Sunday, November 29, 2009

Baby Boomer Cultural Irrelevance Watch

With the 00's nearing their close, every blogger, pundit, and pop culture enthusiast with a keyboard has been posting their "Best of the Decade" lists of movies, music, and the like, and blogger Will Bunch is no exception. Today post is a reflection on U2's 2000 hit "Beautiful Day". I've got no truck with including it on a "Best of" list - it's a good, maybe great song, U2's best of the last ten years, it transcends Bono's late career tendency towards over-the-top rock-and-roll Messianism to be genuinely moving, and its themes and message do have a great deal of relevance to recent history, as Bunch notes. What I take issue with is this statement:
I'd have to very much agree with most people that on the whole the 2000s
was a pretty weak decade for most kinds of music, certainly when compared with
the glory years of rock 'n' roll.

Who are these people he's talking about? As someone with a keen interest in music, who's listened to a lot of it over the past ten years, I'd say that this decade's output is on par with all but the best since there's really been such a thing as popular music. Tired genres like grunge and gangsta rap were supplanted by newer, fresher variations of rock and hip hop respectively, and the garage band spirit of the 60's beat stronger than it has in any decade since, with bands like the Hives and the White Stripes proving it's still possible to write a great rock song with nothing but three guitar chords, a microphone, and a drumkit. R&B and hip hop musicians took their genres in bold new directions (looking at you OutKast) rather than opting for classic revivalism, but the quality level was much the same. In my opinion 2000-2009 has easier been a stronger decade musically than was the 90's, the other decade on which I'm fully qualified to comment - while they started with great promise with the advent of Nirvana and the like, by 1996 or so it had petered out into a sea of alternative saminess, and by the end of the decade slick, saccharine, and utterly soulless pop from the likes of Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys was the soundtrack of the culture. 1996-1999 was a terrible time to be in high school for a fan of music. It was also markedly better than the 80's, which though it produced its fair share of great bands and landmark albums also unleashed a landslide of overproduced, synthesizer-and-drum-machine-dominated crap. The 70's? Wasn't around then, but based on the fact that the definining genres of that era were disco, glam rock, and prog rock, I'd take the 00's over that one too.

I suspect that the real issue for people like Bunch is that they've reached the age when the youth zeitgeist, the font from which creative energy and pop cultural relevance flow, is no longer possible to perceive as anything more than a distant, haze-shrouded vision. Rock and all its offshoots are fundamentally young peoples' genres, and once you age out of that demographic (and at thirty, that process has begun for me), it's no longer possible to feel what's relevant or vital in your bones the way you do when you're young. That doesn't mean that older music is bad - the Beatles are still awesome, for me even more awesome than they were when I was younger and didn't appreciate all the things they accomplished musically or culturally. It also doesn't mean that new music is necessarily good - the decades of my musical coming-of-age have produced plenty of crap. It just means that you're no longer the one with the finger on the pulse of youth culture needed to form relevant or well-founded opinions. Again, that's not a shot at the Baby Boomers per se - every generation will take the rituals and totems of youth culture from their parents and reinvent them as their own, and I fully expect the day to come when my own kids are listening to stuff I think is significantly worse than what I listened to when I was young.

Once I take my Japanese proficiency exam next week, the one which has been sucking up most of my time of late, and get back to blogging regularly, I expect to write a lot about these sorts of things over the next month - there's lots to say, and lots to take issue with, whenever anybody starts making lists. There's a reason they're a great conversation starter.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day

To everyone in the U.S., I wish a very Happy Thanksgiving - it's one of my favorite holidays and missing it year after year has been one of the hardest parts of living abroad. This year my friends and I rented a cabin for the weekend and cooked up a turkey and all the fixins, but it just wasn't the same without the comfort of home.

As it is every year, the holiday is a good time to reflect on things for which we're thankful. I'll be the first to admit that such reflection often results in much sentimental pap, but even things said out of genuine gratitude can come across as insincere or perfunctory, particularly to those with ears that have been pickled in the toxic brine of cynicism and irony that is so often a by-product of modern life. A simple "thank you" to whatever deity or cosmic force we may believe in (or not believe in, as the case may be) is the essence of the holiday - it's something everyone ought to do on a daily basis, but at least on Thanksgiving if they can't manage that.

With that out of the way, the things I am thankful for, in no particular order:

1.)parents who have always loved, supported, and sacrificed for me,
2.)a brother with whom I'm very close,
3.)my awesomely sweet and loving girlfriend,
4.)the opportunities I've had, to travel, to learn, and to redress my mistakes - opportunities it pains me to have learned so well that many never have,
5.)being alive now, in a world that is not and will not ever be perfect, but has its share of beauty, joy, and happiness all the same.

No snark from me today. It would violate a sacred creed of mine.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quote of the day

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." - Albert Einstein

Nothing in particular brings this to mind, just a run of several idiotic things I've heard recently. As much progress as humanity has made in understanding the world and our place in it (and we have made a lot), we will always be handicapped by our own idiocy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Leggo my Eggo!

America is hit with a shortage of Eggo waffles. Can the Republic survive?

Monday, November 9, 2009


As anyone reading this may have noticed, I've been going through a bit of a writing slump recently - something that always seems to befall me this time of year. It hasn't helped that I've been busy of late dealing with various work-related bothers and planning a trip home for the winter holidays - hopefully when those are out of the way I can snap out of it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Well, it's over...

...and the Yankees have won the World Series. As a Phillies fan, I'm disappointed, but not dissatisfied - they got back to the Series to defend their title from last year, which is difficult enough that they were the first team this decade to do so. But if they had to lose, I would have preferred it not been to the Yankees. They are among the most despicable teams in major American sports. With the exception of A-Rod, who IS a tool, it's not the players I dislike - Derek Jeter has always been a classy professional and several of the Yankees' current regulars seem like decent guys. It's the fans. Like fans of the Lakers, Cowboys, and Maple Leafs, their counterparts in the other professional sports, Yankees view a season without a playoff appearance as a failure and decade without a championship as a travesty. To anyone who's spent a lifetime rooting for perennial losers who fail spectacularly when they do manage to make it to the big stage - say, someone from Cleveland, or before last year, Philadelphia - that sort of sense of entitlement is pretty tough to stomach. This is particularly true in the case of baseball, in which rich teams like the Yankees can buy the best players off of their poorer competitors, in addition to paying to make their mistakes go away with impunity. From a baseball perspective, the Yankees aren't the best run organization in MLB - just the one with the largest margin for error. They're a team for Wall Street hedge fund managers whose firms are "too big to fail" - people insulated from the consequences of their actions. Unless you were born and raised in New York, and have a blood-branded loyalty to them, as my father and much of his family were, they are impossible to root for.

I'm already looking forward to next year. Hopefully, the Phillies can regain their title, though I'd settle for the Yankees losing theirs.