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Gen X Is Still Tired of Everyone’s Crap

A friend of mine wrote a post that has inspired this. He was, I believe, referring to the current sociopolitical tensions, both nationally and locally. His perspective is that of a Baby Boomer, among other things. From his view, the current tensions have much to do with Boomers expecting “obedience,” and Millenials demanding “respect.” My immediate thought was, well, what about Generation X – which happens to be where I fit into the scheme of things? The short answer is, it leaves us where we’re used to being – on our own.

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Bender has always been my favorite.

The actual time period used by demographers to describe Gen X is in dispute. If one goes by strict fertility rates (the reason for the Baby Boomer moniker, in the first place), one would be looking at a time period after 1964. In fact, a majority of the people born between 1961 and 1964 do not self identify as boomers, and have distinct cultural and historical experiences from their older siblings. So, in my non-scholarly opinion, I’m gonna go with the period between 1961 and 1980 – though, even the end period is in dispute.

I was born in 1971, which puts me square in the middle of this time period. Like so many of my generational cohorts, I spent time as a Latchkey Kid. My parents divorced when I was 12 – exactly on their 13th wedding anniversary. That wasn’t planned (they swear!). It was just how the court dates worked out. That particular event put me in the norm of another increasing trend – divorce rates. By 1980, the US divorce rate was 52%; by 1985 it was 50%. So, I went from the oldest of two, in a two-parent, single-income home, to a single-parent home, with mom working doubles at a nearby restaurant, so that she could keep us in the Webster Groves School District, and in a house she really couldn’t afford. It brought forth all sort of insecurities within me, though I’ll cover those topics another time.

As a child, before all Hell broke loose at home, I was interviewed by a local TV station, because of a project our class did, related to the Iran Hostage Crisis. It was a helluva sound bite for a 10-year-old, but then again, I’ve had the gift of sounding good – even when I was a mess on the inside – for as long as I can remember.

I grew up with Reagan as Godhead, Morning In America, the first of many revisits of our role in the Vietnam War, the beginning of Nixon’s reinvention as an elder statesman (News flash: he was still a conniving, manipulative President, who disgraced the office forever – with his lackeys serving political roles up to now. The current White House occupant shares many of his traits, to the tenth power).

My teen years were within one of the most self-centered, self-absorbed decades in history. Spare me your ’80s reminisces. Unless you wore the right clothes and drove the right cars, the ’80s sucked. About the only good thing that came of the 80s was cable – specifically MTV. That stands for Music Television, though you wouldn’t know it, today. Damned Millennials.

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The original, iconic image associated with the channel that changed the music business.

I’m sure much of that perspective was colored by my parents’ divorce. I became nihilistic. Cynical. Disillusioned. Disaffected. Pissed the f— off. Ask my parents. All four of them. They’ll tell you.

Then, things shifted, as they often do. The economy tanked. I went to college. The Berlin Wall fell. The late Nelson Mandela was freed, becoming the first black president of South Africa, representing the African National Congress party. Spike Lee released Do The Right Thing, featuring Public Enemy, and its anthem, “Fight The Power.”

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It’s too easy to poke fun at Flav’s clock. He was the hype man. That was his job. Music and lyrics are what matter.

By the end of high school, the obscure stuff known as “college music” was becoming mainstream, with bands like U2 playing stadiums and R.E.M. signing to a major label. The B-52s had a Top 40 hit, and by college, artists that we would now classify as “indie” were being signed in droves. A handful of the previous generation retained relevance. My top three favorites in this category are: Prince, David Bowie, Neil Young.

And, then, around the same time that the Soviet Union fell, Nirvana happened – bringing with them other rising bands that were often incorrectly grouped together as “grunge,” for the style of clothes that most of us wore, at the time. I was always more “goth” than “grunge,” but these bands spoke to me – with their unapologetic guitars, and wailing voices. Kurt Cobain’s scream was that of a generation that felt lied to. Eddie Vedder sang to every abused child in America, he once joked. And, Soundgarden – one of the most technically proficient, badass bands to come of that era. I am still heartbroken over both Kurt Cobain‘s and Chris Cornell‘s suicides. Where Kurt’s voice was the banshee wail of an untrained singer, Chris’s voice was our answer to Freddie Mercury. I think of that aria, and damn it, I still get goosebumps.

We voted for a President who “smoked, but didn’t inhale.” We learned about his many indiscretions – one of which would land him at the center of an impeachment trial that was really a farce – especially considering the current White House Occupant. We stood with Hillary, when she was indignant about playing the traditional role of First Lady. We winced, by the time she talked about a “vast, right-wing conspiracy.” Once again, we felt let down (Note: she wasn’t wrong about that, as future events would prove such).

I didn’t vote in 2000, and regret it to this day. It is the first time in history that the Supreme Court of the United States decided a Presidential election. And, it never should have happened that way. At the time, I felt it was par for the course, and I wasn’t having any of it.

After 9/11, I questioned everything. And, even further in the runup to Iraq. I wanted us to be the strong actor in an evil world, however, I knew the implications of middle-eastern conflict. I had bought into the conservative lies about Clinton being a weak President, however, I kept questioning the actions of the current administration. And, as more became revealed about the manipulation by Nixonian proteges within Bush 43‘s Presidency, I could no longer stand with things as they were.

This time, I was in an even greater minority, as a professed Christian who voted Democrat. I consider myself such, to this day.

Obama wasn’t the savior that so many of us wanted, but I knew that was going to happen. Our generation has been here, before. The difference is, we went from being flamethrowers to learning how to sustain a fire that burns at all times.

We grew up – at least, theoretically. We got married. Some of us raised kids. Many of us got divorced, ourselves, and in the process  of living life, learned to forgive our parents. We realized there’s no manual for this crap. We learned early that the world wasn’t giving us anything, so we needed to figure it out.

In midlife, our generation is characterized as entrepreneurial, having achieved work-life balance, and happy. I’m not so sure about that last one, but the first two I’ll take. If you have a family, take care of it. Be present, engaged. If you want something, go after it. Make it happen. Create it, if it doesn’t already exist.

Build bridges, where there are none.

And, that leads me back to the original quote that started this whole thing. No doubt, we’re seeing a generational shift. And, Gen X is still sick of everyone’s nonsense. A lot of us are looking at this and saying, “for God’s sake, work this out!”

At the same time, I come back to a favorite line from an old prayer: It is better to understand, than to be understood.

I get why the Boomers want “obedience.” In one sense, they’ve created the rules that work for them, and expect everyone else to play by those rules. In another sense, they’re looking at their own past mistakes, and don’t want to see future generations replay them. We Gen-X’ers are learning that sometimes, it’s okay to listen to them. As we approach midlife, suddenly, “they” aren’t so old.

And, I get why the Millennials demand “respect.” They’re seeing a world they’ve inherited that is pretty messed up, because previous generations – mine included – have kicked the can down the road. Change is not only necessary, it is the only constant in life. So, in this way, I stand with my Millennial siblings (because of remarriage, I’m now the oldest of five) who can’t understand why some of our earlier fights were such a big deal at the time – or why change seems so slow.

Sometimes it feels like we’ve become the adults in the room, trying to put each tribe in their corners, lest the fight do permanent damage. And, sometimes, the hardest and most adult thing to do is let go.

I’ll spend, hopefully, the rest of my life seeking the “wisdom to know the difference.” In the meantime, it remains my goal to be a student of history, an encourager of history makers, and – most importantly – a fierce backer of bridge builders. We need to remember the real enemy – often, ourselves – and stand together, as much as possible. It’s gonna take all hands on deck.

Brokedown Palace: Confronting Prejudice, And Finding Solace In Loss Through Music

Brokedown Palace: Confronting Prejudice, And Finding Solace In Loss Through Music

Fare you well, my honey. Fare you well, my only true one. All the birds that were singing, are flown, except you alone. (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter)

If my brother-in-law ever reads this, he would find it rather amusing that I’ve referenced what was once one of his favorite bands. He was, for all intents and purposes, a Deadhead. One of my favorite stories he told me was about running into Jerry at The Grind. Some of us are old enough to remember the place, in its original Maryland Plaza location. These days, Maryland Plaza is the picture-perfect representation of gentrification. Back then, it was still a bit bohemian, a little rough around some of the edges as you got east of Newstead, but a wonderful place for a bunch of crazy college kids to hang out and escape suburbia.

Back then, I was “too cool” for The Dead – largely due to the caricatured representation of its fans – especially during their high point in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when people started to deify Jerry – something that really frustrated the band.

One of our greatest flaws as humans, is that we allow our prejudices to close us off – whether that’s artistic elitism or the fear of people who don’t look, act, or worship like we do.

Bob Weir has become one of my top five favorite guitarists. The man plays rhythm guitar like a jazz pianist – and that was very intentional, as he studied Bill Evans (Miles Davis’s pianist) and McCoy Tyner (John Coltrane’s pianist). He had me there. The Cool period of Jazz is my absolute favorite. His fans include Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth and the members of The National.

From a technical standpoint, their Wall Of Sound remains one of most innovative PA systems created, and was the model for current line-array systems – allowing the music to sound GOOD and LOUD.

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One of their tech crew went on to head up audio post-production for Skywalker Sound. Dennis “Wizard” Leonard has made many of your favorite movies sound as phenomenal as they look. He was in charge of the live-to-recording mix of Europe ’72.

As per usual, I’ve gone fanboy and digressed.

Lately, I’ve found such great comfort and catharsis in the lyrics – and so much damned respect for each of the band members as musicians (all without the assistance of psychedelics).

“A lot of Garcia’s music was about death. That’s an appeal of the man that you have to discover over time. You don’t see it, immediately, because of the way he presents – historically – as this sort of big, happy hippie icon. You get to know, as you listen to the music, that actually, he’s a deliverer of dark news, you know. And, that’s when you begin to really take him seriously.”Nick Paumgarten from the docu-series Long Strange Trip

As I’ve said before, many people listen to music simply for background noise, or to keep the party going, etc. And, there’s a place for that – one, of which, I need to be mindful. But, my relationship to music has been so much deeper. I’m told that obsession was such for me, long before I could remember it.

My earliest memory is crawling and bumping into one of my dad’s Bose 901 Series II speakers – part of his own elaborate sound system. When I was eight, he began to trust me with the big-boy toys. He taught me how to set recording levels, and I learned my first lesson about being careful with high-end gear, when I damaged the diamond stylus on his Technics SL-1100 turntable – released the year of my birth and predecessor to the legendary SL-1200 series, which became the professional standard for radio and club DJ’s alike. It was recently resurrected by Technics and costs thousands, today.

And, because he has an engineer’s mind about EVERYTHING, my dad taught his eight-year-old about signal paths. Which switch did what. Which cable connected to which device. I became a natural troubleshooter, so it should be no surprise that I spent several years producing commercials and running live sound. I owe you for that, Pop.

In short, music was my first escape mechanism, my first love, a career path, and my current therapist. My favorite artists tend to have a bit of a dark side to their writing, and as such, I’ve been able to jump into the fire, so to speak (inadvertent Harry Nilsson reference, but I’ll leave it). So, whether it’s an obsession with Radiohead‘s discography, starting with Kid A, Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets, The Dead’s version of Morning Dew from Europe ’72, just about anything from Nine Inch Nails, or Pink Floyd’s The Wall – all of it has served a purpose. It’s been a way for me to face my own demons, grieve them, and move on, one step at a time.

For any Pink Floyd fans, I highly recommend Roger Waters’ recent documentary on his three-year tour performing The Wall. The man is 72 years old, worth a quarter of a billion dollars, even after four divorces, and he is still grieving the death of his father in WWII. Call it the universal human condition, if you will.

Today, I face the prospect of losing everything – as if losing my wife to divorce wasn’t enough. I’ll be involved in some practical measures to put me back on a path to healthy coping skills, but to be honest, I don’t hold much hope of gaining any kind of meaningful life back. Much of that is the consequence of my own bad decisions, and unhealthy behavior. And, while it’s important to own that, the consequences aren’t any easier. And, the hope of rebuilding isn’t there. I’m leaning on the only people in this world that I have ever been able to trust – my family. I’m leaning on their hope for me, because it’s all I can do, right now. And, in the meantime, I grieve. And, I trust the music to be there for me.

“Going to leave this brokedown palace, On my hand and knees, i will roll, roll, roll. Make myself a bed in the waterside, In my time, i will roll, roll roll.” (Garcia/Hunter)