Wasted youth.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A man whom I hardly know put a photo on the internet that depressed me deeply.

Well, that's a little misleading. The man in question was a member of my high school graduating class (Roslyn High School, 1992; go Hilltoppers! Err, Bulldogs!*), and though we weren't in quite the same social circle in our school daze, we did have some friends in common. We were also unflichingly of the left. I remember fondly one time in particular in Economics class that we bombarded our teacher with leftist arguments while she tried to teach the roots of capitalism in America. Poor lady.

The Dead at their most relevant

Anyway, the point is if there is one realm in which this boy (now gentleman) and I didn't see eye to eye, it was music. That's because I spent the years from 1988 till 1992 (give or take) interested almost exclusively in music recorded between 1967 (say, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, or the Grateful Dead's eponymous debut) and--well, as long as the Dead recorded it, there was really no end date. I wore Pink Floyd shirts throughout middle school. I wore Jethro Tull shirts, Led Zeppelin, and of course tie-dye after tie-dye. There was a never-ending stream of Dead shirts.

The Dead at their least relevant, when I saw them eleven times

This other boy (the one who recently posted a photo; try to keep up) was what I would have called New Wave. I think that's appropriate. NIN leather jacket. Jane's Addicition. Depeche Mode. The Cure. All that sort of thing. It was very of the now (then), without being Top 40. Keep in mind most of the years in question are 1991 or earlier, and as we all know, 1991 is the year punk broke. So in 1992, when I finally began to come around to my own generation's music, the rest of the country was coming around too.

The Blake Babies, my favorite band (and genuinely of my own generation) when I was 19 and 20 or so, by which time they had recently broken up. Sad face

The late '80s and early '90s were something of a renaissance of Classic Rock, perhaps. I think some of us were--in our deluded minds--rebelling against an over-produced sound that seemed to dominate the contemporary music. Turns out, that was a pretty shallow attitude, which is ironic, because we thought we were being deep, I assure you.

So what was the picture he posted? A collage of his collected ticket stubs from circa 1990. They were from some great bands, most of which no longer exist. If I were to create a similar collage from that era, it would be 90% Grateful Dead stubs, and here's where the depression comes in. By obsessing over music from the past--some have called it "our parent's music"; to be fair, not the case, since my parents were jazz and Broadway fans--I ignored (and therefore forever missed) the music of my own generation. I can listen to it now, and I do, but I'll always know I wasn't a part of it, during its heyday, and its era of creation and greatest relevance.

This is probably much ado about nothing. If you haven't noticed, I tend to do that. Now I better connect it to young adult literature. Shouldn't be a problem, because in a lot of YA lit (and teen movies, actually), protagonists focus on nostalgia culture. In King Dork and The House of Tomorrow**, music-obsessed characters hold the progenitors of punk and New Wave up on high, and seem to think nothing of their contemporary music. (You'll often find the same tendency when it comes to film teens.)

Maybe it's a symptom of writing for people twenty years younger, but is it a problem? Does the story lose verisimilitude if the main characters don't adhere to their own generation's art? Of course not. Though most of my friends didn't share my extreme Deadication, we all had our "thing": one of us was big into be-bop and Kerouac; another stuck with Tull; another Led Zep; and another adored Ronald Reagan. Don't ask.

The point is, do teens really look in the way-back machine for cultural icons? Of course, and teen lit doesn't lose any believability by doing the same. But that doesn't stop me from wanting to shake the protagonist who wants to join the Rat Pack (or nowadays, even the Brat Pack), or form the next Ramones, or talk like Clark Gable, or dance like Betty Hutton, and shouting, "Live in the now, dammit! It won't be now very long!" Then I'd walk off grumbling, "Youth is wasted on the young."

I must be getting old.

*Some teams were the Hilltoppers (like track), and some were the Bulldogs (like football). Who knows.

The House of Tomorrow was not marketed as a YA novel, but it is one. If you like realistic YA, go read it. Right now. Go. Why are you still sitting there?