Just as my parents’ generation have seen all of the dread of their own mortality made flesh in the still-shamelessly-strutting-it form of Mick Jagger, my generation has grown old enough to see its own It-Boys turn into men with wrinkles and midlife crises. Conor Oberst, for example, is pushing 40. The former teen prodigy used to exemplify the tortured feels of hyper-sensitive and hyper-articulate but poorly socialized post-adolescents. He had a quavering voice that seemed always on the verge of tears and the dreamy good looks of a baby owl. He got called “The New Dylan” a lot. Now he’s facing the challenge of somehow staying relevant now that his constituents are divorced, 15 pounds overweight, struggling to make their car payments and long ago given up on all their dreams. Fortunately, adulthood offers its own unique sources of angst, though tempered – if you’re lucky enough to actually have matured – by some wisdom and perspective. Oberst is in a position to segue into a really great second phase in his career, and he’s smart enough to see that. His last couple of albums have been surprisingly outstanding; clearly he still has a lot to write about, as a mature person, and I expect him to continue to lean into it. Maybe his best is still coming up, maybe he’ll find increasing inspiration from the perspective of age. Growing older is inherently embarrassing for a pop figure – besides seeing your own failings in the harsh camera glare, you’re also representing the failings of your audience. You have a choice though; you can put on your Peter Pan skinny pants and stubbornly carry on being exactly the same, or you can allow your ageing and decline to become part of your work. I expect Oberst to follow the leads of Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon, who discovered their best creative years well past the hump of middle age and just really owned the hell out of being withered old men.
I’m still waiting for the Tom Waits jukebox musical, or at least an extravagantly star-studded tribute album, but let’s face it, that won’t happen until he dies, and possibly not even then. There won’t be an all-star extravaganza selling out Madison Square Garden, there won’t special collector’s mini books published by Time magazine or Rolling Stone. Tom Waits isn’t the kind of an artist who attracts that kind of attention. If there’s to be Tom Waits musical it will have to take place in an abandoned warehouse down by the shipyards, with a cast and crew of hobos and hookers.
A powerful singer can get a lot of emotional impact just from passionate humming. Moby is not that singer, but he knows where to find them. Finding great samples and bringing in great guests is how he made himself an unlikely household name. His albums are usually filed under uninspiring titles like ‘downtempo’ and ‘chillwave’ and the all-encompassing ‘electronica’. That doesn’t really do justice to the scope of an album like 18. Those 18 songs carry more depth of emotion than most of the earnest balladeers and wanna-be emo kids out there.
Cold War dreams of nuclear annihilation, contaminated generations. Maybe some of you are too young to remember the fears that struck people’s hearts throughout the Cold War decades. Some of you may have been weaned on modern fears like global warming and super-viruses and the impending Singularity. Some of us don’t worry about those things because we’re lying awake at night waiting for the air raid sirens. (Some of us have epigenetic nightmares about air raids.) And many of us still break out in cold sweats when certain words are invoked; radioactivity, Chernobyl, Hiroshima, Plutonium, atom bomb, meltdown, nuclear winter. We were taught that the world would end in mushroom clouds and uncontrolled cell division. Those fears may not feel relevant, not die Angst vor dem Tag, as it were. The members of Kraftwerk were all born in Germany in the immediate wake of the Second World War – a particularly traumatic spot in space and time, obviously – making them members of a uniquely scarred subgroup in a scarred generation. The fears and angers that haunted humanity in the decades after the war must have been a hundredfold for children born and raised in its still-smoking epicenter. Some of them responded by making art about what it means to be human and what it means to be a machine and what ends celebrated scientific progress can be turned to. That certainly hasn’t become any less relevant, and even if the specific keywords have been pushed to the back burner of our collective nightmares, the warning still hits home. And, yes, that nuclear arsenal, though it may not be a popular headline anymore, it still exists, and is still likely to end us all well before super-AIDS or mass famine have the chance to.
Sometimes I wonder if my love life would be a bigger success if I made a bigger effort to be a toxic bitch. People like that, right? Men would flock to me? It’s a trope that mentally unstable people are more desirable, and romance isn’t really worth it unless it’s full of explosive drama and mutual bad behaviour. Most of us learn otherwise pretty quickly in life, but the trope shows no sign of losing its appeal. It’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s rehab-failing older sister. The Toxic Bitch may smash your windshield and ruin your life, but nobody ever made you feel more alive. The male equivalent is the guy who breaks your nose on Valentine’s Day then takes you to brunch the next morning, and he is only marginally less easy to glamorize. Toxic people are shit and you should run away from them when you see them coming, but don’t you secretly want to be that out of control?
Hey, did you know that The Joy Formidable released an album in 2016? No, how could you? Unless you actively follow their moves on social media, it’s hard to keep track of what indie bands are up to. The only mainstream music related publication still in print is Rolling Stone, and if anything, their focus has narrowed of late. I’ve heard that in the UK, there’s still a number of music magazines that actually cover new music and rising artists and the indie scene, but I don’t have access to those and I’m guessing you don’t either. My point is, there are many exciting events that occur without much fanfare from whatever you call the media, so you really have to do your own research. I would really love to see Ritzy Bryan get the rock star treatment; she could be on the cover of Rolling Stone, mostly naked in a lewd pose photographed by a known serial rapist. Ok, no, you know what, just keep doing what you’re doing Ritzy, you don’t need that shit. Indie artists can go on being indie artists and I think you’ll find it worthwhile to do the footwork, so to speak, of keeping up with them yourself.
Lana Del Rey is releasing her fifth album tomorrow. Del Rey has shown surprising longevity, and she’s grown considerably as an artist. That’s not easy in an industry that throws It-Girls into the stratosphere and then forgets them overnight. Six years of fame is an eon in the Instagram era, and in the age of widespread piracy artists often spend most their time generating #sponcon and designing capsule collections instead of making art. So we should tip our hats to Lana for managing to stay focused on her music; she’s released an album almost every year and each one has been a step forward for her. She’s also managed not to embarrass herself with drunken escapades, ill-advised love affairs, bad makeovers, or forays into fields where she has no talents. She suffered enough negative publicity when she first came into the spotlight, for her looks, for her aesthetic, for her amateurishness on stage. And she soldiered on and she earned her credibility. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited for the new record. But I think I’ll always love Born to Die the best.