Back in high school, you were pretty cool. Your friends came to you when they wanted to hear something new. You made the best mixes, took the time to even out both sides of the cassette, and later on made sure that the CD you were passing off was expertly laid out so that each track was the perfect intro to the one that came after it.
Fifteen years later, one of your friends finds one of those mixes and has a pretty hard laugh. Are those b-sides from Bush and No Doubt? Wow, Erasure and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark? Did we really say that the Goo Goo Dolls (first album) were a frontrunner to be the next Replacements? And I’m sure Jimmy Eat World seemed like a good idea at the time …
And that’s when you realize your favorite bands aren’t cool anymore.
If you’ve been a musical obsessive for long enough, it’s happened to you too, but don’t take it too hard. Time moves on, and it’s natural for the next generation to revolt against the previous. I find myself apologizing more and more as I get further away from my teenage years, though in all fairness, my high school years (‘95 – ‘99) were the second-worst period for popular rock and roll (the first being the late ‘70s.) We were post-grunge without any obvious direction, and it led to some of the most forgettable music of all time. Sure, there was some great stuff happening in the underground. If you were In The Know, you could catch the tail end of Pavement or the birth of Modest Mouse, but in those early days of the Internet, suffering through a 120bps dial-up connection, most of what we had to go on came from the radio. And they weren’t taking any chances.
So nowadays, I find myself trying to defend a few of these bands that have aged … well, they’ve certainly aged. And these aren’t acts that I’m getting any awesome points for. For instance, Silverchair went on to become a much better band than that song you remember. Their final album, “Modern Young,” came out in the mid ‘00s and was a pop masterpiece. Seven Mary Three fumbled on and off, but made a decent run as an all-American band in the vein of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Collective Soul … no, actually, they got much worse, but nostalgia can be a bitch sometimes.
Even my all-time favorite, the mighty Pearl Jam, have been cool as much as they haven’t. Rising from the ashes of Mother Love Bone, they were underground darlings, but as soon as “Ten” and “Vs.” topped the charts, every critic hated them. It took them (wisely) pulling back from the big rock sound (“Vitalogy” and “No Code”) for some folks to take them seriously again, but at that point they had launched a thousand imitators with names like Creed and Nickelback, so we all had to deal with that. I picked a horse that couldn’t win even when it was holding the trophy.
I was in a conversation recently about how no one is actually wrong for liking a band. I mean, folks that love Skid Row are probably just never going to be able to enjoy Radiohead, but they still sleep fine at night. And there’s that line, “1,000,000,000 Bon Jovi fans can’t be wrong.” Except of course they are! Unless it’s 2 a.m. and “Livin’ on a Prayer” comes on, and then it’s the greatest thing ever. It’s true: We’re a mess of contradictions.
Anyway, the point is, we shouldn’t get embarrassed when our past catches up with us. We shouldn’t have to justify our liking Kings of Leon just because their first two records were unlike anything else out there, reminding people that they were once widely heralded. If you want to rock out to “Use Somebody,” go ahead. (Just don’t do it around me. It’s a lousy, lame, milquetoast, horrible song.) And I get it, Cowboy Junkies used to be one of those Password Bands. A secret handshake. Now, most 22-year-olds would mistake them for a Dawson’s Creek thing.
But it doesn’t matter. That mixtape was who you were. And if those songs still help you blast through a power walk, soundtrack your Sunday laundry, or incite a sing-along with your fellow aging compatriots, then that’s what counts, ya deaf lame-o.
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.