My Generation X Cover Story Is Out in Harper’s Now
This is a wonderful essay Justin. I’m elder millennial, and as Mark Fisher (k-punk) wrote so elegantly about, we millennials came of age just as the neoliberal project had fully subsumed post-war youth movements. We came of age in the late 90s for its funeral.
I will tell you, as a millennial born 1985, that my generation is truly awful. I grew up in the shadow of Gen X, and always looked toward it as an aspiration, but I feel like my own generation was already well beyond. There were things I saw the older kids doing and wished to do when my turn came but none of my compatriots would follow. The most transgressive things they did was smoke weed while playing on their playstations. And it's not like I was in a dull group, even our jocks seemed to have a certain dullness that their older siblings didn't. Even the music festival were dull husks. I graduated High School in 2004, the top artist was Green Day and Eminem (Killers wouldn't break through our world for a year to come), and this after surviving Limp Bizkit. 1994, you had Zombie, Closer, Glycerine, I could go on. I really can't even communicate with my peers.
I really feel like it is fully possible that a certain vitality can bleed out of a world.
Interrupting myself half way through your piece because I must say thank you. Like Sam Kriss’s, your writing simply astonishes me. It’s that good. And accurate. I’m grateful, Thank you. There’s precious little writing on-line where I find myself reading every word.
Wish you could write a whole piece on this “My grievance against the millennials and younger is that they don’t seem to know, or care, that for a brief moment in the mid-to-late twentieth century these forces seemed to be delivering on the long-held hope—a hope held ever since the Ranters began ranting and the Quakers began quaking and all kinds of utopians went and founded their communes and got naked and dreamt, with Charles Fourier, of someday being able to play the piano with our feet—the long-held hope, I was saying, for human liberation.”
Great piece, Justin. Totally relate to the "ghost"-like experience of the Gen-Xer, even though I'm a good decade older than you. Loved your discussion of music. Thanks.
I define Gen X more narrowly than is the norm now, like the Baby Boom, defined by WWII's effect on US culture.
I think it's the children of people who were babies or children during the war, people who weren't Boomers and hippies. My parents were born during WWII. I didn't get any of 60s music/culture from them. They were too old and into their lives by the time Woodstock happened to take much stock of it.
Thus Gen X is a short demographic echo of WWII, neither Boomers nor raised by Boomers (who were gonna be called "Boomlets" there for a while before "Milleneals" provided a much cooler name.
I think there's a qualitative difference between being raised by Boomers and not.
(I'm 56, a few months older than Kurt Cobain and a few months younger than Chris Cornell)
Powerful essay Justin, particularly where it lands.... I'm sharing much of those sentiments, re: older vs. newer generations. But still trying to eschew total despair.
Us X-ers are not completely outta the game. Earlier this month, I played a Tesla coil on my banjo at the Voice of the Valley festival in rural West Virginia. Rat Bastard drove up from Miami to provide the ten thousand watt sound system for the camp-ground stage. Performers represented several generations, but I'd say most were Gen X.... not that it really matters. We do what we like and the rest can just eat it....
I very much enjoyed reading this, Justin! I have been delighted to see it shared widely on my social media feeds, even from folks that are not mutual friends and family. Hope you are well!
Joy Division (Freudenabteilung) was 1976!
"My grievance against the millennials and younger is that they don’t seem to know, or care, that for a brief moment in the mid-to-late twentieth century these forces seemed to be delivering on the long-held hope—a hope held ever since the Ranters began ranting and the Quakers began quaking and all kinds of utopians went and founded their communes and got naked and dreamt, with Charles Fourier, of someday being able to play the piano with our feet—the long-held hope, I was saying, for human liberation."
I don't know if that is true or not, but it definitely felt that way, didn't it? It felt like there was cause to hope that something big and beautiful would emerge at long last. Of course, who knows? It could just be nostalgia.
Thank you Justin for your writing - I took a pass through it and will give it another dose into my head with another read. I specifically see the 1980-83 transitional mess with clarity looking back. I wish I had someone old and wise enough then to illuminate me back then. Your Bowie reference is spot on. Did not get any of his stuff after Ashes to Ashes. The sad part of Ashes to Ashes was that no one in my groups of friends appreciated that album. The people I knew who liked it were “those” (goths, punks, rocker teen girls) whom I was not confident enough in myself to associate with. I see Talking Heads in a similar way “fall” after Remain in Light. Thank you!
Justin, reading that I couldn't but help think that so much of our lives is made up from the 'scripts' of other people: the cultural industry: musicians, advertisers, novelists, film directors. As with Ernaux's brilliant 'Years', I got the niggling feeling that our lives follow the contours and images of a generation far too closely. So much for the individual!
"I'll name that tune in one"- as the old t.v. programme used to have it. Man, are we boxed in?! And people complain about religion forming our souls!
Not sure about the liberal democracy and art bit. Suspect that other people- other "generations"- have been similarly disillusioned. But maybe you're right, maybe the current generation doesn't even have any illusions.
For what it's worth: I grew up listening to a lot of soul (*partly* as a way of not identifying with white people). Interests shifted to Bach, Jordi Savall, Arvo Part. And now the only criteria is: is it real or not (so: Nick Cave, Nick Drake).
Thanks for that piece! When my Current Affair subscription runs out I must remember to subscribe because you've been on such a roll lately.
"As might be anticipated from the laws of logic, this double negation issues in something quite positive, laying bare as only real art could the implicit pathologies and terror of Fifties B-movies, the mythical otherworldliness of the Elvis archetype, the failure of the hippies to outdo the greasers who preceded them in living life lustfully. It is hard to imagine a similar use of “bad” today". This really makes me want you to get round to a Residents post because I think Homer and Hardy had/have such a canny knack for grasping the electric charge of specific American archetypes like Elvis and James Brown and MJ in a way that is much more morally clear-sighted than "problematic" ever could.
[And frankly, how many individuals who completely forswear the above artists as problematic, indulge in true crime podcasts and documentaries... at least the totem perverts of old created good music].
Our influence was on our older brothers and sisters. Such as Coupland. We were admired for our footloose wanderings, baffling is why they so much fear madness. I come apart 2xs a year and there is time in a year for tripping on your own story telling. Retrospectively maybe they might have responded to Ivan Illich if 30000 of us had taken him up...or who knows but i pity the fools for toying w medical pharmacopia. If yourself access the highof a 6 months in which the world is out to do you daily good turns, it is like Hen Millrr said he could right any words and his meaning come across. You saying you are retiring has a built in grain of salt.
Really enjoyed reading the article. Many points of contact with my own experience. After my discovery I checked out an Interview on YouTube about Internet book. Also fascinating! I love the idea of personal essay rather than argument.
Looking forward to this arriving in my mailbox!