Gen X music snobs who came of age between 1979 and 1994 bother the living fuck out of me. Insofar as the Internet has let us keep our tastemakers, they are them: Assigning editors, staff critics, and brand-name music writers.
Like most hegemons, they’re cool with shifting paradigms so long as it’s them that’s doing the shifting. When it’s not, watch out!
When Gen X critics fail to understand an up-and-comer’s rapid rise or find themselves missing the familiarity of their youth, they get the knives out: Lady Gaga is ripping off Madonna; Vampire Weekend is ripping off Paul Simon; Hip-hop is dead/meaningless; Indie rock is dead/meaningless.
Sound familiar? It’s Ecclesiastes: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
What it’s not: A critical argument.
Or, you know, good for the fan-artist-interpreter ecosystem.
This sort of cultural oppression is bad enough when it manifests itself in shitting on whatever’s new. It gets worse when Gen Xers reach the same conclusion—that some new thing is part of their legacy—and instead of shitting on it, claim it as their progeny.
Over at Thought Catalog, Mehan Jayasuriya has a great post about critics who have declared Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All to be the newest iteration of D.C. punk. He is much less irritated than I am by their gall:
In defining Odd Future as “punk,” we’re crafting a narrative where Tyler and friends are descendants rather than insurgents, where their rebellion is mimetic rather than an authentic reaction to the world in which they live.
Certainly, Odd Future is on to something interesting, a teenage rebellion that’s both playfully childish and deeply troubling, that’s knowingly performative yet disarmingly sincere. This thing–whatever it is–is at times a bricolage much like punk, a collage of images that the band has pulled from, as Caroline Ryder puts in the LA Weekly, “influences they don’t even know they have yet.” But to give this thing a name before it’s had a chance to fully blossom–whether that name is punk or “horrorcore” or something else entirely–is to do a disservice to some very promising young artists working to construct an aesthetic on their own terms.
Just think: if we let Odd Future define themselves, those 16-year-old kids up front might just get a subversive cultural movement to call their own. I can’t speak for those kids but I can speak for myself: I wasn’t there to see Bad Brains in 1979–I was there to see Odd Future in 2011.
I dig Jayasuriya’s enthusiasm and his hopefulness, but he’s appealing to sympathies Gen Xers’ don’t have. They will not stop playing artists against the canon, like sports nuts pitting a computer-generated Rocky Balboa against Mason Dixon. It does not matter that H.R. and Tyler, the Creator speak to different audiences, come from different places (geographic, social, and cultural), make different music, and espouse different philosophies: Bad Brains and OFWGKTA both feature black guys who dance funny, and connecting them to each other, and to the other mummies in the post-Sex Pistols menagerie, gives cynical Gen Xers something to sell. Namely, the bitter taste in their mouths.
Tyler and OFWGKTA are going to do their own thing—create and modify culture, author new lexicons, and hopefully refine their music without wondering about the “influences they don’t even know they have yet.”
Tyler may even manage to make the Zoo-landscaper button-down-and-hat combo trendy.
But it won’t be because Gen X let them.