This, of course, is a seismic shift in intergenerational relationships. It means there is no fundamental generation gap anymore. This is unprecedented in human history. And it’s kind of weird.
Take the case of Andy Chase and Dominique Durand, a married couple, both well into their thirties and now with kids of their own, who play in a successful rock band called Ivy. “Most of our fans are in their twenties or even teenagers,” says Chase. “And that keeps you young. Because you’re friends with people who are much younger than you. Our keyboard player is 21 years old. And we dress the same—”
“Our interests are the same,” adds Durand. “The passion is the same. There’s a real connection.”
Andy interjects, “Well, let’s talk to the keyboard player and see if he says the same thing.”
Or take Michael Rauch, the creator of the recently canceled CBS show Love Monkey, which chronicled the life of a late-thirties single A&R guy in New York who frets openly about being a “suit” while working at the plucky indie label he joined after leaving his evil corporate record company, because for him, it was all about the music. Isn’t a guy like that—late thirties, still single, still bar-hopping, still chasing the latest hot rock band, his whole life, in fact, still defined by the word still—kind of, I don’t know, pathetic? “If this show existed ten years ago, the answer would be yes,” says Rauch. “But now, absolutely not. Now it’s less the exception than the rule. Especially in New York.” Rauch himself is 38. “I spoke to an undergrad class at NYU recently. And it was terrifying how much we had in common. I’m looking at these kids who look about 12, and we’re all going to the same movies and watching the same TV shows and listening to the same music. I don’t know if it’s scarier for them or scarier for me.”
Think of it this way: For Gen-X, just fifteen years ago, the big complaint was that boomers, with their lingering sixties-era musical attachments and smug sense of cultural centrality, refused to pass the torch and get the hell out of the way. In a 1997 sociology essay titled “Generation X: Who Are They? What Do They Want?,” one twentysomething student lamented, “We still are bombarded with ‘Classic Rock’ and moldy oldies. Bands like the Eagles, Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith need to back off so we can define our own music, lifestyle.” It’s ironic, then, that those selfsame slackers—the twentysomethings of the early nineties (and, hey, I was right there, too: Rock on, Screaming Trees)—aren’t standing in the way of the next generation. Rather, they’re joining right in at the front of the crowd at the sold-out Decemberists show. Hey, kids, you can define your own music, lifestyle—that’s our music and lifestyle, too!
“All of the really good music right now has absolutely precise parallels to the best music of the eighties, from Franz Ferdinand to Interpol to Death Cab—anything you can name,” says Michael Hirschorn, the 42-year-old executive vice-president of original programming and production at VH1. “Plus, the 20-year-olds are all listening to the Cure and New Order anyway. It’s created a kind of mass confusion. I was at the Coachella festival last year, and the groups people were most stoked about were Gang of Four and New Order.” No wonder Grups like today’s indie music: It sounds exactly like the indie music of their youth. Which, as it happens, is what kids today like, too, which is why today’s new music all sounds like it’s twenty years old. And thus the culture grinds to a halt, in a screech of guitar feedback.
As a result, says Hirschorn, “some of the older parents I know who have teenagers claim that there’s no generation gap anymore. They say they get along perfectly with their kids. They listen to the same music. To me, that seems somewhat laughable. But I do remember when I was young, trying to explain the Beatles to my dad, and he didn’t even know who they were. I don’t think that’s possible today.”
“Even if you just bought a great new CD, and you really want to listen to it with your kids, sometimes it’s their bedtime. You just learn. You can’t always play guitar with them.”
And it’s not just music that’s collapsed on itself in this way. During Hirschorn’s tenure at VH1, the channel was cunningly transformed from the frumpy, easy-listening older sibling of MTV to a retro-culture-celebrating mother ship for Grups. Trademark shows such as I Love the 80s feature a parade of thirtysomething comedians making funny comments about music and fashions and TV shows that were popular back when they were teens. The canny success of this concept rests on the fact that it appeals both to the thirtysomethings who lived through Mr. T and Kajagoogoo the first time around and twentysomethings who are fascinated with semi-ironically recycling cultural trends. In a prescient essay in 1994 titled “The Nostalgia Gap,” Tom Vanderbilt jokingly predicted that thanks to an ever-quickening cultural churn, we’d soon see manufactured nostalgia for trends of two weeks ago. He was off by a week. VH1’s Best Week Ever consists of comedians looking back with fond, ironic eyes on the events of the last seven days.