Reality Bit - published in Blackbook, Winter 2005/06

Reality Bit

This summer I was dating a 27 year old. Nine years his senior, I vowed to myself that I would never have one of those dumb conversations where you say things like: “When I was listening to the Police in high school you were still sucking your thumb!” But I found out to my horror that this cant be avoided.

One day we went down to the South Street seaport to see the town’s hip local band du jour “Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.” I stood on the outskirts of the crowd, too tired and annoyed to deal with screeching bouncing hipsters in tricked out tee shirts. “Aren’t they great?” the 27 year old said.

“Yea, totally,” I said gamely, “They sort of sound like P.I.L.”

“I guess…” was his disappointed response. A promoter weaved his way through the crowd, handing out flyers for upcoming concerts. Not to be too paranoid, but I feel like he looked me over and pulled out a different flyer than the others in his Urban Outfitters satchel. The one he gave me had Juliana Hatfield in bold type, along with other acts for my age range like Yo La Tengo and the Silver Jews. All of them graphically framed in a stately font like they were old blues masters. “Oh wow, Juliana Hatfield! She was so big when I was your age!” I said to him, half joking. He looked at her photo, barely registered her face, and returned to the bouncy catchy sounds of “Clap,” reveling in the bright now-ness of his demographic. I stood there with one hand holding a beer, and the other on his fresh little waist, feeling suddenly raisiny and ancient, like I had attended Woodstock.

I remember that feeling – the thrill of being in the epicenter of music hipness. It was 1995, and Stereolab was playing at Summerstage and I got stoned with my twentysomething friends and wore a plaid pink skirt (!) and tank top and bounced around through the entire concert. Ew, I probably had my hair in Bjork buns too! Or when I was 18, when I went to see the Church at the 930 Club in DC and insisted on being in the front, enduring the heat, dangerously loud speakers and the fact that I was dying of dehydration just so I could try to flirt with Marty Wilson Piper in his tight stretch-fabric black jeans. Or in college when I went to see Sonic Youth with my friend Virginia and we let ourselves be battered by the pseudo-moshy crowd just to make sure we felt a part of the frenzy. All the older 30 year old Grad students stood in the back. “They’re watching the show like they are reading criticism” Virginia said and we sneered at them like we would never be that way.

But now I am so afraid I am becoming one of those judgemental types who stand on the outskirts. Often when I go out I complain about the noise level in bars, or how younger people dress like tarts, or worst of all I find myself reminiscing about the Sound Factory or Body and Soul or Sugarbabies or some other 90s party – and I annoyingly promote this memory over others like those a smidge older than me do about the Mudd Club or Studio 54 or Paradise Garage. But…I don’t want to dwell in the past! I am only 36! Do I have to turn crusty so quickly? I don’t want to be a curmudgeon!

Is it me, or did Generation X become geriatric in under five years? We were alloted about three years of pop culture influence – from 1994-1997 before Justin Timberlake and Britney and the evil Reality Show era took over. Everything happened so fast. First Kurt Cobain and River Phoenix died barely seconds into their successful prime, then Winona started popping pills, and now our grunge queen Courtney Love acts like Keith Richards. Now we’re expected to assume the role of sullen elders. Forced as we are by our consumer society into generational sales groupings, I am now subjected to nostalgia marketing – those shows about the 90s on VH1, Pixies reunion concerts, and pricey reinterpretations of fashions for which I still have originals of in my closet. It’s not fair! I feel like I went to two good parties in 1995, wore a couple of baby tees and that was it!

I went out the other night to some club night called the Look at the Tribeca Grand and felt very aged. But I tried not to care and had so much fun dancing with all the young coolios in their Misshapes haircuts and slant-cut skirts. In my fantasy world there are places where people are all dancing together without any strict social divisions. Is that what Cuba is like? Maybe – except in my fantasy place you aren’t put in prison for being gay. Oh Gen Y and Z, when you see me dancing please don’t run the other way.

Maybe it’s just inevitable. The pressure stay connected and clued-in while you are in the hip spotlight is very hard to maintain. For hipness to work, it needs to feel relentlessly new. The inevitable saturation of our brains to accept constant fresh attempts batters us into these damaged consumer turtles who have slow reflexes and can’t handle the zippy speed needed to maintain savvy indie hip knowledge. After a while, there is a certain band-name/brand-name exhaustion that happens -- usually sometime around the age of 34. I can safely bet that Gen Y will tire of trying to keep up with the sonic efforts of the Kills, the Killers, the Thrills, The Chills, and the Bravery just as I gave up finding room in my brain for Smog, Slint, Sloan, Spoon, Cranes, Cracker, Come, Cardigans, Cannanes and the difference between Cake, Cakelike, and the Sea and Cake.

The upside of existing outside the red terror-beam of “cool factor” marketing is watching the artists you cherish come out the other side of hipness and make music that has this embittered, jazzy, forlorn tonality to it that was impossible under the pressure of having to Make It. (for me it’s Sam Prekop, Blonde Redhead, Bettie Serveert, Rebecca Gates of the Spinanes, Katell Keneig, Mary Lorson of Madder Rose, and of course Yo La Tengo.) You just have to cross your fingers that they can somehow find a way to distribute their music. I guess that’s what these new fangled filesharing programs and i-Pods are good for. Will one of you Gen Y and Z kids show me how to turn this damn thing on?!

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