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Sunday, October 11, 2015

How I Started Liking 80's Music (Except for U2)

It took me until 2014 to fall in love with the 80's.

I was born in 1983, so to say I "grew up" in the 80's would be a stretch.  I came of age in the 90's.  But I did live through the majority of the 80's, and I was sentient for the last half.  And I remember the music.

When I was a teenager, the 80's were still a recent memory of the generation before mine, so naturally I thought everything from the era was totally lame.  I was, as many are at that age, totally enamored with my generation's flavor-of-the-moment, grunge/alternative.  That gradually segued into a fascination with punk and metal, two traditions that make quite a business out of rejecting others.  My punk and metal phase carried over well into my 20's, whereupon I gradually began broadening my horizons.

I've always been one to seek out the roots of a particular thing I like, and I've often found that whoever "did it first" often did it best.  So it was that I became the avid classic rock fan that I am to this day.

But then a strange thing happened: I started getting old.  New music began to sound progressively shittier and shittier to me.  Sure, an artist here or there would hearken back to the sounds that I've loved, but I would guess I've liked less than 5% of the music published after 2001.

Those of you music fans in your 30's and beyond can probably identify with this pattern.  And I'm betting you'll identify with what happened to me next.

As I settled into my 30's (which incidentally, has been the best decade of my life so far), I found myself increasingly drawn to nostalgia from my own lifetime, rather than from my parents' heyday.  Suddenly, bands like Roxette, Depeche Mode, Poison, and Dead or Alive--bands which had sounded tragically dated to me before--started sounding fresh again.

I'm still a huge metal head; if I'm listening to music, there's about a 60% chance that it's some iteration of heavy metal.  But until the last few years I always hated hair bands and their weepy power ballads.  But lately I've been able to listen to songs like "Home Sweet Home", "Sister Christian", and "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" without a trace of irony.  I genuinely like those songs, and many more like them.

I used to cringe when songs like "She's Got The Look" and "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" came on in my presence.  Not anymore.  

That last example brings up an even stranger twist; I used to have a special flavor of hatred for 80's songs by bands that formed in the 70's or earlier.

And that brings up an interesting point.  Every era has its share of shitty music, but I still feel like the shitty music of the 80's is a special appellation of shittiness.  I think this might have something to do with the fact that much of the subpar output was created by artists whose careers began long before the 80's.

The rock stars of the 60's and 70's enjoyed a unique level of superstardom.  They had the pleasure of being associated with one of the largest and most influential cultural movements in history.  So when the next generation came along, many of these stars didn't simply fade into the background.  They had done so well by their fans that they had artistic carte blanche.  So they kept grinding out records in a futile effort to remain relevant in a generation that had passed them by.

Every generation finds a way to say "fuck you" to the one that came before it.  So 70's artists who wanted to stay relevant in the 80's had to find ways to say "fuck you" to themselves--or at least their old way of doing things--just to keep pace.  If that isn't a recipe for artistic disaster, I don't know what is.

You can see this phenomenon in action in every decade before and since, but I feel like the 80's was the first time it happened on a broad cultural level.  Before the 50's or so, music didn't have nearly the influence on young minds that it has had since then, because owning music simply wasn't as common--or even possible.  Ownership of recorded music has been steadily on the rise since the early 20th century, but somewhere around the middle of the century it crossed a barrier.  Before Elvis, some people had records.  After Elvis, everybody had records.  And the amount of music people encounter and subsequently buy has only increased with each successive generation of music media.

After the advent of music as a widely available consumer product, a different dynamic came into play.  I wasn't there, but I get the sense that 60's and 70's rock music felt like part of the same tradition.  But some time circa 1977, a handful of punk bands came along and voiced the clearest "fuck you" of any generation before or since.  And that changed the game.  Now every new crop of musicians does what it can to stand apart from those that came before.  Those that don't are viewed as benignly nostalgic at best, but usually they're simply dismissed as copycats.

I feel like the transition from classic rock to punk to new wave was a particularly rocky one because it was the first time in the age of music collecting that a new generation of musicians had drastically pulled away from their predecessors.  And the predecessors that survived the transition had some deep artistic challenges facing them.  And the result was that most of the music they made during the new generation's reign was...bad.

So it's easy to see how a guy like me, who was enamored with 60's and 70's bands, might think the 80's sucked.  That decade destroyed half of my favorite bands, and made limp-wristed lounge acts out of all but the sturdiest few.  Even immortal powerhouses like Black Sabbath, The Who, and Yes took more than a few bad steps in the 80's.  And as a fan of first-wave punk, it felt like new wave was a sellout defilement of punk, rather than its logical conclusion.  As a fan of early 70's proto metal, it was easy to feel like hair bands were pandering to the lowest common denominator, which in turn led me to underground movements like early thrash and death metal.

But now that I've grown a little, and put some distance between myself and the quick-tempered opinions of my younger days, it's easier to listen to 80's music without all the baggage that strong, youthful opinions bring.  I'm able to hear these songs without judgement, and when I listen with an open mind, I find that I genuinely love a lot of music from that era.  I even like Dio-era Sabbath better than the last couple albums of the Ozzy era.

My new mindset has enabled me to like stuff I used to hate from the subsequent generations as well.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I can get down to some Backstreet Boys.  My blood no longer curdles when the Goo Goo Dolls come on my 90's Pandora station.

But all of this even-handed wisdom can't change one simple fact:

U2 fucking blows.  Bono is the God of whiny idiots, and The Edge is the lamest excuse for a guitar hero I've ever seen.  

The Edge's guitar tabs:

Tom Morello's guitar tabs:

If I live a thousand lifetimes, I will never like U2.

...except for "Sunday Bloody Sunday".