Everything I Do, pt. 15: Nostalgia is a trap, especially for Gen X [October 13, 1991]
Plus: Monty Python, Cher, Lisa Stansfield, and Marc Almond
This week’s Number 1 : ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ — Bryan Adams
Everyone is angry at the Boomers these days.
There are many valid reasons to hate Boomers, from their Minions memes on Facebook, to their growing flirtation with neo-fascism, but one of the most irksome things of the post-war generation is their oppressive sense of nostalgia. Boomers believe that culture peaked in 1969 and that everything since is a ghastly waste of time.
Shut up about Woodstock, Boomers. Shut up about The Rolling Stones. Shut up about Paris ‘68 and Swinging London and bra-burning and brown acid. Boomers, please, just shut up.
While a civil war has raged between the Millenials and the Boomers, there’s been another generation that has mostly kept its collective head down. We hide in the shadows, playing with our Star Wars toys, hoping no one will notice us.
We are the worst generation.
The Boomers might romanticise their youth, that is absolutely true. But Generation X refuse to let their childhoods ever end. The defining quality of our cohort is that we are in a permanent state of arrested development.
And now that we Gen Xers are in our 40s and 50s, and now that we basically run the world, we can force everyone to pretend that our childhoods have persisted. We can choke popular culture with our own nostalgia and force everyone into a Groundhog Day-style eternal loop.
Just take a look at the biggest franchises of our youth:
Star Wars (next movie due in 2023)
Transformers (next move due in 2022)
Ghostbusters (new movie due out next month, previous movie almost started a civil war)
Top Gun (Top Gun 2 would have been out in 2020 but for the pandemic)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Indy 5 is currently filming)
The Terminator (Arnie is in talks to make T7)
All of these things are still going because Gen X insist that they keep going.
And then you’ve got the biggest cultural juggernaut of all, movies based on Marvel and DC superhero comics. But wait, surely you can’t blame this on Gen X? After all, many of these characters date back to the 1930s and 40s.
But here’s the thing. Comics used to be for kids. Boys would buy them until they discovered girls, and then a new generation of boys would take over. The average age of readers remained consistently around the 12-16 mark.
Until Generation X.
Gen X demolished the idea that comics are for kids. They lapped up gritty reimaginings of Batman and Superman in the 90s, and kept reading comics into their 20s and 30s.
Something similar happened with video games around this time. Games used to be for children, until the arrival of the Playstation 1. Now, the average age of a gamer is 35. In other words: the PS1 generation never stopped playing.
And this is not merely an innocent quirk of our generation. This has become a deeply toxic part of our culture. Gen X has given rise to a new kind of cultural consumer, one whose tastes remain static throughout his life, and who assumes that his tastes must be catered to at all times.
If he doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll jump on the internet and send a death threat. New video game has been delayed? Death threat. Comic storyline going in a weird new direction? Death threat. Don’t like the cast of this reboot? Death threat.
Maybe not all of these threats come from Gen Xers. But this kind of entitlement is legitimized by grown-ass men in their 40s who will publicly weep on the internet because a new movie or comic book has “ruined their childhood”, as if their childhood is some sacrosanct thing.
Imagine previous generations doing this? Imagine your dad sending someone a death threat because he didn’t like Timothy Dalton as Bond, or because Commodore wouldn’t release a C64 with a built-in disk drive? Imagine your grandfather weeping and saying, “but Zorro was such an important part of my childhood!”
It’s impossible to imagine. Generation X invented this.
We have turned our nostalgia into a cultural battering ram, knocking down anything that dares make us feel like we’re not 13 anymore.
This has also led to a strange situation in music. These days, there are so many reunion tours and nostalgia gigs that anyone who had even a minor hit can continue to have a career.
Don’t believe me? Think of any band that made the Top 40 in the 90s. The more obscure the better. Now, type “[band name] tickets” into Google. There’s a 99% chance that the band are still on the road, performing their one hit over and over again.
For example, the first band that popped into my head was Alien Ant Farm, the guys who once did a nu-metal cover of ‘Smooth Criminal’. I googled and, yes, they are playing a venue in Lincoln, Nebraska on December 1st.
Hold up a second, isn’t this a weird thing to rant about in a newsletter that’s literally dedicated to 90s nostalgia.
The thing is that nostalgia doesn’t have to be toxic.
Reviewing the past can be illuminating and enriching. It is what happens in therapy. And, as we talked about last week, pop culture artefacts like ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ can help open up a doorway to that past.
But what happens when we step through that doorway? It’s healthy, I think, to try to keep one foot in the present while casting a wise eye over the past. To appreciate the things we didn’t appreciate back then, to forgive ourselves for old mistakes. To think about the good things and bad things that made us who we are today.
Then—and this is the important bit—we close that door again, and return to the present.
The biggest problem with Generation X is that we don’t want to come back. We want to stay there. We refuse to let go. And so the past becomes a weight around our neck, always dragging us down, down, down.
→ Part 16: Sixteen weeks [October 20, 1991]
← Part 14: How do old songs teleport us back to the past? [October 6, 1991]
Number 3 (↑ from 8): ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ — Monty Python
Speaking of Gen X nostalgia…
‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’—a brilliant song at the end of a brilliant film—received a substantial amount of airplay in 1991 when DJ Simon Mayo playlisted it for no reason other than wanting to hear it. As a result, Virgin re-released it as a single and it zoomed to Number 3 in the charts.
It’s officially a Monty Python track, but it is written, performed and owned by Eric Idle. Eric has always been the one most keen to exploit the Python brand for every last penny he can squeeze out of it, culminating in the surprisingly successful Spamalot cash-in musical.
Number 14 (New Entry): ‘Change’ — Lisa Stansfield
I don’t know why, but I always got the feeling that Lisa Stansfield is really nice and that she would be fun to have a pint with.
She might not be. You can’t believe anything about the image that people project in public. Stansfield always seemed quite natural and unguarded, a kind of “I’m not like other girls” girl with brassy Mancunian charm, but then she went off and married an Italian fashion designer and moved to Dalkey.
But still. I choose to believe that Lisa Stansfield is sound.
Number 15 (New Entry): ‘Baby Love’ — Dannii Minogue
…whereas Dannii seems like the kind of person who would always be looking over your shoulder to see if there’s someone more famous she could be talking to.
But Dannii might be really sound too though. You honestly can’t trust public personas.
Number x (↑ from): ‘Walking in Memphis’ — Marc Cohen
Poor old Marc Cohen. I can absolutely imagine a moment where someone at the record label—a senior producer with a big cigar—listens to this and then turns to Marc and says, “Marc, this is going to be the next ‘American Pie’.”
And for a while, Marc believes he’s going to be the next Don McLean.
And then, a few years later, he’s known as the guy who wrote that one Cher song with the weird lyric no one can quite make out (it’s “walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale”) if he’s known at all. Showbiz is hard. Still, a good track. He’s currently touring the US and playing London next June.
Number 37 (New Entry): ‘Save Up All Your Tears’ — Cher
Speak of the devil.
Album of the Week
Tenement Symphony — Marc Almond
One of the weirdest things about the music business is that songwriters get all of the money, and performers get nothing. Eric Idle is the sole writer on ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, which means that the other five Pythons have never earned a penny from the song, even when it’s released as a single under the Monty Python name.
Marc Almond did vocals on one of the most beloved pop songs of all time. ‘Tainted Love’ currently has over 390 million streams on Spotify and 33 million on YouTube. But it’s a cover version, which means that Almond gets only a fraction of the royalties, if he gets any at all.
All of which is to say that Marc Almond has always been a jobbing musician and always struggled with going broke.
Tenement Symphony is a mix of covers and originals, and once again it is the covers that shine brightest on this record. The Almond-penned opener, ‘Meet Me In My Dreams’, is quite swoonsome, but it’s no match for the sheer power of Brel’s ‘Jacky’, or the album’s big single ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’, which was written by Irishman David McWilliams.
Almond says himself that he wasn’t happy with the artistic direction of this record, but he was happy to work with Trevor Horn. I think this is code for “I needed the money”. But it’s a great record all the same.
We’re done. That’s it. Bryan’s reign of terror comes crashing down next week.