The Ramblings of a Gen Xer

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Dystopian World of Gen X

Was recently asked what books am currently reading, and, after consideration, could not come up with a single book to offer. The simple excuse given was that I didn't have time to read; I lied. The truth is that nothing has been intriguing to capture interest or truly speak to me. 

I also lied. 

Quickly confessing that the latest was Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy was met with a strange look until an explanation of my longtime fascination with dystopia. 

All in favor of living under an authoritarian government raise your hand

Yes, the writing style is geared towards young readers and, yes, these 9 chapter books won't challenge those in pursuit of intellectual literature satisfaction. The truth is that this story of a futuristic North American country of Panem reveals a dystopian reality that has become part of my generation's cultural DNA.

Gen X did not grow up with the promises of luxury rocketships to Mars, flying cars or the automated world of George Jetson. Gen X was never spoon-fed Ronald Reagan's phony Pax Americana later saved for the self-absorbed, entitled to everything and tech obsessed generation following them. 

We were never promised anything.

Optimism was being replaced by cynicism as we were growing up in a country becoming disillusioned with the American Dream. Once prosperous Gothams were now blocks of slums, race & campus riots were tearing the nation apart, unchecked pollution destroying lakes & rivers, and one of the greatest military forces was defeated by a nation the size of California. For us, the future was the past and the future seemed to be a mess. 

We scoffed at the nostalgia representation of Happy Days, but reveled in the recklessness antiestablishment of Animal House. We read George Orwell's 1984, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451,  Aldous Huxley's Brave New World which sealed our mistrust of the government, acceptance of dysfunctional family structures and the recognizing of class warfare. Our love for Star Wars and the story of a happy ending rebellion in a "galaxy far, far away" was replaced by images of futuristic dystopia on Earth found in Ridley Scott's dark & dreary Blade Runner, Terry Gilliam's (with Tom Stoppard) bizarre Brazil, Richard Fleischer's horrifying Soylent Green and de-evolution of the human species in The Planet of the Apes.

Luke, I am not your father.

Our music was not 60's peace & love or the 50's golden oldies, but sharp angst driven, counter-culture sounds of The Clash, Dead Kennedys, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Butthole Surfers and The Violent Femmes. We listened to these albums from the first song to the last on the LP in attempts to gain some meaning into the disfunction surrounding us. The songs then become battlecries we shared with one another through cassette tape mixes. 

The technology Gen X grew up with was simple, rudimentary compared to the generations following us. We played our warbled cassette tapes on bulky Sony Walkmans, listened to scratchy LPs through analog wired speakers, communicated through land-line telephones, video cameras were devices for rich kids, and we lacked the luxury of downloading instead went to Blockbuster Video and Record Theatre to buy entertainment.  

We outgrew comic books with superheroes saving the world and found ourselves turned onto graphic comics like the Hernandez brothers' Love and Rockets, Robert Crumb's Zap, Zippy the Pinhead by Robert Griffith, The Watchmen, and the illustrated works of Bill Sienkiewicz and Ralph Steadman. These comics reflected the cynicism and reality of a world around us as we recognized there were no real superheroes who would save the world from corporate greed, pollution and deteriorating social values. 

80's dystopia as provided by Jamie and Gilbert Hernandez 

All of this contributed to the dystopian world of Gen X. 

So here we are in 2016 and many Gen Xers are nearing the half-century mark of their lives. Some have bought into the system and move among society accepting status quo and reaping the benefits of corporate greed. Some have burnt out years ago and are either in the cemetery or retired teachers. Many of us still see the world through the cynicism, mistrust and dysfunction that shaped us as young adults. The same reasons why we crave the next episode of The Walking Dead, unashamedly read The Hunger Games  and hold onto distain for the Millennials. 

Gen X has never seen the promise of a brighter future, and we have come to terms with that fact. Hell, we've embraced it and quite content to be in this Land of Misfit Toys and do what's best with whatever pile of oatmeal that has been served. Because through the past three decades, we've seen society take the bumpy ride to dystopia and we simply nod our heads, shrug our shoulders and sardonically say been there; done that. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015


What I need is a booming, echoey sound effect with that title. Hell, a laser show with a fog-machine would be the perfect cherry topping to that sundae.

I digress. 

This past summer the Rolling Stones made a return trip to Buffalo, New York after a near 20 year absence to the region. With ticket ranging upwards  to $400 getting an opportunity to catch what may be their final tour (although they've been saying this about these geezers for the past 20 years),  the price was a huge deterrent in catching the show. Truthfully, I respect their music and will enjoy listening to it but wouldn't consider myself a fan of the band, so the decision was relatively easy to make. 

$50 on a Social Distortion show? I am all in. 

On the day of the show I got a text from a friend who simply asked, "Would you like to go to the Rolling Stones"? Of course my first reaction was to think not for $100, but replied "how much?"

Then perhaps one of the greatest words in the English language, popped up on my text screen.


$0 to see the Rolling Stones? I am all in. 

So, that evening I went to a sold-out stadium rock concert. 
The ROCK GODS at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo NY
Again, I am not a fan but from that evening, The Rolling Stones are ROCK GODS, and am honored to see them live in concert. The performance was absolutely amazing and everything one could imagine what a stadium rock concert should sound and be like. 

This set me thinking about what truly makes a Rock God. Oh sure, the corporate music industry can define them as those who had hits, sold-out shows and sold a ton of albums, and popular culture and one-direction media sources create icons out of both the band's music and members that elevate them to deities. 

But there has to be more to the definition. 

The ancient Greeks and Romans in their polytheistic worshipping had a god for almost everything. Understandably there was a main head god with his "queen" but there were several other gods with various purposes and functions that were equally important in the universe and, specifically the daily lives of humans. If this approach is applied to how one can consider a band Rock Gods, then there plenty of room for the God of Dead Flowers and the God of Rockville. 

Because with this way of defining what constitutes a Rock God then we identify who are the Zeus(s) and who are the Asclepius (s) of Rock and Roll.

So with an acknowledgement that bands like the Rolling Stones, The Who, and performers like David Bowie or Bruce Springsteen are major "gods", let us take a look at the HALL OF MINOR ROCK GODS (echo, echo). 

Am borderline with declaring REM as "minor" because of their influence and success first as a alt-indy band on college radio then to the international recognition of their music. Why am entering them into the HALL OF MINOR ROCK GODS is that even though their influence on college radio in the 80's which eventually lead to the internet diversity found in podcasts and a creation of a genre of music many tried to emulate, discussion about who influence the alt-music sound steers away from REM. Why? Perhaps as is the case with The Beatles, REM was listened to on a daily basis and became so ingrained in a generation's music library that now they're shelved and only occasionally pulled down for an off-pitched, mumbled singing by Michael Stipe and Peter Buck's Byrds inspired chord structured jangling song or two. 

The Misfits
From their experimental album reconstruction of classic 50's songs (Project 50's) to the sci-fi/horror themed 12 Hits from Hell, Glenn Danzig and his merry band from Lodi, New Jersey have been influential in shaping the music industry to this day and can be considered creators of the genre "Horror Punk". Formed in 1977, The Misfits under Danzig's tutelage until 1983, recorded several singles, EP and albums including the original member album Walk Among Us as well as the recorded by later release Static Age. Later incarnations of The Misfits would see a shift from punk to a hardcore sound and several albums released featuring original member Jerry Only with later addition of his brother Peter aka Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein. Regardless of the lineup, The Misfits are an underground to the surface cult-classic band that still remains relevant in Rock mythology.
The Cramps
What The Misfits are to the past and present Horror Punk movement, The Cramps are to the Psycho-'Billy music movement; they are the gods of that domaine. From the highly charged live-performances to the 8 studio-recorded albums spanning over two decades, Erick Lee Purkhiser aka Lux Interior, Kristy Wallace aka Poison Ivy and drummer Harry Drumdini (lineups also included Gun Club guitarist Kid Congo Power) brought their unique twist on an Americana sound that influenced numerous bands (Flat Duo Jets, The Reverend Horton Heat and modern day Saint Paul and the Broken Bones) that still, to this day, hasn't been duplicated (Sorry Southern Culture on the Skids). With Lux's unpredictable stage presences that made past and present Mick Jagger look like a geriatric marionette puppet, and the pelvic grinding guitar riffs by Ivy, The Cramps were one of the best post-punk bands worthy of deification. 
The White Stripes
Yes, this may come as a surprise. In the same context that Rock Gods Nirvana legitimized Punk Rock with their sound (and some say killed it) and launched a genre of Power Pop/Punk Pop or The Talking Heads and the avant-garde/art music sound that remains classic, this duo of Megan White and Jack Gillis (later taking his wife's surname) redirected a floundering underground music industry and refreshed interest in music influenced by early Blues, Americana and Punk. Soon after their self-titled first album The White Stripes was heard, a slight pulse was felt, and by White Blood Cells their music was beginning to salvage underground Rock and Roll. The Black Keys, Millennial's fav Mumford and Sons and other garage-rock/blues/Americana band owe their rise to success to the breakthrough albums crafted by The White Stripes. 
GG Allin
What Rock God Elvis Presley did to create the iconoclastic showmanship of  Rock, GG Allin did everything to bring the myth down. With unprecedented live performances including shitting himself, self-mutilation and beating up audiences, GG Allin was shot out of Mount Mainstream Olympus and, like Hades, thrown into the unseen depths of counter-culture Hell. His music was poorly recorded and, honestly, hard to sit down and tap your feet to, but with GG Allin the music was secondary to his concept of "making Rock dangerous again". If you were one of the fortunate to make it out of one his live performances unscathed and not traumatized, the experience would ever change the perception of how far a Rock show performance could go and forever influence your views of Rock showmanship. GG Allin never inspired to be part of Mount Mainstream Olympus (often making claims of committing suicide during one of his performances) and this rebellious attitude to all things safe and sane about Rock and Roll is exactly the spirit behind the music and a major reason why GG Allin can be considered a Minor Rock God.
GG Allin Making Friends
The Ramones
Why is this legendary group from Queens not considered as Rock Gods? Simple. Because nobody has placed this title on them. The Ramones are one of the most influential post-punk bands to rise out of late 70's and continued to shape music until the death of Joey Ramone in 2001.  What makes them one of the lead deities in this HALL OF MINOR ROCK GODS is that they are considered the Uber-God in the counterculture music mythology, and this works against their placement in mainstream Rock history. Why they are not considered "classic rock" and featured on radio stations playing this genre is beyond me. What The Ramones did for America music is salvage the dying sounds of early Rock and muffled genre of Surf Music (thank you Beatles) and, through the angst ingredient of Punk, created a music style that is the child of these genres pushed aside by the British Invasion. The fact that the Rock and Roll HOF finally inducted The Ramones in 2001 speaks to the oversight by Mount Mainstream Olympus. 
The Clash
Okay, so there is some irony after slamming the British Invasion that am placing a British band as one of the most highly ranked Minor God of Rock.  Honestly, one could flip The Ramones and The Clash based on both band's being overlooked in significance byMount Mainstream Olympus yet both have been historically noted in influencing numerous bands and individuals. The glaring difference is that The Clash was not inducted into the Rock and Roll HOF until 2003. That's is not the reason why this band is the head honcho. 

In an alternative universe that sees several rerouted American music history moments, as on route to the USA, the Beatles' plane crashes in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in 1964, this tragedy prevents decades of an America that's exposed to bubble-gum Rock and the birth of boy-bands. As a result, Surf Music continues to dominate radio giving an early birth to genres inspired by the sounds as mainstream openly accepts these alternative bands. A group of hooligans comes to America, and overhauls everything we've been exposed to thus far at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival. This group with Marshall stacks and an unprecedented stage show dominates American radio, and records charts, to becomes the British Invasion that the mainstream openly accepts.  This opens the minds and musical tastes of America for the appearance of "The Only Band That Matters" in the early 80's that sets the tone for the mainstream music industry and brings genres like Ska and Rocksteady to a wider listenership. 

Like I said, this is an alternative universe as the Beatles safely landed in the USA and made history. 

This also sealed fate of The Clash being consigned to the counter-culture as The Who, although Rock Gods, didn't become the defining sound in American Rock Music history which would have opened the door for alternative variations in the following decades. The Clash, "The Only Band That Matters", is a footnote in mainstream Rock history. What will not be recognized by the Mount Mainstream Olympus is that The Clash can be considered one generation's version of The Beatles with the diversity of sounds created over the short span of five years that inspired numerous bands throughout the 80's, 90's and the 21st Century. 

The Clash will be known as the post-punk band that had a few top-40 hits with one song Rock the Casbah being used by troops in Iraq (and reportedly making Joe Strummer cry upon hearing the news), but their music and legend is worthy of Rock God status. Yet, turn-on classic rock stations and is this music played? No. The Clash has gone back to the underground and on the throne in the Hall of Minor Rock Gods.