Thursday, December 11, 2008

On Premature Curmudgeonhood

In the godawful 80's Brat Pack Flick St Elmos Fire , there is at least one scene that made me laugh out loud - Demi Moore, in her role as Wild-Child of the suffocatingly clingy group of friends chronicled in the film, has a cocaine induced nervous breakdown of sorts, and locks herself in her swanky pink apartment as a self-conscious metaphor for the dying dreams of youth and the 80's. Or something like that.

When her friends finally manage to coax her out of her Drugs Hell , she delivers one of the "Message!" lines of the movie. She says to her friend with a deep wistful sigh, betraying her years of souless one-night stands and drug-addled parties in the maelstrom of Reagan-Era America and says: "I just never thought I'd be this tired at 23."

I laughed out loud. Not merely because I was never lucky enough to be that unlucky , having grown up in Ireland, lived on 20 quid a week for most of college (which made drugs stronger than Bavaria 8.6 out of my league), and sex was certainly never something I got enough of to get tired of it. . But mainly, because I was 32 when I was watching this sub-John Hughes schlock. Nearly 10 years older than our poor over-experienced heroine.

Well , I havent quite hit the age of Christ yet, and I am not about to go all Thomas Kinsella on you and start counting grey hairs in mirrors. However, I have had to admit that I have reached the age where the vast majority of popular culture is alien to me. In those hairy old Amristead Maupin books Tales Of The City, there is a part where the two 1970's libertines Michael Tolliver and Brian Hawkins are discussing what life will be like when they are old. They fantasize about a future where everything is reversed: Where they are the libidinous, feckless, pleasure-seeking ones, and their children have all become stone-faced Calvinists.

And I find myself thinking that for many of those of my, ahem, generation, there is something of the same feeling in the air. It is a cliche that every generation thinks the one after it to be more ignorant, lazy and shit-stupid than their own and it is not worthy of me to repeat it. But, it is hard to avoid the creeping suspicion that my generation seems to be the last one that was in some way kind of , dare I say it, cool.

It seems that in the 10 years since I was (oh God no) young, whatever remnants there might have been in the Mainstream mass culture (By which I mean TV, Radio and Movies , not piddling little corners of the Net like this) of some sort of independant spirit, have been totally wiped away. And I know it makes me sound like me da to say it: But I really do despair at times.

MTV, for example, though always a globe-straddling corporate channel, used to actually show music videos, quirky little offbeat cartoons, and live shows featuring geeky dorks like Ray Cokes. Could it ever in your worst nightmare have turned in to what it now has? It has actually turned into a propaganda mouthpeice for the worst kind of Selfish 'Fuck All Y'All' Capitalism imaginable. Endless Reality about unreal people, the Dumb and the Brainless, models, 'stars' and slowed-down, Steadycam wanderings through the diamond-studded fridges of the barely literate: "Dis here, bruh, Iz where ah keep mu Gatorade 'n shit."

And the pop charts. (Im sorry but I cant avoid it). I mean OK, my parents could despair of me and my friends rocking out to Slayer and Napalm Death back in the 80's. Sure the lyrics were all about rape, torture and ritual sacrifice -but it was plain to see that the guys singing it were harmless: Mostly fighting-fantasy geeks who were actually shy and polite under all that frizzy hair. How I long for the days when ugly people made music. Van Morrison? Way too ugly for MTV now, would probably have spent his career singing at team-building seminars and weddings had he been born 40 years later. And so on into tedium.

Well here, for what it's worth (Probably the paper this isn't written on) is my rocking-chair's-eye view of the state of the music the kids are into this days:

From what I can see, it is as if, like the massive conglomeration of corporate buyouts and takeovers that now leave us with 5 or 6 corporations owning 95% of everything. (Or something, this isnt Indymedia) - the pop world has resolved itself, after years of turmoil to essentially 4 'artists' , who are essentially avatars, who can take 100s of different forms, but whose essential being remains unchanged.

And they are:

(1) 19 Year - old blonde nymphet shakes ass and sings songs about money and fucking. All of the lyrics can basically be boiled down to "Buy my overproduced album and I swear Ill suck your cock." Sometimes this kitten is cloned 5 times and made into a group, but the content is largely the same. All are indebted to whichever genius it was that came up with the idea that there was something feminist and empowering about writhing around in undergarments for men's pleasure.

(2) Big black dude with lots of money. He would like to find as many ways as possible to tell you just how much money he has, how many things it can buy him (with brand names included), and how attractive this makes him with the ladies. He probably has a few stories about being shot to make him sound 'street' as well. This resonates with his target audience: Young overpriveleged kids, ashamed of growing up in plush suburbs, who wish to walk on the aural wild-side for 50 minutes.

(3) Young twig-like men, skinny, in skinny jeans, skinny ties, amd skinny haircuts, play skinny tunes on skinny guitars. They find it hard to see their fretboards cause their fringes get in the way. Most of the songs are about how difficult it is to have to go out drinking in nightclubs all the time.

(4) Sensitive emotional guy, has found a way to moisten gussets from Johennesburg to San Francisco, by singing songs that are designed by teams of highly-trained psychologists to be EXACTLY what any insecure young woman from 15-40 wants to hear. Thus lyrics are usually about both how beautiful the listener is, and (paradoxically), how it's inner beauty that really matters. Some of these guys are so sensitive and melancholy, that they remain melencholy even after becoming a multimillionaire and marrying Gwyneth Paltrow.

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