“No wonder the old stars rule so omnipotently for their 15 years or eons—it’s been forever since the young audience they ought to be responsible to had any sense of itself as a collectivity, as opposed to a put-upon consumer group. This absence of collective consciousness is…
Pfft. I was 18 when Christgau was writing this, I don’t think I’d have recognised his handwringing about a “generation”, or if I did recognise it I’d have dismissed it. I have to say I still don’t really get it: it’s hard to work out what he wants from them/us (a feeling I do recall reading Old Dudes and am keen to avoid eliciting now I am an Old Dude myself). Less fragmentation? A collective consciousness? To what end??* I don’t know if I’d explicitly joined the dots in ‘91 but it was fairly obvious that the collected power of boomer youth hadn’t got an awful lot done in the first place.
The early 90s feel like a distinct/worthwhile cultural moment now, maybe even something that might inspire people at a distance like the late 60s did, I don’t know, maybe just something for a rump of late-30s crits to get sad about. ITS OUR TURN NOW BOB. Ahem. Of course EVERYONE thinks when they grew up was a moment, I’m sure, I would love to read a book of essays which were just people turning 20 in year X getting to say why year X mattered, it would be a more loving and honest way of writing youth cultural history.
It could just be incomplete-info projection on my part, too, and I think there’s some differences between all three of our cultural contexts of 1991 — Robert was a 49-year-old New Yorker, Tom was 18 during one of the most crucial times in UK pop history, and I was a 13-going-on-14 year-old splitting time between BDP, Nirvana and (sorry, Bob) Led Zeppelin trying to figure out which of them were supposed to define me. Whatever monocultural distinctiveness there might have been probably escaped me, I think, and even in hindsight it seems like a bunch of different parallel histories with different priorities; imagine trying to convince an indie-ensconced Touch & Go devotee that 1991 was definitively The Year of Rave, much less some sheltered early-teen Minnesotan whose experience with techno was limited to Sega Genesis soundtracks. It didn’t get any easier when I was 20 — infamous, at least in the USA, as The Year Electronica Didn’t Really Break and Fuck You For Trying, the weird and often defensive context in which I (arguably belatedly) learned to appreciate electronic dance music. And honestly it still feels tricky now as I approach 35, the age Christgau really got excited over “avant-punk” while still being ambivalent about where it was headed. It doesn’t help that there doesn’t seem to be much to rally around that isn’t immediately subjected to the overblown fast-forward hype/backlash dynamic, rhetorically exhausted, and/or turned into an empty meme.
So what I’m getting at, or trying to get at, or was getting at until the possibility of getting at something different was opened, is that I’m not sure there really was a point in my developing music-enthusiast life where things didn’t seem at least somewhat embattled and driven by the aggravating idea of taste as a combination identity crisis/competition sport. And maybe I’ve just been misled into believing (or misled myself into believing) that there really was a point in time when it wasn’t like that, where it wasn’t until the advent of second-generation-rockcrit/ossified-boomer revisionist history that the big picture got broken up into a bunch of safer, more isolated, more ignorance-perpetrating smaller ones. There’s got to be some explanation as to why debating about music for me feels like a really quick way to become absolutely drained.
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