Like many early 30-somethings, National Road Magazine’s Cory Huffman grew up listening to the music of his parents’ generation. In this editorial, Huffman discusses the cultural vacuum created by the absence of equally worthy musical acts which should have defined his own age group.I was born in 1983 to two young people just making the frayed ends meet. Teachers, doing their best to raise me.
That could very well be a lyric to a song, but it’s the god’s honest truth about my upbringing.
The existential thing about being a youth in the 80’s is just how unknowingly blessed I was. No cellphones. No social media. No technicalities in which to be distracted by. Primal naivety shrouded me like a shadow as I was too busy building a fantasy world with He-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Meanwhile, my parents, contending with life in their early 30’s, were busy doing their own thing while listening to the likes of John Cougar Mellencamp, Springsteen, Petty, and Billy Joel on vinyl.
Pop, Crackle, Piano Man.
My boyhood soundtrack was provided by some of America’s greatest and I was too clueless to actually take a knowing part in listening to them.
At age 5 what could I, a boy growing up in rural Indiana, have honestly learned and taken away from Jack and Diane?
A lot actually. Little did I know at the time, but Mellencamp’s lyrics were like scripture in this state.
Unrequited love. Good times won’t last forever.
How about Jersey’s own prodigal son and the iconic album Born to Run?
Faded jean jackets. Red bandanas. Blue collar love affairs.
Both Springsteen and Mellencamp wore their roots like a talisman – one in a denim jacket, the other rolled into the sleeve of a white t-shirt – belting out tunes to a generation that needed a hero. A generation that allowed themselves to believe in America and music. Because, to put it simply, that’s all they had.
Both contained lessons and significant guidance that could have ultimately saved me from some impending unseen heartbreak I’d yet to know but would ultimately experience. But I didn’t allow myself because I just didn’t understand. Just a catchy little ditty set aside and stored for future consumption. So while Diane was innocently becoming a debutant, I was innocently being a stupid kid.
Woe was me.
It wasn’t until I was an oblivious go-getter in college that I began to appreciate Johnny Cougar, Journey, and others that were so prominent in a past life. Even right this instance, in printed reflection, perhaps I still didn’t appreciate them back then. Maybe I was just in that “I’m awfully cool” phase of life. And hoisting a beer with strangers off of Kirkwood while we all sang along to Hurts So Good, didn’t qualify. Sure it was very Hoosier-esque but that path – that very same action – was forged years before I was out of diapers. My parents were the ones that lived those songs when they were born of melody and capability.
I was merely part of the ripple effect.
Still though, getting hammered and belting out the lyrics to Don’t Stop Believing made me actually feel like I was a part of something bigger. Something no one before me had ever felt. A path that had secretly been covered in yesteryear and I was one of the lucky ones to rediscover its foundation.
And the mocking truth is this: I couldn’t stop believing because I never even started.
By the time I hit my mid-20’s I fully began to understand just how fortunate my parents were for experiencing genre defining musicians. Storytellers embracing Americana. Poets writing and singing about actual lives people live. Therefore, I became a petulant martyr for having missed out on a generation defining musical moment.
In other words, I was envious. They lived Mellencamp. I was given John fucking Mayer. I was the American fool.
I am existing in a time and place with the luxury of being bored with whatever top-40 shit was constantly tossed my way. It’s inescapable. Always there. Evolving. More beats. More bass. More auto-tune. More co-writers. More of the same. More of nothing. And we, us, my generation mournfully watch as mainstream radio takes what potentially could be a generation defining singer/song-writer or band and turns them into a regurgitated example of a corporate subsidy.
Bassline, lyrics, dubstep, remix. Repeat. This kind of music is becoming as common as suburban kids donning biblical names.
I ask: Where are the heroes of my time?
I answer: Stationed in a waiting room labeled uncertainty.
It could be that the music industry has become so saturated with whatever semi-decent (even downright lousy) act can potentially generate money for record companies. Hell, it goes without saying that if someone is soft on the eyes with a shit voice, there’s probably a space for you. Nothing a studio, producer, and sound engineer can’t fix.
We live in a time where social media serves as a gift and a curse. On one hand, we have access to countless artists and songs at any given time without the wait. On the other, we have access to countless mediocre artists and songs that waste our life with all of their synthetic clichés about life that’s not reality.
Money. Cars. All the things girls’ dreams are made of.
I want more. So do you. I covet – we covet. We are so busy looking for greener grass that we tend to forget to water the patch we’re standing on. I’d become so distraught with what I was hearing that I damn near gave up on actually listening to the musicians who might have that spark of originality in them.
I want the night moves back. I was born to run down main street of a small town, humming a song from 1962, holding on to a past that was never mine to begin with. But as these songs start to flicker and fade, it’s up to my generation (the 30 somethings and 40 somethings) to keep that flame burning. Legacies are meant to be burned down not forgotten.
So if in fact the bands and songwriters of yesteryear are slowly dying – being buried in the drivel that we accept as music now, let us hoist a beer, put on an old 45, and cheers to its death so we can skip the heartache.
Turn the record over.
–John Mellencamp 2015 by Sharononthemove is licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0–Springsteen with Telecaster by manu_gt500 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.