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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nevermind the Smell of Teen Nirvana

Apparently, Satan is checking the thermostat in hell. I just agreed with a 17 year old. In an a twist of irony I was listening to a story on NPR yesterday about Spencer Elden. For those you who do not know who that is, consider this. Over 26 million people have seen him naked. Oddly enough, it isn't illegal to own the only published picture of his au natural pose. That's because he's the baby swimming towards a dollar on the cover for Nirvana's Nevermind album. That's right you old farts, that baby is now 17 years old. Not only is it hard to believe has been 17 years since Nevermind changed the music landscape, it's funny that this story was being told on NPR instead of MTV. In fact, I hardly listen to music on the radio anymore because it all sucks, in my opinion. Instead, I opt to listen to NPR and the interview he gave yesterday produced a very good point that I just had to find agreeable. Here's the snippet.

Life in general isn't quite as "cool" as it was when he jumped naked in the pool in the early '90s, though, he says. These days, his peers are too stuck on the Internet and video games. Ironically, he yearns for the era that gave Kurt Cobain, the lead singer for Nirvana, so much angst.

These days, Elden says, his peers concentrate on"playing Rock Band on Xbox, like, that's not a real band! That's the difference between the '90s and kids nowadays; kids in the '90s would actually go out and make a [real] band.

Now before you start climbing into the bomb shelters or encasing the homestead in duct tape and plastic, take a moment and breathe. Ok, better now? I agreed with his point, but not his sentiment. I'll explain. Yes, it is very true that we live in a world where anyone can be a "rock star" just by playing a video game like Rock Band or Guitar Hero. In fact, South Park had a great commentary on the matter in the episode "Guitar Queer-o." We also live in a world where fame is just as tangible a concept for George Clooney as it is for anyone with a gimmicky YouTube clip. Again, South Park does a great job of lambasting our addiction to the craze in "Canada On Strike." Granted, it was more about the WGA strike, but the whole battle royale between Internet Memes was priceless. Elden is right. Kids today would rather sit back and virtually do all the things that kids in the 90's would have actually done. But, being a teen in the 90's was not, something I would consider, a goal to yearn for.

Let's think back to 1991. I was a junior in high school and someone in my homeroom had this CD with a naked baby on swimming towards a dollar. At this point in time, Grunge was on the verge of destroying Heavy Metal. Soon everyone was on their way to taking the flannel off their shoulders and wrapping it around their waist. By the time I had graduated and started college, music was a in sad but necessary state. Soon, came the downward spiral into the Dawson years and Wuss Rock. Boy Bands and Pop Tarts soon took over and we barely recovered. Now, at the end of the first decade of the new millennium we have tried to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. New Kids on the Block went back out on tour, The Eagles just released an album last year, and everybody and their brother has upped the sampling of old songs in order to produce a hit.

While our older brothers and sisters were classified as Generation X, we really had no generation. Although, there were attempts to reclassify Generation X as consisting of children born between 1958 to 1965 and 1975 to 1981, I refuse to lump myself into those Reality Bites, Winona and Ethan wannabes. Some will call us the MTV Generation but that's branding and I think it's wrong. You might as well call us the VHS Generation. Maybe it was this lack of placement in the Generational Dewey Decimal System that led to our identity crisis. Our parents' younger siblings kind of fell into the We Generation that lived in the 70's. The Yuppies and Brat Packers all lived out the end of the Me Generation in the 80's. In a pinch I tended to see us as the Re Generation. Why? In the 90's, after Grunge seemingly started to get stale, the state of popular culture experienced a shift. Blame Oasis, blame the post-grunge movement, whatever. America went through a rehashing of the last three decades over the last half of the 90's. With the death of Kurt Cobain, we all kind of went through this crisis of faith about our lives and our place in the world. Now, normally, I wouldn't give that much credit to Cobain. After all, his death had no effect on me and a good portion of the American people. I didn't fall into that percentage of youth that made up a majority of the buying power in the U.S. But there was a huge number of vigils over his death. The kind of thing you would expect over a major tragedy like the Virginia Tech Massacre or 9/11. I mean, really, how could you be surprised that he would commit suicide? Between his lifestyle and drug addiction this was a ticking time bomb about to explode. How could you be in shock? Were you in shock when Anna Nicole Smith died? Hell, the only thing that surprises me is that Courtney Love is still alive? I am in no means lumping Anna Nicole in with the Kurt Cobain in terms of importance and talent. I'm just saying, he was no John F. Kennedy or John Lennon for that matter. He was in the right place at the right time.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. Again, I didn't conform to that group of people that made up record sales or made trends popular. I didn't belong to any group or style. I wasn't grunge or goth or emo or any of that. I was in that small minority of people who just said, "You know what? I don't care what you think is popular, I like a little bit of everything and I won't play your game." My tastes in music and movies weren't considered mainstream and I don't care how much some goth or punk looking kid says they are unique, they're probably standing right next to someone dressed just like them. Guess what, Mini Morrissey, you're just like everybody else. Stop being a wuss and just be yourself, lose the eye shadow, get over your parent issues, and get a friggin' job.

So, there we were in a world without Cobain, so what happened? We went back in time and drudged up Woodstock. Then, immediately after we shifted into the 70's with the release of Pulp Fiction, and soon, everyone was jumping on the 70's bandwagon. It was like we didn't know what to do with our lives so we clung to whatever recycled trend from the past 30 years we could find. Then with the popularity of the Internet and the ability to play digital music on computers we shifted into this 80's phase. 80's throwback sites with trivia and clips from cartoons and television shows began cropping up on the web. Entertainment Weekly provided their subscribers with a two disc set of nostalgia from the 80's. It was amid a bunch of 80's box set CDs released in the 90's. By the end of the 90's we had exhausted every decade and started looking back further. Early sprinklings of "Swing" music dotted the 90's landscape with Swing Kids and The Mask. Swingers made an underground cult splash in 1996. Then after the 80's fads died down there was the huge "Swing Revival" with the GAP ads featuring Brian Setzer Orchestra. Other bands like The Cherry Poppin' Daddies and The Squirrel Nut Zippers became well known as we crossed into the new millennium. By then, we had stretched our palettes so thin that NSYNCand Britney Spears had an easy time attracting our attention.

When Spencer Elden says that being a kid in the 90's would be better because there was an actual motivation to go out into the world and do something, he's right. To say that in the 90's there was something to actually better to do is a bit misguided. He was just a baby. I give him credit for pointing out what is wrong with his generation but I think he shouldn't look to my generation for something to model his life after. My parents may talk fondly about walking to school through three miles of snow, uphill, both ways, just to come home and work to help feed the family, but THAT WAS LIFE. In the 90's we spent our time reliving what we thought were the greatest parts of other generations' lives. Now, we just pretend to do everything and never leave the house. Perhaps Spencer's kids will just stay In Utero.

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