A look at the Outside Lands’ music line-up reminds us that young people, though rich in material things, live in an awfully depressing mental world.
One of my Little Bookworms attended Outside Lands today. For those unaware, it’s a giant three-day music festival held in Golden Gate Park. Today, 25 singers and bands performed, spread out over five or six stages.
My Little Bookworm wasn’t actually planning on attending, because (according to what the kids tell me) entry tickets are $150 per person, per day, which is a lot of money. Still, when a discount ticket came his way (someone couldn’t go and had to sell a full-price ticket cheap), Little Bookworm couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend time with friends at an “event.”
Because Little Bookworm didn’t attend as a music pilgrim, but rather on a lark, he wasn’t familiar with the music groups. That’s why, when we were in the car together, he played for me the top songs from each group/singer on today’s line-up. Here’s the list, headlined by (of all people) Janet Jackson. I’m pretty sure that the last time I saw a picture of Janet Jackson, she was in a burka. The time before that, she was flashing her boob on national TV. It’s hard to keep up with her. But again, here’s that list:
Portugal. The Man
RAINBOW KITTEN SURPRISE
Hobo Johnson & the LoveMakers
Durand Jones & The Indications
Hot Flash Heat Wave
What struck me listening to the music from these groups was how drab it was. Incidentally, that word — drab — is one I’ve chosen carefully. The dictionary defines it as “dull; cheerless; lacking in spirit, brightness, etc.” That strikes me as a perfect description of the music my son played for me.
Much of the music also lacks any lyrical qualities, which makes me wonder how closely it even fits under the definition of “music.” Here are some samples of the various musicians’ more popular songs. (Trigger warning: obscenities, ugly images, banality, whining, chronic low-grade depression, ennui, and anger):
There were exceptions, of course, with some bands churning out standard pop music that I would have listened to in the 1970s or 1980s:
A really lovely exception is the T Sisters, a barely known band, which has lovely music. I suspect they were in the line-up because they’re from Oakland and probably asked for no money at all to cross the Bay and sing to a huge audience:
Incidentally, I’m quite open to modern pop music. My playlist has music from the 1880s through yesterday. The Outlands lineup, though, just made me sad. Even my Little Bookworm agreed with that assessment that “drab” was an accurate word for these bands’ most popular songs.
I’m not saying that the music of my youth was good. Still, there was a window of time during which American popular music, from the WWI era through to a decade or so ago had a defining upbeat quality and was singable. Not all songs were upbeat, of course. There were ballads and there was heavy metal — although even good heavy metal can be singable. What the bands are churning out now, though, strikes me so often as anti-music, and I find that sad.
My focus on singing isn’t entirely inconsequential. Singing is a very important human trait. While studies today are suspect, there’s a consistent line of studies showing that singing together makes people happy and healthy. Here’s a representative example:
Singing in a choir for only one hour can improve mood, reduce stress and even boost immune proteins, a new study finds.
The largest improvements in mood were seen among those suffering with the greatest level of depression and lowest mental wellbeing.
The research involved 193 people whose lives had been touched by cancer and who were members of five different choirs.
Although we tend to think of pre-modern music as operas and symphonies, which can be grim and are very difficult for ordinary people to sing, the reality is that, at most times in Western history (which is the only musical history I know), people have been singing popular songs. Here’s a marvelous compilation of American popular songs from the colonial era through the early 1900s — that is, it’s a compilation of songs that people sang together, whether in taverns, at work, at parties, in family parlors, or at war. Tin Pan Alley made the whole music production less organic, but it continued the tradition of singability, something that was still seen in popular song charts through the 1990s or so.
Thinking about the drab songs surrounding the Millenial generation, I couldn’t help but think how drab their lives are generally. On the outside, young people seem to have shiny, sparkly lives. They are drowning in material things.
Most significantly, they all have smart phones, which put in their hands computers with greater power than ENIAC’s creators could ever imagine and that connect them to a limitless world of social media and entertainment. They also have unparalleled buying power. Take these kids to Target or Walmart, and all but the poorest have affordable access to clothes, cosmetics, and gadgets that, in the past, were available only to the richest people. They travel with relative ease. They enjoy wonderful health and have shiny white teeth. Their opinions are touted as the words of gods, and America’s commercial engines cater to the fact that their parents and they themselves seem to have endless supplies of money to spend on their desires.
Despite all these material blessings, though, theirs is a world of despair and paranoia, something their drab, anti-musical music captures so well. They live in a world on the brink of climate Armageddon. Their waterways are polluted. Their food is toxic. Race hatred is endemic. Rape is endemic. Homophobia is endemic. Social media reminds them that everyone else is more popular, more beautiful, more rich, more socially conscious, and more whatever than they are. Their country is a dangerous global menace. The poor are poorer than ever in history and will remain that way until capitalism is abolished. And of course their president is a homicidal, genocidal, hate-filled, bigoted demagogue.
Even those of us who grew up in the shadow of the real Cold War, as opposed to the Democrat establishment’s recently created “Russia collusion Cold War,” were optimistic. The future was one of great promise, assuming we could avoid nuclear Armageddon. In all areas — standards of living, medicine, technology, food availability, racial harmony, etc. — we were moving into a wonderful future. Back in those days, Israel was a beacon of hope, not a “Jews are Nazis” nation. Muslim countries were moving forward, whether a secularized Turkey, or places such as Iran or Afghanistan, in which women were embraced as part of the greater culture. Even Europe’s soft socialism, which few acknowledged was funded by hard American cash, promised that cradle-to-grave care really worked.
A decade ago, I blogged about the optimism that permeated American popular culture despite the Cold War, an optimism that Walt Disney — the man, not the corporation — epitomized. I’m going to repeat here a post from six years ago, during the run-up to the 2012 election, when Mitt Romney promised a bright future and Jon Stewart, the arch Leftist, sneered. Listening to the kids’ music and looking at the world through their eyes reminds me that this schism — a conservative belief in future possibilities versus Leftism’s endless dark eschatology — has continued and widened, with the young as its victims:
Romney: “We Americans have always felt a special kinship with the future.”
Stewart: “Yes, yes, yes. We Americans, uniquely among Earth’s people, move forward in time.”
Nothing could more perfectly illustrate the differing ways the two parties think about the future.
I understood exactly what Romney meant. Americans feel a special kinship with the future because they believe that their current actions will affect the future and make it better. And indeed, the American trajectory has proven this believe to be a truism. Through vigor and innovation, we’ve achieved measurable improvements in food production, health car, mobility, shelter, clothing, entertainment, communications, etc. And that’s not just comparing us to American life one hundred or two hundred years ago. You’ll get the same result — continuous quality-of-life improvement — by comparing us to American life just twenty years ago. We work hard, we think creatively, and we make life better.
This sense of possibilities has been part of the American mental landscape forever, although it wasn’t until modern media that we were able to capture this optimistic sense of the future. Nothing was unthinkable or un-doable.
They saw exciting travel possibilities:
And they envisioned clean, comfortable, labor-saving homes:
That last clip was a Disney clip, and this is no coincidence. More than any figure in popular culture, Walt Disney believed that America was on a continued upward trajectory, one that saw our lives getting better and better. He didn’t see rich plutocrats living high on the hog, while the poor provided the necessary Soylent Green. Instead, Disney believed that, in his own lifetime, Everyman’s and Everywoman’s life had improved in a way never before seen in history, and he further believed that the American personality was such that nothing could stop this trend.
Disney put these core beliefs together in his Carousel of Progress — which for me, as a child, was the absolute best part of Disneyland, even better than the rides. I too believed that things could only get better:
And lest you think everyone looks to the future in this way, think again. The Egyptians were perfectly happy to live a relatively unchanged life for 3,000 years: same clothes, same food, same agricultural economy, same housing, same form of worship. There were, of course, small changes over the centuries, but nothing that resembled the changes America has experienced since 1776.
This holds true for large parts of the third world. People live as their ancestors lived for hundreds of years before. We go and, with our modern 21st century digital cameras take pictures — they are so picturesque — and then we return gratefully to our air-conditioned cars and hotel rooms, our hot running water, our washers and dryers, and our clean, healthy food. Even Europe can be stultifying for the American traveler. Because it raises money by looking old, nothing can change.
So yes, Mitt is right that Americans have traditionally believed that the future isn’t just the day after tomorrow, and then the day after that, ad infinitum. Instead, to Americans, the future is a real place, one that builds on the past, but that offers infinitely more.
The Democrats also have a vision of the future, but it’s not a greater future, it’s a lesser future. On the one hand, there is the coming Apocalypse, one that will see half of the earth under water and the other half a parched, Sahara-like desert. Billions of the world’s citizens will crowd this desert, choked by filthy air from factories and cigarettes, and desperately trying to force genetically modified Frankenstein-plants to grow in the barren land. That, they believe, is the American trajectory.
The other hand offers the only way to stop this Apocalypse: Americans must turn their back on the future and revert to the past: a past with limited transportation abilities; primitive food production, free of scientific or mechanical intervention; no air-conditioning; no modern medicine; no defensive weaponry; and, most importantly, no people.
So, while Mitt Romney spoke explicitly to Republicans about the Republican view of the future, Democrats, with their abortion-fest, are offering an implicit vision of their future. It’s one that sees American thriving by subtraction not addition — and the fastest form of subtraction available is abortion. To Democrats, children aren’t the promise of the future; they are, instead, the promise that the future will be destroyed.
Image credit: Flickr