A few days ago, I attended a Black Keys concert with my best friend of twenty-five years.
Both our lives are hellaciously busy, but we’ve always been of the mindset that concerts are mandatory for our mental health and vivacity. Sometimes we need a vacation from our thirties to party like teenagers.
But we aren’t teenagers. Even when we were, no one ever described us as carefree. What I noticed at the show that night—besides the great music and organic wraps and thirteen dollar beer—were the youngsters.
Am I too young to say whipper-snappers?
Because looking around that night made me feel worse than old. It made me feel outdated—a bit dusty and obsolete. These teenagers were well-dressed and pearly-toothed. They had their phones at the ready to document every moment of the show, and by “show” I mean themselves. These kids are good at posing and they have to be because everyone is snapping and tagging.
Last year, I went back to school and was thrown into a group of undergrads, most of whom were nineteen. These very kind kids treated me as they would an old Pixies record. They respected my former hipness and asked me what the old days were like. I remember one of them saying how cool it was to grow up in the nineties because, “everyone had crazy dyed hair and they weren’t afraid to be freaks.”
What for me were my shitty high school years had apparently been transformed by VH1 countdowns into a halcyon time of grunge music and indie cinema. In the same way that I believed everyone in my mother’s generation went to Woodstock and dropped acid, these kids think it was one big party hosted by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore.
What so many of them seemed to respond to about the 90s they described was the raw angst. This was the era of Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana. MTV was not about pregnant prom queen birthday parties or street dancers and Slater from Saved by the Bell. The teen culture that I was a part of was unrelentingly dark and anti-social, and I adored every minute of it.
If I’ve noticed one thing about this generation of teenagers compared to my own, it’s that they do seem more optimistic and less willing to go to the dark side.
So many young people I’ve spoken with talk about wanting to get married and settle down. To have a simple job and a simple life—a normal life filled with moments of beauty. They talk about wanting to have children, like, soon.
This seems as bizarre as it is comforting. My generation went through a real struggle with the concept of stability. We were the first generation to experience parental divorce on a massive scale. Dating, marriage, commitment of any kind has been tough for so many of us. I know I find myself looking for models of good relationships that I can emulate. My parents couldn’t be those models for me, much as they tried.
The younger generation has experienced many of the same issues, but in a very different environment. They’ve grown up with an exposure to the organic food movement, to a greener world of slow foods and sustainability. These kids have more awareness and acceptance of those with different sexual orientations, religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
The internet has allowed them to communicate the things they’re passionate about—some important, some entirely vapid. They have a sense that there is an audience out there for them, and they claim to have the confidence to find it.
It’s not all tap-dancing on rainbows, though. This generation has been labeled narcissistic. It’s been said (often by me) they have no critical thinking skills. There is so much competing for their weary mindspace that dead air often wins. I see the downside to all this “progress.”
But then I look at my peers. Most of us are clumsily dating and working our way up in jobs that we still aren’t sure we want. We would ask for what we want, but we don’t seem to know what that is. We have trouble believing that even our closest friends and lovers want to hear what we have to say.
Many yogis believe that we have now entered a bright new period called “The Age of Aquarius,” a time of celebration and spiritual wholeness. Love is capital in this new age. As I shook my booty at that Black Keys concert, I wondered if this notion could be true. Are these kids the horsemen of the Aquarian Age? If so, am I ready to relinquish some of my navel-gazing misery to them? To trust myself and my own voice a bit more?
These kids have more to offer us than a can of Four Loko and the latest Skrillex remix, and we Gen-Xers need to acknowledge that. In return, we can offer them some of our generational strengths. They seem to want and need a bit of “our” nineties’ Eeyore spirit from time to time. Don’t we have plenty of introspection and cynicism to go around, especially since Kim and Thurston split. I mean, WTF?
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~Editor: Kate Bartolotta