Rocking Out (Beyond 30 Edition)

In the summer of 1994, you may have seen me sitting out on the porch of my parents’ modest trailer in the Ohio River valley. It was 96 degrees and humid outside. In accordance with my rebellious attitude, my attire consisted of baggy jeans slung across my bony little hips, a cropped off tank top, and a long sleeve flannel shirt covering it all. I wore my combat boots from the army surplus and my long, heavy hair parted down the center, and did my best to pretend I was unaffected by the heat.

I wanted the personality of Daria and the look of Lori Petty in “Tank Girl.” I hated Courtney Love because in my mind, she was solely responsible for the demise of Kurt Cobain. In reality, I hated her because she had Kurt and I didn’t. I smoked clove cigarettes and mini-cigars because I was certain no one else had thought to do so. I was edgy and non-conformist, and super concerned about the environment and ethnic cleansing. None of the posers understood me. I was unique.

And so was everyone else my age. That is the great irony, of course.  I always swore that the phrase “These kids today…..” would never escape my lips. Then I grew up, and promptly began rolling my eyes at the Hipsters and the Emo kids and the Scene kids. What did they have to be so angsty about? Back in my day, music was music, and addiction was stealing some of our best and brightest. We had to deal with real issues, and real social change. For most of my twenties, I refused to take anyone younger than me seriously. And behind my back, my parents laughed and laughed, exchanging knowing looks.

When I hit my stride in my thirties and started listening to the music I had been avoiding for the past eight or ten years, I realized that I really liked it. I specifically remember listening to Green Day’s “American Idiot” album with new ears, having boycotted it when it first came out because “Green Day was only good in my time.” (Yeah, I actually said that. Apparently I own the years between 1993 and 1998. I feel like I should be making money off of those years, somehow.) And you know what? I will go on record right here, right now, saying that it is every bit as good as any protest album put out by CSNY. It really is.

So why do we do this? Why do we become so proprietary over what we perceive as “our” music, and scoff a bit at what comes after? I realize that not everyone does this, but most of us do. Adolescence is a time of major change that none of us really understand, no matter what our parents and teachers try to tell us. The only thing that we can really cling to is some expression of how we feel, even if we don’t know why we feel that way. Music foots that bill. And I think that as we grow up, we have a fear that no matter how good the music, how strong the message, we will never feel the way we felt as teenagers again. It’s fear of change, fear of growing old and irrelevant.

The point is, as we grow older we tend to look back fondly on the past and dread the future. We blame the future generation for the world going to hell in a hand basket, forgetting the rebellion of the Flappers and Sheiks, the Bobby Soxers and Greasers, the Berkeley Activists and Hippies, and the Punks that came before us. The world is ever changing, but the life cycle of each generation is always the same.

And that, my friends, is the biggest reason of all for the resistance to the next generation. Each of the proverbial teenage archetypes that I mentioned, that hated the “label” in their time (and then went on to hypocritically label the next generation), had something relevant to say, something powerful and important. We believe that we are all so revolutionary, so right in our causes, and we believe we are going to change the world. We don’t want to be on the side of wrong. We don’t want to be the establishment that the young people rail against. We don’t want our anthem to go from “We’re Not Going to Take It” to “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”. But inevitably it happens. We become complacent. We grow up, and have jobs, and children, and responsibilities, and aging parents. We can’t march in the streets anymore, and we resent those who can, because we miss it. We don’t feel the fire any longer, unless we hear the music from that distant time and place.

Well, I submit to you, here and now, that we can still do it. We can reach out to the twenty year old songwriter with something to say and make sure her message gets heard. We can support our children and encourage their individual voices. We can support local music. I can’t stress that enough; support local music. If generation after generation starts out on the right track and gets sidelined by life, over and over again, we can break that pattern. We can take that teenage dream of changing the world and make it a reality. We spend a large part of our lives hearing people tell us to grow up. Maybe we should “kid down”.

Staying in touch with the here and now, and your feelings in the moment, keeps you young and relevant. The teenage experience of hearing a song and remembering the most awesome night of your life, or the hardest day of your life, can still happen the way it did then.  (I want to go on record and state that a man in his seventies shaking his moneymaker to Ke$sha might be a little outside of the cone of staying relevant…just saying.) The point is, I think we should approach life, and music, with the same attitude we did when we were fourteen. Only this time we will be better at it because we have life experience to help us make decisions. So let’s try it. Think about how you feel, every day. Happy? Sad? Angry? Hungry? Really, really confused? Whatever. Don’t try to change it initially. Just think about why you feel that way. If you are feeling particularly melancholy, and want to have a good cry, go on a hunt for some new Adele stuff you may not have heard and shamelessly drink a bottle of wine at two in the afternoon.  Feeling melancholy and not wanting to stay that way? Screw Adele. Go find some Adam Lambert and dance your freaking ass off, preferably with a friend. Go ahead, laugh. I said Adam Lambert. Listen to him for thirty minutes and dance around your living room and then tell me how bad you feel. Your circumstances may not change in that thirty minutes, but your ability to cope with them will. And you have a new memory, and a connection to an entirely new genre of music.

And pretty soon, you will be speaking up loudly about injustices you perceive, or love that you don’t want to lose, or friendships that are more important to you than anything in the world, just like you did when you were young. Trust me; it is entirely possible to become a teenager again. There is a country song that contains the line “I’m much too young to feel this damn old…..” Talk about something speaking to you. That line got my attention in a big way one day and I decided to stop taking life so seriously. It was the right thing to do, and so deliciously rebellious. Screw you and your ideas of a stay-at-home mom, Suburbia!

Put the radio on every chance you get. Listen to the new music that’s out there (hint: it’s easy to find some great new music right here on Exosphere.) And again, I say, SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC. Go see it and make a memory with someone you love. Find some artist that speaks to you. Hell, become a groupie. And while you are doing all of this, listen to the lyrics and the music and think about how it pertains to you and your life. There is usually a connection, and it isn’t always obvious. In fact, I believe it’s better when it isn’t. It’s that much more profound.

All I know is this: I loved the way I felt when I heard Nirvana for the first time. I love the feeling that comes over me every time I hear a song that reminds me of standing up for something when I was sixteen, even if the adults around me believed I didn’t have any idea what the hell I was actually talking about. What mattered was that I felt strongly enough about it to speak out, without worrying about what others thought. I want to keep that going until I die. I LOVE feeling that way again. I plan to be a blue haired groupie chick, and go see the newest stuff I can find on the live music scene when I am ninety. I plan to stay forever young, and start changing the world all over again. Life is just so much better that way. My advice to you is this: Whether you are in the nursing home, on a retirement cruise, or taking your children to soccer practice, keep it real. Keep it excellent. In the words of the great Neil Young: Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World. Peace.