Totally True Tune Tales: The Not-Even-A-Generation Gap

I received my first “jambox” as a Christmas present when I was 8 years old. My parents had just separated and money was tight; I was made aware of this when my mom pulled me aside mid-December to tell me that Santa Claus wasn’t real and that she couldn’t afford to get me a jambox, so don’t be disappointed because she was doing the best she could with what we got on welfare. I nodded and accepted it, which made that Christmas morning even more incredible when staring me in the face was my shiny black GPX mono one-speaker beauty. It wasn’t my first radio (that would be my AM Smurf walkman), but it was my first cassette player and my first created for listening by multiple people.

My radio and I were inseparable. I had a few tapes, but I was more than happy with the radio and taping songs from my favorite station, 105.3 KLYV (pronounced “K-Lyve”). My favorite songs were by Bon Jovi, Bananarama, Madonna, Huey Lewis & the News, and Starship. The neighbors across the street were jamming to the Beastie Boys, but my mom wouldn’t let me dub that album. The girl downstairs loved Menudo. In other words, it may not have been the greatest time in the history of music, but I had my four C batteries and was constantly on the move with my groove machine. And I swore at that time, always and forever, that I would always be cool and jammin’, never falling out of the loop with what’s cool or growing old and turning into a fuddy-duddy.

I was upgraded to a nice dual-deck Sony in sixth grade. I slowly acquired mass quantities of cassettes with my allowance (which for as poor as we were, I was more than happy with my $3 every week). The radio remained a constant and by this time I knew every song, most of them by heart. I was building the encyclopedia in my head that has now grown to drown out everything I learned in college; if it was on the charts from 1986-1991, chances are I knew everything there was to know about it. I was never particularly proud that I could recite Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch or bad fluorescent-pink-era Rod Stewart lyrics without a second thought, but that never convinced me to block it out of my mind, either.

When high school hit, I turned more to classic rock and hair metal, eventually delving in to heavy metal and a good chunk of the mainstream grunge scene. I wasn’t listening to KLYV anymore; I was rotating between, among, and around my ever-increasing collection of CDs (as I had upgraded my Sony with my babysitting money to a midsize Magnavox stereo setup, complete with turntable and one of those newfangled shiny disc players). MTV had begun its turn to full-on lameness, and before I even realized it, suddenly I didn’t know every song on the radio anymore.

It was a gradual process. It started with the inevitable turns of music degenerating into genres and strains that didn’t mesh particularly well with my ears. Rap stopped being bleepy and silly and turned into something that my super-white-midwestern ears didn’t understand at all. Pop music got increasingly grating and smarmy; R&B turned from my familiar sounds of Janet Jackson into goofy over-vocalization that sounded like the wailing after stepping on a dog’s tail. Grunge wasn’t grunge anymore — it was now mellow half-rock garbage devoid of angst and full of pretty boys. Hootie & the Blowfish, Brandy, Gin Blossoms… I wasn’t getting it.

I knew it then. I was getting old. Shortly, I wouldn’t be a teenager anymore. Already I had begun my descent into the land of fuddy-duddyism. But at age eight, how could I possibly have known that the future would hold such lameness? I threw it all to the back of my mind and continued to pursue what I liked. Sure, I still liked my somewhat-popular music a la Garbage, Bjork, and Beck. However, by the turn of the millennium, the radio had most certainly turned into a stranger. Well, at least good old KLYV had; now I strictly listened to one of the classic rock stations at any opportunity when I couldn’t slap in some of the greatness I had begun to discover thanks to Napster. Once I could abuse the internet to create my own personal endless playlist of new and interesting music that never came close to hitting Iowa, I truly stopped caring about being out of touch with the record charts. After that, it was all about falling in love with everything which had been held back from me.

Fast forward to the present. This past weekend, nearly 19 years after my first portable radio and I began a relationship with each other and all the tunes in the universe, I found myself shoved into top-40 hell with one innocent trip to the roller rink. My best friend and I found ourselves bored and in need of something remotely entertaining, and my free pass to Skate Country made it official. From 8-11 PM, the two of us mid-twenties chicks circled in the all-skate direction with a bunch of junior high kids who had complete control over the request desk.

I don’t even know what songs were playing most of the time. Sure, it’s one thing to feel old when you’re nearly twice as old as most everyone else, but it’s worse when they’re all rocking out while you skate in oblivion, just sort of catching the beat every so often like my mom would do when faced with my music as a kid. Occasionally I would recognize the big, distinctive artists — you can’t miss Li’l Jon or Nelly — but for the most part, it was one big bubble of hip hop or pop mush. It’s not even so much that it was bad, it was just all foreign and — I cringe to say this — it all sounded the same. That thought running through my mind was the first inkling that, indeed, I had turned full-on fuddy-duddy. Sure, I could pretend to be cool for five minutes when a great artist like Outkast filled the hall, and I felt incredible old-person joy when “Rapper’s Delight” was played by someone out there with a taste for the oldschool. Alas, that only truly made me feel even more out of touch.

I remember making fun of my mom when I was a kid because she couldn’t keep straight George Michael’s solo work from that of Wham! Today, I’m proud if I can still pick out Britney Spears from the rest of the pop pack. I couldn’t tell Shinedown from Nickelback from Puddle of Mudd from Days of the New, either. I wish I could be trite and say that I don’t care because they all suck anyway, but it’s still a bit of a crush to the ego to admit the modern music scene has grown beyond me. That eight year old in my head is pointing and laughing at me.

All I can do is I scare away that little witch by turning up this new Rammstein disc. Take that, you silly top-40 brat. Time to stop worrying about what the rest of society deems listenable and get back to the angry German goodness. I might never be able to name a Jessica Simpson song, but Black Tape For a Blue Girl tells me I shouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

Oh well, a touch of grey kind of suits you anyway…