Don't call it a comeback
Maybe you’ve heard: the ‘90s are back. Just look around. The clothes are straight out of a Screaming Trees video, new bands are throwing power chords around like it’s their first orgasm, and the way the kids are talking about Kurt Cobain — most of them born after he died — is way more passionately than we ever did on the first go-’round. The amount of smiley Nirvana shirts I’ve seen lately is starting to rival those from the days of the Ramones T-shirt. And did you catch that Iggy Azalea video? For “Fancy,” she (impeccably) re-created the scenes and clothes from “Clueless.” As if.
It’s a weird moment for me, since the smooth, saxophone-laced Clinton era was my coming of age. I’m at once startled and proud at the same time. There’s a bit of vindication that comes along with it. Like, “Hey, see, it wasn’t just a rebellion against hair bands. There was content!” But at the same time, it’s scary as hell.
Lemme backtrack. My intern walked into my office with the answers to an assignment I had given him. I wanted to know his 10 favorite albums of the past 10 years. The most important ones to him. He came back with a solid list (another story, another time), but made an offhand comment that all in all, today’s music is super lame and he wishes he would have been around for the great stuff. The ‘90s.
My jaw hit the floor. “Are you kidding?” I berated him. I tried to make a case that today’s music has just as much to offer. That the early 2000s wave of new bands was even more impressive than what my class had given. Sure, we had some great powerhouses, but most of them played in the same yard. His gen went from The Strokes and White Stripes to Death Cab For Cutie and Chairlift. My Morning Jacket and Dr. Dog! Yeah, we had Pavement and Tad playing the cool undercard, but they were only primers for what was to come.
That’s when I stopped myself: “Wait, what am I doing?” I’ve always been a great champion for the Age of Arsenio. Not that I’m one to live in the past, but of course there was great music to be discovered from future generations. Why was I trying to take this away from him? It was unfair. I had to think back to when I was his age. Sure, we were cranking Matthew Sweet and Pearl Jam, but it was just as fun to discover Split Enz and The Who. By the time I had even heard my first Morrissey song, The Smiths had been broken up for a decade.
So why was I being all defensive suddenly? If you’re my age or older, you may have figured it out already. It’s one of the first ultimate signs that you are most definitely past your trendsetting years. That you’re past those original days of discovery. The very fact, at this point, that you spent most of last Sunday with Wilco’s discography spinning nonstop can mean one thing: You’ve gotten older.
Oh yes, when the music of your teen years has happened and left, rebelled against by the next class, forgotten by even the one that came after them, only to be heralded and unironically championed by those much further down the line, the sign of the times smacks you right in the forehead like a bad Bill Engvall reference.
What are music-obsessed 30-somethings like you and me to do about this? Crawl into our Ford Focus and whimper? Try and act like we understand in the least why people think Rihanna is good at all?
I’m choosing the opposite route: Elder Statesman of the Millennials. I figure if I can ride this pop culture wave as some kind of druid for the culturally curious, then I can at least fool them for a bit longer into thinking I know what the hell I’m talking about when I recommend the new Broncho. “Yes, kids, because I was there when ‘OK Computer’ happened! The whole world turned inside out! And that’s where Eve 6 got their crappy song from. True story.”
And when it all fails because they themselves got older and fell out of fashion, I’ll just wait another 20 years.
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.