every 40-year-old white dad I know won't shut the fuck up about Kendrick Lamar
As an aging white man (a card-carrying I hafta get up six times a night to piss old white guy), my advice is to embrace the one advantage of getting old, to wit: STOP GIVING A FUCK HOW YOU LOOK OR WHAT ANYONE THINKS. Figure out what you actually think. Like what you actually like. Dislike what you actually dislike. My God, it makes life so much easier. You're going to be ashes in the back of your kid's closet soon enough and it won't matter anyway.
Culture industries are dominated by progressive ideologies, and one of the comforting tenets embraced by progressivism is that natural demographic change, including the influx of next generations, will do most of the heavy lifting for ideological victory. Part of this is a sign of defeatism, because if simply the passage of time will fix problems, then there's no obligation to do anything, nor any shame in passive acceptance of the status quo. But this, of course, puts the older/old progressive—especially if they're straight white guys—into a no-man's land where they have little political or social value. So in the end, instead of elders, you just end up with old young people.
RE: cars, home renovations, and (particularly) sports: it's called _small talk_. You don't just burden people who aren't close friends with your fucking traumas. As a high-functioning autist, I had to learn how to do this shit, like, manually. It's an actual important life skill! If you "can't connect to 98% of people your own age", that's something you need to work on, not something to be proud of.
Sometimes, I see allegedly normal people and wonder if they would have benefited from being explicitly taught the "theory of mind" stuff I learned in the autism room.
You know, I think you're capturing my feeling that, at almost 49, Gen Xers (well, me) are now the old guard. Last week I held office hours on Zoom and the students who showed up--for voluntary one-on-one meetings--had their cameras off the whole time they were talking to me. All of them, without exception. Mine was on. "This," I thought, "is exactly like sitting in my office, in person, with a paper bag over your head, no?" Because I'm not the world curator of appropriate manners, I wondered if I'm out of touch with some obvious truth (kind of like your proverbial guitar dads.) So, I asked several people of all ages what they thought about this. Some people--notably, people my age--lectured me about a myriad disabilities and traumas the students carry, and the horrendous emotional labor they have to do to, I don't know, show their face to the person they're talking to? I've thought about it: the students had a dazzling array of options. They could, for example, not show up for office hours. If they didn't want me to see their environs, they could use a zoom background, or email me to schedule a meeting at a more convenient time. They could, for example, apologize that they're not in a location that has great bandwidth. I would understand. Once I was in a meeting with 15 other people half an hour after being hit in the face by a tree branch during a run; I apologized to the organizer for keeping my camera off.
I think it's important and commendable to question what we think is right/appropriate/good manners/good taste. And new generations do have important things to teach us. But it is also possible, after honest reflection, to come to the conclusion that my perspective on this behavior is just as valid as theirs. I felt like a robot providing a service, not like a human being deserving dignity and respect. This rudeness (even if it is not intended as rudeness) is not something I will get used to. This old dog just doesn't want to learn this new trick.
In my friend group (late 40s, mostly white dudes), there is a great divide between those with kids, who have generally found the joy of not keeping up with pop culture trends, and those without kids, who still try to stay current.
I can only think of Adorno's ranting about the culture industry which basically states that the function of popular music criticism is to justify and encourage the consumption of what this system produces. Poptimism is hegemonic for the most crass and basic reason possible: it's good for business. It's no deeper than that and never was. Taylor Swift's music, good, bad or ugly is way, way less important than the fact she makes a whole lot of people a whole lot of money and it's in their benefit to get critical tastemakers to bless the music with cultural accolades. No one critic needs to have this as an explicit or even conscious goal for it to work. In fact, it works better in a lot of ways of they don't because it feels more authentic.
My God, no one has made a dime off of Fugazi in decades and they barely profited off them during their prime in the first place. Trash talking them poses absolutely no threat whatsoever to the culture industry. People very commonly make the mistaken of thinking that because what the system wants and what they personally want at that point in time temporarily coincides that they have some control or that this capitalist culture industry cares about and listens to them. They are, under the most charitable definition, pawns. We all are, really, stuck trying to navigate forces way more powerful than outlr own desires and preferences...just trying to figure out how to live within them.
Great piece - thanks Freddie. I had two thoughts.
First, the “older white guy bends over backwards to defend Taylor Swift” is really a your-crowd thing. I suspect that most older white guys are closer to my crowd, who still listen to our guitar music, don’t have Taylor Swift on our radar (pro or con) and are (surprisingly to us) not mourning the death of rock since we stopped listening to new music fifteen years ago and are way more worried about kids, career and lawncare . I know this isn’t the primary thrust of your argument, but the image of the spastic white guy who wants to be at the forefront of the current thing nettles me. I can’t think of anyone like that.
My second thought is about the concept of subversiveness, of a functioning counterculture ( I love it when you articulate nascent thoughts in my head).
My question is: how much subversiveness was actually in the world before now? Did The NY Times ever actually print anything subversive? I’ve been thinking lately of the counter-future comedians I listened to for so many years; the subversive rock music that was my bread and butter. In hindsight maybe mocking Christian conservatives and glorifying drugs wasn’t quite the “stick it to the man” positions I’d assumed. Maybe they were really, really popular. If you make tons of money and are honored and lauded everywhere by every institution of importance maybe you aren’t really challenging much of anything. I don’t know.
“Sometimes kids are dumbfucks, Jacob.”
Lol I’m going to embroider that on a throw pillow and send it to you. Although, the kids might deserve SOME special dispensation for their worst traits based on the fact that they came of age with [ruinous, evil] smartphones. Can you imagine having the digital mind palace in your tiny hands before you can even speak the words, “Get this fucked out insanity away from me. I’m a child for Christ’s sake.” That alone must have blasted quite the invisible chasm between our ways of knowing and theirs.
A big function of this is what social circle you're in. There probably are a lot of aging white people who only listen to guitar music, just as there are evidently a lot of people offended by drag, but they're not the people reading NYT trend pieces. And the existence of other circles allows one to plausibly claim to be speaking against a hegemonic consensus without offending anyone you actually care about.
(Surely "middle-aged white dude who constantly talks about 90s hip hop" is prevalent enough to be a stereotype by now though.)
No genre is going to die, things are going to get a lot more weird and syncretic, and I think "music writers" who are used to little genre cubby holes where they can safely build a personal and professional identity don't know what to do about it. It's not high school anymore, and you can't easily guess who's a goth, a rocker, or a prep.
Even more annoying to me is the genre of "this X (insert gender or racial minority-fronted band) is saving punk/metal/whatever," wherein the author implies that a genre was languishing near death until the Linda Lindas (to pick my least favorite exemplar of this phenomenon) saved it with their radical and bold decision to have been born women and oppose sexism and racism. Meanwhile I have never once heard one of these chin-strokers talk about Fishbone, an amazing band who actually said unpopular and interesting things. Let alone Mephiskapheles, which I exhort you to Google and enjoy.
"This unfortunate fellow is just one of a cohort of aging white men who will chew your ear off about (say) how “Call Me Maybe,” once dismissed as a trifle, has proven to be a multi-generational anthem and deeper than the entire Led Zeppelin corpus."
Thankful to say I've never met one of these guys. Hard to believe they're real...
Great post as always thanks for writing.
Rock is less commercially successful than ever, but in certain ways that makes it better to be a fan. I'm seeing (imho) legendary bands like Shannon and the Clams and The Black Lips for 20 bucks in intimate venues later this year. I can pay 5 bucks for a cover and see 3-4 pretty good bands on a random Thursday. Bad for the bands though. I know some talented musicians who work in food trucks to make ends meet, but monetizing art in the age of content is a bitch and that's a bigger issue than this genre vs. that one.
I missed the NYT article yesterday so now I'm going to spend all day being mad about the absolute hash the author made when describing some of the big stylistic swings in "rock" made from the late 70s through the early 90s, in particular this paragraph:
"Although and possibly because rock started as Black music, it found a gigantic audience of white teenagers during the so-called British Invasion of the mid-1960s (the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who), which made it the dominant form of pop music for the next two decades. The stadium/progressive era (Journey, Fleetwood Mac, Foreigner) that now constitutes the bulk of classic-rock radio gave way, eventually, to punk (the Ramones, Patti Smith, Minor Threat) and then glam metal: Twisted Sister, Guns N’ Roses and various other hair-intensive bands that were obliterated by the success of Nirvana and Pearl Jam in 1991. This shift can be understood as the ultimate triumph of punk, both in its return to emotive content expressed through simpler arrangements and in its professed hostility toward the music industry itself. After 1991, suspicion of anything resembling pop became a mark of seriousness among both rock critics and fans."
As for "stadium/progressive" rock "giving way" to punk: no, it didn't. First, stadium rock and progressive rock were really NOT the same thing. Progressive rock, as the term was used in the 70s when the punk backlash began, meant artists like Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, even David Bowie (who wasn't nearly as widely revered back then as he came to be near the end of his life). I think it's iffy to say that Fleetwood Mac was progressive, but fine. While some of those bands flamed out in the 80s, it wasn't because of anything punk did; lots of them (including both Yes and Genesis) actually had most of their commercial success AFTER punk had established itself.
The same is true for stadium rock. Foreigner and Journey had most of their commercial success in the post-punk era; that type of music didn't "give way" to punk at all, and it didn't "give way" to glam metal so much as very gently morph into it, with bands like AC/DC and Def Leppard providing the very obvious bridge between the styles that was there all along.
Finally, calling Guns N' Roses a glam metal band is like calling the Beatles a Chuck Berry cover band. Yes, in the very early days of their career, they employed glam metal aesthetics (ie, Axl Rose teased his hair before performances). But one of the reasons that their music had such an impact in the late 80s and early 90s was because it sounded much more stripped-down and less produced than the glam metal bands of the day. Musically, they pointed much more toward the coming grunge sound than glam metal. And they weren't "obliterated" by the advent of grunge; the Use Your Illusion albums came out AFTER Nirvana had released Nevermind and Smells Like Teen Spirit started dominating the radio, and you know, I think GNR ended up happy with those album sales.
Oh I don't know, I've been described by more than a few people precisely as that "Old Man Yells at Cloud" without any prompting at all. And I'm not quite 50 yet.
Whoever these aging white dudes are who are pining for youth and their culture (I don't know many myself) need to stop trying to stay relevant and just let themselves age out of the 'in-crowd' diaspora. Part of getting old is accepting it, and not raging against it - I don't think that's what Dylan Thomas was talking about at all.
Bill Burr once said everyone 'wears out their welcome' eventually. And I think that's not only true, but good and right. If someone likes the music of their youth, and not the music of their youth's youth, who cares? Embrace it wholeheartedly, no one is under the gun to like musical modernity.
By the way, that Christopher Canning tweet was just weird, I don't know anyone my age who thinks like him. Or should. I also think it's false that aging white men don't like any music produced electronically...the entire 80's was swimming in synth.
Also, I had to look up who Kendrick Lamar was. I don't know what that makes me.
Who are these people who don’t understand you can listen to everything and anything you want in the streaming age and don’t need the “permission" of condescending record store clerks (remember them?), college public radio stations or, especially, music critics (esp. those who don't appear to know that aging and not-so-aging white guys make plenty of EDM, IDM and all varieties of electronic music). The Times music criticism has long been bad--I think college valedictorians just don't understand rock, pop, hip-hop or whatever you want to call the popular music you like to listen to.
I don't know. I'm a 46-year-old white man, and I DGAF about almost anything made in the last 20+ years, and I'm pretty proud of it. Movies stopped being good in the 90's, music (I still mostly listen to The Cure, Depeche Mode, REM, Radiohead, Hole, lots of 80's New Wave and pop, and some 70's stuff), books I'm a little more forgiving of, and do tend to read some contemporary literature, but for the most part, most art stopped being interesting at all sometime shortly after 9/11 (in my opinion). I'm not saying those things are related, it's just the timeline. Music, especially though, is just so freaking boring now.
I will also add that I am a gay man, and I think Beyonce, T Swift, RuPaul, and whoever else any of the standard bearers are of what passes for "gay culture" these days, are hopelessly overrated and boring.
I will also say that paradoxical to Freddie's point, my point of pride in these things has also sort of become Part of My Personality; so be it.