“we live in a generation where a generation we live in a generation lives in a generation we live in but y’all ain’t ready to have that conversation” : Lil Nas X
What is a generation?
This is not a question I asked myself while listening to “My Generation,” because I was busy wondering if I had ever really heard the song before. I mean, damn.
It’s a brilliant recording, though its greatest impressions on me are not the usual. People will go on about a certain lyric until they get old and/or die, but the one that interests me most by a long shot is “why don’t you all ffffffffade away”—my new go-to when I need to self-censor. (Also, to be perfectly honest, as far as pop lyrics that confront mortality go, I’m firmly in the camp of “he not busy being born is busy dying.”) All in all, Roger’s stutter takes what would otherwise be a collection of weird couplets and makes them iconic. There’s a whole separate post in store about how his voice makes me feel.
I once saw a tweet (or whatever X calls it these days) that read “why is being alive so expensive I’m not even having a good time,” which I consider the present-day manifesto. Less catchy, maybe, but no less resonant. Aside from our friend Montero’s tweet in the subtitle, and the Girls line that you KNEW was coming. Don’t even pretend you didn’t.
More recently, I saw a thoughtful video by YouTuber Rowan Ellis that cites a Pew Research Center-affiliated proposal to dispense with generational distinctions altogether. According to the proposal, terms like baby boomer and millennial are not only ‘arbitrary,’ failing to adhere to consistent year brackets, but also insufficient to cover the demographics they describe. For instance, while the younger half of today’s population is often slated as having grown up with the internet, a large percentage of those people live with intermittent or nonexistent internet access. The terms imply residents of Western countries that are ‘developed,’ i.e., not recovering from or even currently experiencing the damage of colonialism.
For my part, I think such distinctions have only pitted us against one another over time. The elders judge the younguns for being inexperienced or impulsive, the younguns judge the elders for being stodgy or short-sighted. As evidenced by the viewpoint expressed in the song. And is anyone the better off for it?
Speaking of, I guess I should say more about the song. The line “just because we get around” has got to be a reference to the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around,” which was the biggest hit of 1964. Well, aside from everything the Beatles did. So like, the fifth-biggest hit. I think the lyrics in general are, as Joey Tribbiani pretending to be of a different generation once said, wack. “Things they do look awful cold“? What does that even mean? And John’s bass solo is so good that, in some clips I have seen of their early performances, the camera does not even dare to pan over to him while he is playing it, choosing instead to linger on Pete, who is doing nothing. Pete’s true stroke of genius with this song was to give everyone else the hard work, whether vocals or solos, while his only job is to sing “talkin’ ’bout my geeeeenera-ti-on” like an absolute slacker. Well done.
Keith, of course, takes a mile for every inch he is given, although I have to say my favorite points are when he interacts with the other percussive touches on the “call” sections of the call-and-response in each verse: clap, clap, clap-clap *snare*. I was able to better appreciate that once I stopped paying attention to the lyrics. It’s a very satisfying sequence to me.
I also like that there are not one but TWO key changes, a pretty high ratio for a song that just clears the three-minute mark. You really can do whatever you want when you write a song. Don’t box yourself in.
On a practical note, assuming we’re not doing away with the distinctions anytime soon, I would gladly talk about my generation if only I knew what it was. The New Yorker and Atlantic seem to disagree on where the cutoff is. We mid-’90s American kids (I’ve seen TikToks marking the no-man’s-land as wide at ’94-’98) are too young to be defined by True Millennial Crises like the Great Recession and too old to be True Digital Natives with iPhones in middle school (and, in my case, high school). We’re just here, not really knowing what we’re doing or why.
So all you postwar kids, be grateful you at least know what you’re complaining about!
Image: the inimitable but very imitable Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham), Girls S1E1