, just an honest question between two of us (and probably the US government), how many of the albums from the top 20 bands on this list http://pitchfork.com/features/staff-lists/5932-top-100-albums-of-the-1970s/9/ are on your regular rotation in iTunes this year? How albums have you even heard, disregarding if you even liked them, total from that previous 2011 list?
1970's Top 20 __
2011 Albums __
To those of you who have spent more time listening to more of those 70's albums, I would like to take a brief break to point out that the inescapable subtext here is that all of these older records are albums that your parents could have been listening to when they conceived you in the back seat of their Dodge Aspen.
Okay, maybe a few of you Gen Y folks out there are high-fiving yourself because you listened to more albums off the 2011 list. Combine your total from the top 20 of the '70's list and from this other list for me. http://pitchfork.com/features/staff-lists/5882-top-100-albums-of-the-1980s/9/
70's + 80's Top 20 __
2011 Albums __
So now that I've hopefully made my initial point, in good stereotypical McSweeney's fashion, I will start my fight with a list. Although unlike every McSweeney's list, it doesn't include even a single reference to They Might Be Giants. I promise:
Bands That You Should Stop Listening Too:
Velvet Underground/Lou Reed
The Talking Heads
The Sex Pistols
The Rolling Stones
Okay, all you trolls that were previously happily frolicking like bronies across the rolling pixel-hills of interwebs-land, do you hear the pin-drop deafening silence in which no one is quoting Family Guy or watching videos of people falling and hitting their balls? DID YOU HEAR ME?
I SAID THESE ARE SHITTY BANDS AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD FOR LISTENING TO THEM:
Velvet Underground/Lou Reed
The Talking Heads
The Sex Pistols
The Rolling Stones
Are you now squealing in rage like a metalcore band's singer? Frothing on your forums and via twitter that I'm the biggest asshole on the internet because I just pretty much listed a huge chuck what are universally considered the most influential, really talented artists who have ever lived?
Now that I've got your attention, I want to tell what I actually named my list:
Really Great Bands That People Under 30 Need to Stop Obsessing Over Because They Have Become Defaults, Not Choices
I totally agree with you that the bands on my hit list are stellar artists that have dramatically influenced music. I also agree that these bands are all bands that exemplify what great art can be. I'll even agree that the they are talented, visionary people that have shown that their work has potency to speak well beyond their era.
But they are also the bands that have become the hallmarks of stagnation. In fact, I suspect it is partially because of the quality level of these artists, and the eloquence of the the first generation of their supporters (to bring up McSweeney's and Pitchfork again) that they have become an addicting nectar to the generation that followed. The ongoing subterranean movement amongst Gen Y to idolize and deify the underground bands that reigned prior to their births is akin to having an alternate universe the 30-year olds in 1949 were stuck primarily obsessing over synthetic cubism while the works of Jackson Pollock and the other Abstract Expressionists and Beats were active all around them in New York.
In Haruki Murakami's classic novel Norwegian Wood the main character is having a conversation with his much more macho and upper-class roommate. The roommate espouses that it is worthless to read a book that is less than 100 years old because history hasn't decided if that work is great or not, and as such it would be a waste of time to read a book that might not be historically important.
Like the main character in Norwegian Wood, I would propose that the opposite is true. That ignoring the artistic world growing around you is a way to avoid risk (and pain) by avoiding taking chances. By participating in contemporary music you actually have the chance to help shape it's history — the history that people will talk about for your generation. The very fact that the meaning and impact hasn't already been decided on means that there is an exciting large amount of room for the audience, for you, to formulate your own thoughts and theories. Yes, contemporary art isn't the most easy to navigate, and there will be fads and missteps. Yes, you might not always like the bands that are remembered by history. But art is messy, uncertain and fun, and it is already swirling and changing the landscape around you, even if you're ignoring it by blasting The Talking Head's Greatest Hits that your mom bought for you on your 14th birthday.
Conversely, by no means am I saying that everyone has be a record store employee from Brooklyn who only buys power noise cassettes from unsigned bands that their friends play to listen to on a vintage Walkman while riding around on a fixie and drinking a paper-bagged PBR can. That's just posing. Instead, in the same way that young sommeliers are deftly encouraging the new generation of wine drinkers to stop obsessing over Robert Parker's ratings and experiment with styles outside of "classic" Cabernet Sauvignon or "time-honored" Chardonnay, my challenge to you, young music lover, is that the next time you're going to put on a song from a record from my list, go listen to a new record. I don't care if it's from the Pitchfork Top 50 list from 2011, a blog, or an article in Forbes about free downloads or your local weekly, or from NPR. Just go find a current, cool album and give it a fair chance.
So too, the next time you're going to name drop one of these bands, take a deep breath, stop and ask the person you're talking with what's the one amazing new band they've heard lately, then listen to it. The next time you're going to post a song from The List on Facebook, find something cool and new and support that band by posting their video up as well. The next time you're going to write an article or make an art piece that references one of the bands on the list, stop and find an influence that's been active in the last couple years. The next time you drop $100 to go see one of these established artists, drop $10 and go to a local show.
Part of my insistence in posting up my list at this moment is that the last 5 years have been some of the most diversely and explosively creative the music scene has produced in our lifetimes. In fact, 2011 was probably the best year for Generation Y's music yet, particularly if you consider heterogeneity as a good bench-mark for the creative vitality of the music (which I do). Just take a quick look at the Pitchfork top 50 (yes, I know, "hipster blah blah blah" but it's a pretty solid benchmark of what the zeitgeist of the underground music world.) This year's list features more diverse genres than you would ever have hoped from an entire previous decade! http://pitchfork.com/features/staff-lists/8727-the-top-50-albums-of-2011/
Hell, it's the internet-age — with Spotify and everything else, it's not like you even have to leave your house nor even pay hard cash to find something new and cool. You don't have to stop liking the bands on the list to find new music. It's time for us to give Ian Curtis's ghost a rest. I promise that no one will forget him while you listen to another album. So, whatever kind of music you like, make this the year you journey out and expand your inspirations.