By Sarah Pridgeon
Driving to work recently, I have listened to one particular station on the radio. I’m not sure which one it is because I didn’t program it and I’m never paying attention when the DJs tell me who they are. To me, it is “the one that doesn’t crackle when I hit the canyon.”
I wasn’t really sure what its focus was, but I was certainly appreciating the selection – it seemed to be exclusively made up of my favorite American bands, like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I found myself wondering what these bands were doing on a mainstream radio station when they are still at the forefront of all that is edgy and cool. And then I realized – they’re not.
Yes, the day that I have been warned about all my life has finally arrived: I have been listening to “classic rock” without even realizing it. The music of my generation has become old hat and I am left baffled and distressed as to how anyone could possibly consider it so. I’m still sporting my Pink Floyd t-shirt, not noticing that everyone else wearing one is being “retro.”
When my musical era began, the big-haired rock bands of the 1980s were finally going out of fashion, much to my chagrin. Freddie Mercury had left us, the only real survivor was Guns n’ Roses and even they were on the verge of going a bit peculiar, pasting pictures of spaghetti on their album covers instead of skulls and guitars.
I was not quite a teenager at the time and reveled in the rebellion of playing expletive-filled rock through my headphones in the back of my parents’ car. It’s the sort of thing you’re sure marks you out as a lone wolf, destined for greatness, and only later does it dawn on you that your mother was humming along.
The hair bands gave way to the grunge movement and, adaptable as any teenager, I immediately found my element. Here was the music that understood my angst and woe, I thought, wailing along to Black Hole Sun despite not actually having anything to be woeful about.
But the American bands were not the only influence on my slowly maturing mind: at the same time, the UK was flourishing in a new era of musical madness. It was known as Britpop, and it was wonderful.
Some of the major players later wandered over the seas and made their names here. You may remember Oasis, Blur, Pulp and Suede, to name but a few of the dozens.
These bands represented the phoenix rising above the dull flames of 1980s Britain, when most of our “alternative” musicians were best known for staring at their feet and wearing unpleasant trousers. They drew power from the glory days, when punk was in its element and heavy metal was born.
I was not yet to know that the music scene in the UK is known for reinventing itself and ushering popular music along with it, constantly reinventing and fusing as it goes. I didn’t know that its international clout had been earned by The Beatles and Rolling Stones and that Britpop was no more than the most recent innovation. Those were the bands that embodied classic rock for me, and that made them unworthy of my youthful attention.
I did not yet see the big picture, in which Britpop clashed horns with the grunge movement and together they pushed the boundaries. I didn’t know that the two were hardly working in harmony, more glaring at one another across the Atlantic, but that their combined influence would be profound. I just knew that the most popular kids at my school were wearing Elastica shirts one day and Stone Temple Pilots the next.
I heard a cover version of a Nirvana song not long ago and, despite quite liking it, felt obliged to scoff with the rabid fan’s penchant for dismissing anything other than the original. A moment later, my blood ran cold when I discovered it was recorded for the 20-year anniversary of Nevermind.
I realized that the demise of Kurt Cobain was my own JFK moment: I know exactly where I was when the news broke. I was traveling home from a beach party when my father nonchalantly asked if I’d heard that “the unwashed man with the ridiculous haircut” had departed for pastures new.
My era is over and I didn’t see this coming. It has been replaced by dubstep, grime, post punk and new rave and, though I enjoy most of these things, they’re really not the same. It does give one pause to realize there are kids now growing up who have never even heard of the Spice Girls (although where those girls are concerned, I’m not sure whether that’s a blessing or a curse.)
Mine was a golden age but, though I could lament that none of today’s youngsters will have the same experience, deep down I’m aware it’s not true. They will grow up with exactly the same feelings, relying just as strongly on their musical tastes to define them – they will simply do so with a different set of songs. And I will describe them as “not music” while shaking my head in dismay.
I’m sure I had more insightful ponderings to add to this column, but I’m finding it too difficult to concentrate. If you’ll excuse me, some hoodlum is playing an absolute racket in the next room and I need to go bang on the wall.