A Gen-Xer Speaks about Music
What is coming back; what is lost for good
It started in a hallway.
I was teaching a session one semester at a college. My students, when not passively absorbed by their cellphones and laptops, tried to be studious. One student in particular was often picking my brain about assignments and material that needed be completed for the course. He was a young man running his own business, and happily continuing his education both in class and outside of those bare walls.
I think that's why we had the conversation.
'Sir, I envy you.'
We had been discussing another assignment, so his comment hit me out of nowhere.
'I envy you.'
I really needed more.
'Why would you envy me?'
His smile continued to grow.
'You grew up in the eighties!'
Now I really needed more.
'I need more.'
And then he said it.
'You grew up when music mattered!'
What did I tell that kid? Honestly, I don't remember all of it. I know that I mentioned going to parties with my Public Enemy albums, and being very popular with the white kids (my relatives all wanted to hear the Fat Boys). I know that I mentioned punk and the real indie scene where you could hardly find certain records that are now widely available online (seeing every Black Flag record available on Apple Music still gives me a weird feeling). And the final ugly truth that I did not share with him was this: we often felt the same way about the Boomers and their noises (some of us were actually smart enough to listen to what was part of our generation, but still...).
I have thought more and more about that conversation over the last few years. My record collection is not limited to that potent decade; it is full of music from beyond those years, covering many noises in all genres. And yes, I occasionally do buy a CD. Some bands have realized that there are many of us who did not toss out our stereos and collections for the vicissitudes of Spotify and other online platforms. My friends have larger collections of vinyl than anyone I have ever known or met from years back. There is love out there for music.
But that kid got me thinking...
And so did one other thing I experienced recently.
Online, along with a lot of the reaction videos I enjoy, I have been devoted to watching a lot of historical reviews and discussions on different musical eras. I found one that I really enjoyed: Punk Britannia! Divided into three parts, it covers pre-, post- and the glorious years of England's last great contribution to rock and roll.
Okay, not a fair comment, but it does feel that way after watching the videos.
Now, what got to me was not just the great analysis of the different bands and sounds that developed over a very brief period of time (less than a decade is covered). What got to me were three comments I discovered under one video (the heady 1976 - 1978 period). All quirks of spelling and punctuation included.
We need another music revolution like this when this pandemic is over.
We need this type of musical revolt - except no sign up to the label and all self publish P.S. The Ramones did it first.
Punk was about as offensive as possible to adults push boundaries. Now the kids are the ones that are constantly offended. Punk is dead.
I have to respond to all three with some quiet common sense.
To the first writer: we do not have to wait for a pandemic to be over to become revolutionary. Music could have been heard far and wide online by anyone bored enough and angry enough to make it. Why should things be on a time line?
To the second writer: no label can really afford to sign up anyone, anyway. No one is buying records anymore (remember: vinyl collectors are a niche market, not the mainstream). And the Ramones did sign up to a label when they got the chance (how else would they have reached such a large market and seen their t-shirts worn by people who never bought one of their albums?).
And to the last writer: yes, I agree. It is very hard to see how a generation that cannot look up from their phones for five minutes and worries continually about safe spaces, woke language, cancel culture, and trigger warnings could possibly create music or art that will push those boundaries and annoy the ones who need to be annoyed...but give them time. There is a hunger out there for music and art that speaks directly to those who have not been heard. It will arrive in its own time...and we may hate it.
There is one final quote that I would like to cite here:
The most punk rock thing now would be to wear a t-shirt that says, 'I Hate The Sex Pistols.' Offend the offenders, and then maybe something big like this can happen again.
And who wrote that?
Gentle reader, it was me.
Thank you for reading!
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You can find more poems, stories, and articles by Kendall Defoe on my Vocal profile. I complain, argue, provoke and create...just like everybody else.
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About the Creator
Teacher, reader, writer, dreamer... I am a college instructor who cannot stop letting his thoughts end up on the page. Very grateful to have found this other opportunity to expose things to the light.
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"'You grew up when music mattered!'" I felt that. Excellent article.
Great article. Well done.
As a fellow GenXer, I completely agree.
I feel like since the 80's and 90's like music is lost to trap "music" it's kind of sad, I feel like this is the lost generation of music and just a lot of creativity in general. I really loved your piece. Congrats on making the top spot.
I like all three responses to the letters, but the Third was my favourite. Well said and thank you for getting this message out there. I have hope that one (maybe more) will look up from their devices and rebel through music. Way more effective than a comment on a social platform.
Great article, Kendall! I really enjoyed reading this. Fantastic points made, and I like your quote at the end:) Congrats on top story!!!
Great story and nice!
Lol! My kids who are now thirty also envy that we grew up in the 80’s, as they say their favourite music is from the 80’s too.
I feel you as a fellow teacher. Congratulations on Top Story!
Great article and well done on the top story.
I envy you, too, Kendall, for your awareness, sense of perspective & your gift so beautifully displayed here. It took me back. I loved it.
PS I'm not allowed to play Tubular Bells at home "No hippy church music in my house!" she said
Wow, this piece really resonated with me! As someone who also grew up with a love for music and experienced the punk scene, I couldn't agree more with the sentiment that music really did matter back then. It's true that today's generation seems to be more concerned with being offended and creating safe spaces rather than pushing boundaries and creating truly revolutionary art. But as the author points out, there is still a hunger out there for music that speaks to those who haven't been heard, and it will come in its own time.
As a music fan I was blessed to come form that most ignored of cohorts Generation Jones, castaway smack dab in the middle of the self-satisfied boomers and you pretty cool Xers. When genuine good music started to appear once more from beneath the dregs of glam-rock and disco it felt like being at the centre of the universe to experience the ride on what we used to call, somewhat arrogantly, 'The New Music'. That title doesn't work anymore, but for anyone interested in the period and its aftermath, I just have to recommend a very special podcast called: "The Ongoing History of New Music" by Alan Cross. You won't regret checking it out. He actually started this podcast in the mid-eighties long before podcasts existed, and it's been going since.
Really appreciate this music beat article! Excellent insights on current trends and cultural issues. Congratulations on top story
Gen-Xer too! Still have the 80's channel on satellite radio as a preset. Although, I do love 70's music a lot as well. Really, I'll try listening to just about anything at least once, lol. And I loved your quote, great article! And congratulations on Top Story!
A brilliant article, very easy to read and a subject close to my heart!
Great piece!!! For me, Music late Fifties & defintely all the SIXTIES very little of the seventies big on music for eighties & nineties.
I’m a Gen-Xer too. Smart commentary, Kendall. Like you, I listen to various noises (great description) but I never really got in to punk. I am familiar with The Ramones and I particularly enjoyed the link to celebrities wearing the Ramones t-shirts. Fake it til you make it I guess. 🤣 Your quote is great. I’d definitely buy a shirt! I predict this will be a Top Story!