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.

No comments:

Post a Comment