Songs and Scenes: From radio to iPods–are we raising a new generation of rebels?

By Jonathan Hicks
Staff Writer

Children of the 1960s may not realize it, but in many circles, their kids grew up with the same “never trust anyone older than 30” attitude to which they clung. Many of my friends and I were these kids. We were the offspring of flower power and white doves perched on guitars. We were the result of the Vietnam fallout and “four dead in Ohio.” Most of you parents didn’t think we were listening, but we held onto every last syllable. We heard the emotion in your voice, and in a weird way, we wanted to feel the same passion and heartbreak you did.

Then, we reached our teens. We learned from you that peace and love didn’t work—if it had, the injustices of your youth would not have persisted into ours. Perhaps immaturely (though not unjustifiably), we got angry. And while your songs earned you the label of “hippies,” our musical response garnered us the label of “punks.”* We colored our hair, carved it into a mohawk, and gave the middle finger to anyone who challenged us. It didn’t accomplish much, but it was the only response we thought might create the same kinds of change you pursued years earlier.

We were labeled just like you—and once society gave us a label, it made us easy to dismiss. Just as you set aside the hippie dream for corporate jobs and retirement funds, we, too, had to evolve. Just as you needed jobs, we needed school. And just as flowered dresses couldn’t last on Wall Street, tattoos and wallet chains couldn’t persist on University Avenue. We assimilated.

But our belief structure—the one you helped instill in us—persisted under the surface. All those hours in the car listening to the lyrics of classic rock radio and all those stories of war and injustice became part of how we saw the world. As we began to feel as though we had sold out, our feelings shifted: we were already mad; soon we were cynical, too.

For the last few years, all around me I have seen my friends starting families of their own. These little infants are growing up not with radio, but with iPods filled tightly with Green Day, Bad Religion, The Offspring and NOFX, among others. I daydream about how it will impact these kids. Perhaps the anger of punk rock will inspire something great. More than likely, though, I’d be willing to bet they rebel—like we have generation after generation—and create something just as important.

I have entertained the thought recently that maybe I just need to let go of all the anger and cynicism. Perhaps just as strangely as wanting to know my parents’ 1968 heartache, now I find myself clinging to my own angst. In a strange way, it keeps me young.

As we age, we give up hope. We start talking less and less about making change ourselves and more and more about whether or not our kids will pick up the torch. I find myself compelled to explain to kids that the music they listen to today isn’t as good as mine, but I resist. Every generation says that the music being produced today “isn’t as good as what we grew up with.” Music today is just fine. The reason you like the music you listened to in high school is because it reminds you of a time when you still thought you could make a difference. Pop punk still inspires me to believe I can change the world. Regardless of how it sounds, as long as today’s music inspires kids to believe that they can change the world, I’ll encourage them to turn it up loud and sing along.

I turn 30 today. I’ve been a rock journalist for more than a decade now. I have made amazing friends in the business, and have a bounty of stories far too great to ever put in print. Still, no matter what I write for the rest of my days, I’ll fully understand if you don’t trust a word of it. Long live the dream. Long live the music.

Until next time…

* NOTE: I strategically ignore a discussion of the dominant discourse of music labels. When I refer to 1990s punk, I do not discount the initial punk response of the 1970s. However, I did not grow up in that era, and on the perceptual level Rancid and Less Than Jake are just as significant to many of my generation as The Ramones and The Clash were to many of those from punk’s original incarnation. As for the 1980s, I ignore those years because they were decadent and awful. Just because I was born in that decade doesn’t mean the music wasn’t largely terrible. Feel free to argue, but my counterpoint will always be to remind you that in the 1980s, Wang Chung had five top 40 hits. Think about that for a second. Then again, that may go a long way to explaining why I was so pissed off by 1994.

From the Aug. 18-24, 2010 issue

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