I wrote this week’s column in conjunction with The Reader‘s cover story on Obama, a collection of where-were-you comments from writers and others, limited to 150 words. Here’s what I submitted:
We’d talked about the possibility that he might actually lose. It resided there in the back of our heads, an inkling of dread. Teresa was worried that the pundits, who had ordained him weeks earlier, had in fact jinxed him, like a sports announcer confidently proclaiming only moments before the field-goal kicker takes the field: “He’s made 49 in a row, and if he makes this one — at a distance no further than an extra point — a perfect 50 and a new NCAA record!”
We all know what happens next.
Well, it didn’t happen this time. Nothing was going to jinx this outcome — even though our worst fears seemed validated when “that other one” led for about a half-hour as the very first results came in from a southern-tier bible-belt state. As the night wore on, the networks’ multi-million-dollar JumBoMaps turned blue along the northern edges, dripping slowly downward, and it became obvious that there was no stopping it.
That comment leads into this:
Column 198: Next Big Thing
What does Obama sound like?
Seeing as our cover story this week is about the new president, I wanted to write something in the spirit of the moment, but at the same time, blend music into the equation. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
While watching the holograms on CNN last Tuesday night, having tired of the gee-whiz back-slapping on MSNBC, I wondered what the soundtrack for an Obama administration will sound like. Certainly it couldn’t be any worse than what we’ve been suffering through for the last eight years. It used to be that troubled times produced great music that defined a generation, while good times produced flaccid, empty pop. Or maybe that’s just a cliché.
The turmoil of the ’60s and Viet Nam gave us Dylan and Hendrix and all that “freedom rock” that lingers today in Cadillac commercials and on classic radio stations. When Viet Nam ended, along came the go-go ’70s and disco — a coke-fueled thump-thump-thump-a-thon that coaxed people into polyester and onto the dance floor. It was, essentially, brainless and disposable.
But as the decade waned and the economy began to tank — not only here but around the world — a nation woke up with a coke hangover, broke and jobless and angry. The next generation looked at all that polyester and excess and was rightfully sickened. Punk rock was born, with its snarling fuck-you lyrics and gruesome safety-pin fashion. Punk was revolutionary, if not short-lived.
After its initial shock wore off, punk quickly became passé. The world moved on to the ’80s and the conservative comfort of Reagan and Wall Street and the self-centered Me Generation. With it came vacuous, neon-colored faux-glam hair metal. Meanwhile, a ’70s phenomena called hip-hop slowly began to build a following and invade the national culture, never really being taken seriously by critics who thought “rapping” was a gimmick and a fad that would fade before the end of the ’80s. How very wrong they would be.
So, with the market crash of ’87, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the rise of another recession, America grew tired of Reagan’s conservative bullshit. Hair metal was torn from the screens of MTV by grunge — a kinder, gentler punk drenched in self-loathing and nihilism. Shortly after the arrival of Nevermind came the arrival of Clinton. Happy days were here again, and with it came the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync and the slow decline of America’s taste in music.
As the century came to a close both fat and happy, GW showed up to lead us from 9-11 and into a “war on terror” fought on two fronts — three if you count the war fought against his own citizens’ personal freedoms. These last two years should have been the time when this generation’s version of protest or punk or grunge emerged to give voice to anger and dissent. But it never happened. Sure, grampa Neil did his usual anti-government album, but no one listens to Neil anymore. Our own Conor Oberst briefly caught the nation’s attention on The Tonight Show with his rant “When the President Talks to God,” but it, too, was cast aside and ignored. If you listened to the radio, it seemed like no one cared what was going on, as long as they could tune into American Idol and cast their vote for this week’s haircut.
Where was the revolution we all yearned for? Why didn’t anything happen? Maybe it was because this next generation never felt the pain. They didn’t know anyone fighting “over there.” Iraq is a television show that people quit watching after the first few seasons. Economic downturn? Other than the market crashing every other day and the price of gas rising to ridiculous heights, then falling again, no one noticed. Or no one cared. The next generation is stooped in comfort and convenience. It’s too easy to isolate the world’s problems into sizable, media-friendly chunks that can be turned off and ignored with the push of a Playstation button.
Or maybe they just decided to take matters into their own hands… and vote.
Obama is this generation’s protest song. He’s the new punk, the new grunge, the new Dylan we’ve been waiting for. His lyrics have galvanized today’s youth better than any song ever could. He’s got the words down pat, now he just needs to find a tune to go along with it. Let’s hope it has a beat you can dance to.
An addendum to last week’s column: Reports are circulating about the 7 percent cut in Omaha World-Herald staff that went down yesterday. The layoffs include 15 newsroom staff. I haven’t been able to confirm any names. These are indeed dark days for the folks in print media…
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Tonight at The Waiting Room, Brooklyn folk-punk band O’Death plays with Lincoln band Triggertown and a 4-piece version of Midwest Dilemma fresh from the road. Here’s a rave review of a recent O’Death show. Sounds pretty good to me, especially for a measly $8, 9 p.m.
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Also, for those with Twitter, Lazy-i is now Twittering at http://twitter.com/tim_mcmahan. Consider it a social media experiment. I know I do. Comments will be mostly music in nature — brief reports from live shows, micro-comments on music playing on the iPhone, tinyurl links to relevant content, etc. Follow me by clicking the “follow” button.
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