http://www.newspressnow.com/life/st_joe_live/music/article_eb1931b7-0ce6-5330-9541-c7a7bb1a0097.htmlSongs that capture a generation
Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014 11:55 pm | Updated: 2:31 pm, Fri Mar 7, 2014.
By Shea Conner | St. Joe Live | 0 comments
Every now and then, we're allowed to run off with a really crazy concept for an article here at St. Joe Live. Well, this one was certainly crazy. It was also frustrating, thought-provoking and darn near impossible.
For this story, we asked local musicians, writers and those close to the music scene — of all ages and backgrounds — one simple question: "What song from your generation best captures your generation?"
Maybe it was foolish and pretentious of us to think there are songs that embody an entire swath of very different individuals. Actually, it is. But the point of this question was to generate a discussion that would help fill in the musical generation gaps and get people to bust or confirm stereotypes about their own generations. It also would allow people to opine about their peers and essentially create a very meaningful setlist influenced by history and sociology.
The results were, well, not what we expected.
Most simply didn't respond. Some said they'd give it some thought before ultimately choosing not to retort. Some answered the question with little or no elaboration. Some answered the question by not answering the question, and some were offended that we posed such a query in the first place.
But, ultimately, a brave few picked one song that they felt best summed up their formative era. We are saluting those intrepid souls by printing their contributions, as well as our own takes on this whole generational anthem thing. What we learned was that young music fans thought a lot about this, '90s kids almost unanimously crowned Nirvana and people who grew up in the '60s and '70s didn't even bother trying to narrow it down. Take a look.
Shea Conner, St. Joe Live writer
The Millennial Generation (or Generation Y) has often been described in labels that aren't so flattering. We're arrogant. We're weak. We're lazy. We're self-obsessed. At least that's how our older peers have often defined us.
Frankly, I just don't think they know us that well.
We're not arrogant. We're confident. Maybe it's because we grew up watching rappers, rockers and professional athletes make their boastful declarations with an utter lack of remorse. Or maybe it's because confidence plays a key role in achieving career aspirations and it's been pounded into our heads by nearly every authority figure we've met since we were teenagers.
We're not weak. We're impressionable, compassionate and open-minded. My generation was the first to be raised with an entire world at its fingertips, and we've absorbed various types of culture, art, history and silly Internet things like a sponge. What we lack in wisdom, we make up for with increasing self-awareness and eagerness.
We're not lazy. We're not self-obsessed. We're dreamers who have been encouraged to never stop chasing their aspirations. In an intimidating world that's overwhelmingly connected, economically baffling and full of uncertainty, my generation has placed a greater value in the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps that's why MGMT's "Time to Pretend" will always make such a lasting impression on me.
"I'm feelin' rough, I'm feelin' raw, I'm in the prime of my life. Let's make some music, make some money, find some models for wives." From the very first lines of the song, MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser set out to establish a feeling of invincibility and optimism as they fantasize about becoming rockstar folk heroes. As the title "Time to Pretend" implies, the song is a daydream, but the duo makes you feel as if that daydream is never quite out of reach.
"Yeah, it's overwhelming, but what else can we do? Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?" We've seen previous generations immerse themselves in jobs that were just that — jobs. So many people have locked themselves up in occupational prisons because the money was good. In the past, security defined success. That's not the case anymore. Our generation whole-heartedly believes that if you can make a living by doing something deeply rewarding, you've already prospered.
Throughout the rest of the song, MGMT laments about feelings of inadequacy and false idolization while also fondly recalling authentic love. I find this quite poignant because, as I age, I'm learning that it's not about how cool people think I am or the number of Facebook friends I have that's meaningful, but rather the lasting relationships I'm making. That's tough to grasp in this new world that places more stock in the quantity of kinships rather than the quality.
Even the music of "Time to Pretend" feels unique to the time period. It's a mix of electronic dance with big strokes of psychedelia, pop and garage rock. Like so much of the great music of this era, it's a display of today's technological influence while also serving as a nod to the past. Honestly, why would we want to ignore such amazing influences?
In the end, the protagonists find that their dreams weren't all they were cracked up to be. They were inevitably "fated to pretend." More than anything, "Time to Pretend" details a crash with reality and the fact that nothing comes easy. That's something we're still largely struggling to deal with, but MGMT gave us fair warning.
Either that, or it's just a song about a bunch of arrogant, weak, lazy, self-obsessed losers who won't grow the hell up.
Andrew Gaug, St. Joe Live writer
Speaking for Generation Y, I'd go with Outkast's "Hey Ya," not only because it was one of the best (and most played) songs of the '00s, but because it captured the feelings of the generation so well.
Taking it on a facetious level, it's a super fun tune with its Beatles-like melody, call-and-response, two-word chorus and funky dance breakdown. Despite its sunny demeanor, it's a song about chasing thrills and the inevitable emptiness associated with the fact that there's no emotional investment.
In our budding and then full-blown Internet age, you could find something for any specific thrill that you were seeking out. It was unlike anything any previous generation experienced.
Even though technology brought more stimulation, we still proved to be an unhappy generation (hence, the emo movement of the 2000s, with its overbearing and often juvenile lyrics), but we were afraid to show that on the surface.
If you saw us on the street, we appeared happy. If you looked at our AOL Instant Messenger or Myspace profiles or read our texts and personal e-mail, there was a sense of longing for something deeper.
Underneath the cheery facade of "Hey Ya," there's a feeling of darkness that could easily be overlooked if you didn't take the time to actually invest yourself in the material.
Happy people could just ignore the lyrics and like Andre 3000 says, "Y'all don't want to hear me, you just want to dance." While those that dug deeper saw questions like "If what they say is/'Nothing lasts forever'/then what makes/love the exception?"
"Hey Ya," like our generation, played both sides of the fence -- endearingly happy, while frustrated underneath as it learned the old adage that what comes easy doesn't last. At some point, you have to get out of the Caddy and meet the person's daddy. It's something we're still learning.
Kevin Krauskopf, former St. Joe Live writer
I've found this to be an almost impossible question to answer. By the time I started high school in 1998, the popularity of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the Smashing Pumpkins was no longer at its peak. Rap/metal happened, briefly, and then the Blink-182s of the music world took over — and were any of them good enough to carry the mantle for an entire generation?
No. No, they weren't.
But then one particular artist popped into my head. Dave Grohl. I almost immediately dismissed him as too obvious a choice, but who else better bridges the gap between generations for those of us who don't particularly identify with any one of them?
Far from my favorite song in the Foo Fighters catalog, "Learn to Fly" still nails it on what it was like to come of age in the late '90s and early '00s. As Shea put it, the Digital Revolution changed everything — and us 20- and 30-somethings were shoved from the plane without a parachute into this rapidly evolving world.
Fortunately, we learned to fly before we crashed and burned. We had to find our own way — older generations no better understood this new world than us — and it took some time. Maybe that's why we came off at first as brash, arrogant and narcissistic. With the world quite literally a click away in this digital era, however, we were exposed to so many different ways of thinking. We also saw more clearly, and came to detest, the harsh oppression of those who didn't conform. Thus, we gave up on the "make your own way" ideal, embraced our differences and decided our best way forward is together.
And that's why Grohl's line "Fly along with me, I can't quite make it alone / Try to make this life my own" resonates so deeply.
Corey Riley, Blue Oyster Culture Club
Hands down, Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." No other song has made an entire basement full of stinking pubescent teenagers stop and actually listen. It changed everything.
Amy Heath, co-owner of The Lucky Tiger
I was smack dab in the middle of Gen X. It was a generation that only had top 40 stations, and if you wanted to hear something different, you traded tapes and sent away for a whole label's discography. It was the fall of my sophomore year when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hit and it seemed like everything changed overnight.
I would say it really was the anthem for my particular generation, and even though it is not what represents me personally or my favorite, that is THE song. I cannot see much argument on this if you went to high school in the early- to mid-'90s.
Danny Phillips, local music critic
For me, as I stare hard at 40, Nirvana's "Negative Creep" from their debut "Bleach" speaks to my generation. Most would probably go to "Teen Spirit," but for me, when I heard "Negative Creep" it described me and where I was at the time: It was dark, had a heavy riff and, above all, it was pissed off.
Nirvana came along at a perfect time for me and "Negative Creep" was the song that lit my fuse. When I think of my youth, think about days gone by that have shaped me, it's "Negative Creep" setting the scene of the movie.
Todd Ward, The GasTown Lamps
"Fell In Love With a Girl" by The White Stripes and "Last Night" by The Strokes. Those bands kicked off a resurgence of rock in the early 2000s and put the final death nail in rap metal. The influence of that era is still reverberating throughout music, both underground and mainstream.
Matthew Coman, The Wood Pile
I want to pick a song that most people would be aware of, but I keep coming back to a song called "Here" by VAST. That was during a very formative time in my life. I was 15 when I first heard this band.
The song, to me, is about feeling a state of paralysis when being bombarded with information. I think it's an analysis of the digital age, and the feeling of not knowing what to believe. At the same time that it speaks to this paralysis, it also speaks to the feeling of joy for living in a time that is sort of chaotic. You're not sure who or what to trust, but you're happy you're along for the ride. This band really left an impression on me.
Ryan Richardson, DJ and writer for The Joplin Globe
I was just off the cusp of being part of the vaunted Generation X that seemed to epitomize cool when I was a teenager. The millennials, in their short time here, have already become alien to me to the point I don't relate to their values. Born in 1981, I land squarely in the middle of the lost Generation Y.
My generation is pulled into two different directions. We're the ones buying up vinyl records because they epitomized our childhood and then disappeared with it too. We're the ones who embraced the computer age with open arms and wide wonder because that technology matured with us. We were too young to be completely cynical like our Gen X counterparts who had worked under the assumption that they could expect less than their parents. But we're too old to be blissfully ignorant of the squandered potential of all the technology and information that had finally been placed within our grasp. We're dutiful wanderers née slackers, with no direction home.
The single "1979" off of The Smashing Pumpkins double LP "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" was credibly the first taste of that aimless feeling that I never have been able to shake since. Four years earlier, Cobain had screamed "Here we are now, entertain us" and Billy Corgan responded in earnest by giving us the justification on why we were so listless in the first place.
This song didn't feature the soft verse, loud chorus we had been groomed to expect during the rise and fall of grunge. This was the same, steady drumbeat from start to finish. It was Corgan, speaking on our behalf while speaking to us at the same time, flashing us soft-spoken realizations that no direction still put us at the same place as everyone before and after us. The song was a heartbeat, keeping perfect time until the end until it evaporated leaving nothing behind. We were told it was going to be ok to be vacant and bored, while residing in the land of 1000 guilts.
Corgan and his bandmates were poster boys for late Generation X'ers, but in this song he bridged the gap to his younger siblings and told us it was OK to not expect it all to work out. When the Baby Boomers looked down their noses at them citing squandered potential, they were looking to us with an encouraging nod. They were saying that they still believed we could figure it out.
And if even if we didn't immediately, everything would still be there when we did.
Steven Garcia, Deco Auto
"Where the Streets Have No Name" by U2 from "The Joshua Tree."
First, the sheer poetry of the lyrics: "I want to reach out and touch the flame. Where the streets have no name. Ah! Ah! Ah!"
Hmm... OK. That's not so great. How 'bout this: "We're still building then burning down love. Burning down love. And when I go there, I go there with you. It's all I can do."
No, that's pretty bad too. In fact, it's pretty damn awful. So why this song?
Well, this won't speak for everyone in Generation X, only those of us who hoped and prayed for something just a tiny, itty-bit different than what everyone else was listening to.
For us Midwestern Generation X-ers who weren't digging on classic rock, hair metal or Top 40 in the '80s, there wasn't much else as an alternative. There was some really underground stuff, but it was hard to find and difficult to purchase. So, we mostly contented ourselves with what little major labels had to offer. It was fairly decent. We had Depeche Mode and The Cure, The Replacements and Soul Asylum, R.E.M. and The Smithereens. And of course, we had U2.
In 1987, it had already been seven years since their debut "Boy" (and only liars said they knew it when it came out). It had been four long years since their last really crucial album "War." By the late '80s, U2 had already become fairly commonplace, and really, quite boring. The first two singles off "The Joshua Tree" ("With or Without You" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For") did little to change that opinion. Moms were clearly enjoying this record!
Finally, they released "Where the Streets Have No Name" and it sounded positively punk by comparison. Of course, that's obvious hyperbole, but the drums were pounding, the bass was thunking and Bono gave his best impersonation of someone who cared. And for those of us stuck in Northwest Missouri, if the choice was between a mock-edgy single by U2, or something by Poison, we gladly went with the former.
It wasn't groundbreaking. It wasn't mind-expanding. It wasn't even all that exciting. But it wasn't bad, and that was pretty good.
Bob Shultz, Missouri Music Hall of Fame
I've got to go with Todd Snider's “Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues.”
It's the Folk-Alt-Rock-Americana comedic journey of a group of guys trying to make in the record industry on the heels of Nirvana.
Snider perfectly captures the time and place of that weird, brief chapter of the recording industry where everyone seemingly drops the leather-clad pants and tosses on the flannel for a chance at stardom.
The song follows this group of untalented musicians as they wind through the final days of MTV when MTV actually played music — that time when anyone and their untalented brother was getting their own “Unplugged” specials in between “Real World” marathons.
It so defines Generation X-ers who were using the growing Internet technology, and not really saying anything.
Snider's chorus refrain from Neil Young's “Into the Blue and Into the Black” puts the story firmly into "tongue-in-cheek" territory. It brilliantly highlights and predicts the coming storm of post-Seattle bands that would lead the rock genre for the next decade. Take out the fictional band and replace it with "Smashing Pumpkins," "Creed," or "Nickelback" and it is a fairly accurate attack on the lameness of the coming storm of music and my generation's ability to put them there.