AKA THE GENERATION GAP IN MUSIC IS DISAPPEARING
I started ‘The Occasional Musician’ for a few reasons but chief among them was the fact that popular music scholarship doesn’t always find its way out into wider circulation. It’s a pity because some of the most interesting and innovative analysis of music culture still happens inside of universities, away from the journalistic constraints of writing for the market. We’re protected, essentially. We’re never (ever) first to market and we’re never the first to write up a new genre or happening but over the years a lot of good stuff has come about by music academics taking a longer, harder look at things.
For a long time now – decades even – cultural studies academics have been interested in the generation gap.
This is research based on questions we all ask ourselves every day:
‘Am I turning into my parents?’
‘Why are my parents cranks?’
‘Why are people ten-to-fifteen years younger than me almost unilaterally insane?’
These sort of questions are often tied up with music.
Music and Age
Music is one of the ways in which generations define themselves. But the dynamics of this musical gap seem to be changing a little. We’re not so concerned about the music of young people or old people any more.
Over the years academics have started to notice that the case for Rock Music as Teenager Rebellion™ is starting to look a little threadbare. In short, music has started to become much more intergenerational. What we listen to isn’t often the exact music of our parents but it might come from their era now. Further to which the music that comes from right now might sound like it comes from that older era as well i.e. Tame Impala i.e. the widespread 80s revival.
(This is not specific to hip indie music. I meet kids at No Anchor shows every weekend and they have almost the exact same taste as me. Same bands. Same albums. Jesus Lizard, Unsane, Melvins, Fugazi, Big Black. I was listening to those bands when I was their age. It’s only twenty years of history that’s separating our experiences. Will ‘In On The Killtaker‘ by Fugazi ever stop ruling? Probably not. Funhouse hasn’t.)
Added to which, what seems to be happening more and more often is that popular music scholars are going out into ‘the field’ and doing research and what they increasingly finding is that people’s parents aren’t too worried about their kids playing in rock bands any more.
More to the point, they often think it’s pretty awesome.
The Generation Gap & Research
I found this in my own research on independent music in Brisbane. Many of the people I spoke with had supportive parents: they came to shows, listened to their kid’s music, even lent their bands money on occasion. Very few were overtly worried or antagonistic when it came to their children pursuing music. Sure, there’s the prevailing attitude that the children will ‘grow out’ of music but guess what? They’re right. A lot of people give it away.
No, parents seemed to be of this opinion: I like music and if my kid ends up being a musician, great – but don’t take drugs or drive interstate at night.
Parents liking the music of their children makes sense if you think about it. We’re usually introduced to music in the family home and in the family car. That’s where we learn that music is even a thing. We listen to music for the same reasons we read books and watch TV: because we see our parents and older siblings doing it from an early age. That and because it’s fun.
At first there was part of me that was a bit worried by all this.
Was music getting watered down? Was it getting to be like sitting around watching Family Ties with my folks?
I’m of a certain age and disposition where if my parents liked my music, I’d assume I was doing something wrong.
The Generation Gap & Extreme Metal
London-based sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris found something similar when he studied extreme metal in Europe. In Unspectacular Subculture? Transgression and Mundanity in the Global Extreme Metal Scene (a chapter in ‘After Subculture, 2004), Kahn-Harris looks at some pretty brutal music practitioners and finds – in short – that their parents dig it. This is music on the margin, no matter how extreme your taste. But extreme metal parents view this particularly gnarly and grim type of music as a creative pursuit, they’re supportive, understanding, thanked in liner notes, etc.
(Hell yeah, Europe!)
If extreme metal doesn’t annoy the olds, what hope does your indie-rock, garage rock or pop band possibly have?
Add to this the total ubiquity of the internet – a place where a record from fifty years ago is just as accessible as a record made five months ago – and you get a music culture where the generation gap seems to go completely out the window.
The wrath of your parents isn’t much of a metric for awesomeness anymore.
There’s No Gap (and Nathan Explosion)
Even the history of the generation gap is called into question by some theorists these days.
(For the nerds, The Birmingham School were all about demythologising the post-war generation gap. In short, music and culture scholars have been banging away at the gap since the advent of punk).
So, maybe there never was a gap.
Today, there’s just different habits and tastes.
And I don’t think all this represents a dissolution of music’s ability to provoke.
It certainly doesn’t need to be seen that way. In fact, I take it as a bit of an invitation. It’s all the permission anyone ever needs to let their freak flag fly. I kind of like the fact that I can really blast people these days and still get around in the world like a ‘regular jack-off’ (to use the parlay of Nathan Explosion).
So what can you learn from extreme metal parents? A: YOU VIRTUALLY CAN’T PLAY MUSIC WEIRD ENOUGH.
It’s time to get noisy and weird and experimental and pummelling. If you want to.
And if you want to, rest assured: your parents probably won’t really mind.