Forever Youngish

Being on jury duty and all, I’ve had a lot of time to read. And to think. And I’ve been thinking a lot about my generation.

In the Nineties, we were tagged with the now-unfortunate label, “Generation X.” Now, I liked Douglas Coupland’s book as much as the next guy. In fact, I recently picked up a copy to re-read it, though I didn’t make to chapter two.

The label referred, of course, to our post-Boomer status. We were decidedly un-Sixties: no hope, just cynicism We were the generation of Atari, Star Wars, and (sigh) Ronald Reagan. We were cynical, apathetic “slackers.” We were a blank generation: untested, unproven, and undefined. We were suspect of The Man, loathe to wear a suit, or otherwise adopt (or be co-opted) by any of the trappings of Big Institution. Still, we were dubious of The Summer Of Love, the Electric Cool Aid Acid Test, and anything else that reeked of what our parents (some of ours, anyway) called The Counter Revolution.

We were key players in the Dot Com Boom, and subsequent Bust. We witnessed The Gulf War, and September 11th. Perhaps we’ve earned said cynicism (though I still resist it).

My mother likes to remind me, “We impeached a president and ended a war.” I can say no such thing. We watched both Bush’s wars unfold on CNN. And when we marched, our president called it a “focus group.”

Now, I think, “Generation X” refers more to our in between-ness: we are neither Boomer nor Y. Both are sizably bigger, by a factor of almost two. Which may explain, as a recent Details article suggested, why we are a niche generation. As consumers, we savor our “alternative” music. We drink our microbrews. We eschew Brooks Brothers for Paul Frank. We want boutique, custom, originality, even if it’s packaged by J Crew.

At nearly 35-years-old, I find myself virtually indistinguishable from my younger cousin. I’m in a rock band. He’s in a rock band. I wear a hoodie, sport coat and sneakers. He wears a hoodie, sport coat and sneakers. I drink Sam Adams. He drinks Yuengling. This weekend, I’ll visit the local art house to watch “The Devil & Daniel Johnston.” So will he.

At nearly 35-years-old, though — in contrast to both my younger cousin and his Generation Y peers — I am contented in this. My generation’s idols are guys like Michael Stipe, P.T. Anderson and David Eggers. His are Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Ashton Kutcher. Sure, we all know their names. But what have they done? What have they made? What have they contributed? They’ve managed only fame for fame’s sake, one red carpet at a time.

I am then, it has only recently dawned on me, a product that only my generation could manufacture: a boutique artist, a rock and roll cottage industry.

Sure, I work for The Man, but only to collect enough paper to record play a few more shows. Sure, I sell a few records, but only enough to make the next one (and barely that).

The shining realization in all of this, then, is that I’m ok with it, though I’m not sure any other generation would be. ProTools, the Internet, the blog — they all allow me to cast a small net. Not that I didn’t once dream of the cover of Rolling Stone. But if you’ve found my words, or my music, it’s unlikely you’ve done so due to my efforts (the process of creation notwithstanding). You’ve found me on your own. It’s a small thing we share. But it’s a small, good thing.

Still, the net’s effective enough. I got an email yesterday from a guy I knew in sixth grade. You may recall that I once wrote of him the following:

Cut to sixth grade. I’m the new kid at Devon Elementary in Suburban Philadelphia. The school bully, Brad Daggett, has challenged me to stand high atop the jungle gym and sing Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America” for the entire playground. I assume he thought I’d be embarrassed. To the contrary, I was thrilled with the attention. He may not have appreciated the impromptu show, but the sixth grade girls did. I was hooked.

Brad’s email read:

A friend just sent me an email of your speech at Emerson University and pointed out the reference to the “bully from Devon.” After a big belly laugh, I went on to read the remainder of the article and, to say the least, was quite impressed with everything you have accomplished since then. The music sounds great and I just wanted to shoot you a quick note of congratulations. While I don’t remember the story personally, it doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch for me in those days. Keep up the good work.

I replied:

Ain’t the Internet full of surprises? Sometimes when I write, I forget that my memories (many of which verge on fiction after all of these years) are based on actual people and actual events. I appreciate the understanding and sense of humor you apparently took at finding your name in print some twenty years later. Of course, there’s no caveat there, no disclaimer, no “Hey it was a long time ago,” though I expect it’s implied. The sixth grade version of you, anyway, represents the vast difference between suburban Chicago, from where I moved, and suburban Philly. You’re unlikely to recall that you “called me out” on my first day. I said, “Sure,” cuz I thought you wanted to go to Wawa or something. :) Anyway, obviously water well under the bridge. For what it’s worth, I have plenty of decent shared memories, not the least of which being that you introduced me to The Who’s “Tommy.”

And so it is. We make waves. Maybe not the kind that capsize cruise ships, or wipe out entire villages. Maybe they’re pretty small. But small gestures change history. And small waves move continents, one tiny grain of sand at a time.

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