The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'aging'
It is an early afternoon during the Easter bank holiday weekend, at an indiepop weekender at an art venue in Cardiff. A band is playing on stage, fuzzy guitar lines, drums and female vocals mixing together. The audience, or those who have arrived early, are standing and watching; they tend to be in their mid-30s and older; women wear hair slides and floral/polka-dot dresses, while the Mod Dad look, with Fred Perry polo shirts, short hair and sideburns, is popular among the menfolk. In front of the stage, what might have once been the mosh pit is now a children's play area, replete with LED-illuminated balloons. about four or five young children run around, squealing and bouncing the balloons. Wearing ear protectors, they appear to be unaware of the grown-ups on the stage holding guitars, the relationship between them doing this and the sound coming out of the speakers, or that there would be any reason to not run around in front of the stage. The concept of a “gig” seems to be alien to them. Elsewhere, smaller children bop gently up and down in time to the music in their mothers' hands, animated by parental enthusiasm; they gawp bewilderedly, their faces showing only undifferentiated emotion. The squawls of babies fill the gaps between songs and add a novel accompaniment to the jangly melodies. Occasionally, a musty odour fills the air and a balding guy in a faded Milky Wimpshake T-shirt leaves hurriedly, carrying a discomforted-looking infant to a baby-changing area.
Once upon a time, pop/rock/alternative music consumption was strictly for teenagers; you got into it when the adolescence hormones hit your bloodstream and you needed something that was yours and not your parents', spent a few years spending your pocket money on 7" records and dressing in a way your grown-up self might later find as embarrassing as your parents did at the time, and dropped it just as quickly when you Grew Up, got a job, married and had kids of your own and were saddled with the burden of adult responsibilities which you would carry unto the grave. Gradually the boundaries got pushed back, and a whole market of “adult-oriented rock” emerged; engineered to soothe the nerves of stressed Responsible Adults whilst providing them with just enough of a hit of what excited their younger selves a quarter-century earlier, it tended to a sort of soaring, platitudinal blandness; a weak substitute for what had been forfeited. Though over the past few decades, the idea that one must check one's musical/subcultural identity at the door of adulthood has been eroded even further. The pioneers may well have been the Goths, who stubbornly refused to Grow Out Of It well into middle age and beyond; though soon, the commodification of cool into cultural capital opened the doors further, until soon we had shops in trendy areas selling Ramones baby clothes and lullaby renditions of The Cure and Nirvana, and bands classified, back-handedly, as “dad-rock” or “dad-house”. This isn't completely universal—after all, supermarkets flog millions of records by the likes of Coldplay and Ed Sheeran for people who either never were into music or else vaguely remember what it felt like but have no desire to regress to that phase of their lives—but one no longer has to be a fringe-dwelling bohemian to remain particular about music
Of all the genres and subcultures, though, the indiepop scene seems to have become uniquely small-child-inclusive. As a critical mass of indiepop kids hit middle age and have kids of their own, they are more likely to bring them, en masse, to gigs and festivals, and adapt the events themselves for the kids; songs with rude words are dropped or bowdlerised, balloons are provided, and the gig becomes a mass playdate first, and a musical performance only tangentially to this. Flocks of toddlers run around, yelping and shouting gleefully, and it is seen to be their right to do so; anybody who objects to this getting in the way of their enjoyment of the music may as well be a fascist or a Tory or something equally unspeakable. The music's almost just a side product for the parents' benefit. Elsewhere, there are indiepop baby discos, acclimatising young ears to Belle & Sebastian and Allo Darlin' from an early age. Perhaps, elsewhere, there are pint-sized punks pogoing anarchically to toddler-friendly renditions of Anarchy In The UK, baby discos spinning gnarly brostep, or black-clad toddlers running around like swarms of ground-hugging bats at the Whitby Gothic Weekend, but such possibilities notwithstanding, this seems to be peculiar to indiepop. There are no boisterous toddlers at, say, shoegaze, psych or post-rock gigs; other festivals may have a few small children in attendance, but they are fewer in number, and where special provision has been made for them, it is away from the stages.
Why indiepop has, upon its members' parenthood, shifted wholesale into a toddler-friendly environment is not certain. Perhaps it's a natural outgrowth of the “twee” signifier, which originated in the 1980s as a rejection of the hypermasculinity of hardcore and/or post-punk rock, instead embracing, with varying degrees of irony, the signifiers of childhood. Much in the way that things that start as ironic appropriations often end up shedding the irony and continuing with some degree of sincerity (as seen, for example, with the “ironic” sexism of 1990s “lad” magazines), a scene whose zines and button badges copied old children's books might transform from a subculture questioning the inherent conservatism in the childish/mature dichotomy to a subculture tailor-made for small children and their parents.
It'll be interesting to see whether the toddlerification of indiepop changes the subject matter of it more than removing the word “fuck” from lyrics. Thematically, indiepop songs do tend to hover around adolescence and its long decay envelope, with themes of crushes, break-ups and being in or out of love cropping up disproportionately often. These days, this is even more so than in, say, the C86 days, as “twee” became stylised and codified into a somewhat excessively fey, cupcakey aesthetic, and some of the oddness of 1980s-vintage indie has been replaced by chaste adolescent romance like a plot from an Archie comic soundtracked by vintage Motown girl groups. Perhaps as the under-5 demographic at indiepop gigs swells, these themes will be displaced to some extent by songs about dinosaurs, monkeys, pirates, rocket ships, monkeys who are rocket-ship pirates, poop and other things more likely to appeal to actual small children.
Secondly, it will be interesting to see what a generation of kids who were brought up listening to twee pop from birth end up doing when adolescence, and the need to individuate themselves, hits them.
The Quietus has a piece on the decline (if not reversal) of the equation of rock'n'roll with youth, as evidenced in the recent milestone of a 70-year-old Mick Jagger fronting the stage at Glastonbury:
Most of my predictions as a music journalist have come to grief in the near three decades I've been practising the art but one at least, which I first made 25 years ago, has successfully come to pass – that rock groups would still be touring in their 70s. Others demurred at this – we're talking about a time when a 45-year-old John Peel was considered unfeasibly senior still to be hauling his old bones to Fall gigs, like some old tennis pro ill-advisedly hitting the tournament circuit for yet another hurrah. This was a time when rock & roll still just about considered itself youth culture and the first crease had yet to be ironed into its jeans. In the 80s, the mid-20s was considered some significant cut-off point. When Q magazine was launched, it was aimed at what it considered an audaciously senior, Jeremy Clarkson-style demographic – the over-25s. Still earlier, it was still worse. In 1964, Melody Maker ran a concerned editorial about the ageing Beatles drummer entitled “Ringo – Too Old To Rock At 24?”
It's not so much that the old guard of artists have necessarily redeemed themselves, or rediscovered their old powers, it's that the critical mood has changed. The iconoclastic scepticism of the punk generation gave way, in the conservative, nostalgic, Oasis-dominated 1990s to a reverence for wealth, prestige, superstardom, a longing for the old days of mega-mania, rather than interesting, diverse, locally sourced clusters of new music. This has gradually intensified, as a sense grows that the mainstream rock narrative has run its course, the smoke is clearing, and we can look back at the legends of yore with renewed biographical clarity, their often trite sayings and doings regarded with utter fascination, their present day activities reviewed with slavering, uncritical awe.Rock'n'roll's focus on youth was itself an anomaly amongst established genres; in other genres such as jazz and blues, artists have often created work, and often groundbreaking work, well into advanced age (the article mentions Duke Ellington and Sonny Rollins); rock, however, started as a commercialised adaptation of the blues, packaged into 7" singles and marketed at teenagers, and remained tied to youth until its intrinsic momentum as a genre overwhelmed the scaffolding of commerce and/or a generation of middle-aged people refused to give up rock'n'roll and start listening to something more age-appropriate like, say, Mantovani or Harry Belafonte.
There are countless examples from the avant-garde world that old age doesn't dim the creative powers and reduce them to a twilight of tea and biscuits, Max Bygraves and the 'Semprini Serenade'. Musique concrète composers like Luc Ferrari, Henri Pousseur and of course Karlheinz Stockhausen were still operating on the ultra-radical fringes of music before they died of eventual, natural causes early in the 21st century. The same can be said of Derek Bailey, vigorous and active and expanding the guitar lexicon way beyond the confines of rock until his death, aged 75.
Quite simply, music isn't sport. You can perform to the physical level required well into your senior years. Your faculties, health permitting, are quite capable of seeing you through the flails and thrashes and moves like Jagger. This is an extremely gratifying spectacle because, of course, the rock audience itself is growing older year by year, and is most pleased to see that while death will claim us all, old age (as lived out by previous generations sometimes from about their mid-30s onwards if old photos are anything to go by) need not. And so it will go on. I predict rock groups touring and working into their 80s, maybe 90s, with the 70+ brigade, currently a relatively select group, a commonplace band filled out by the likes of Prince, Elvis Costello, Dexys. No one stops. Why would they? Why should they?The article also mentions David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney, and finishes with taking Jagger to task for taking the easy way out and resting on the laurels of mega-celebrity rather than pushing boundaries:
And so, happy birthday, Mick Jagger. You truly deserve your slice of cake. You are, after all, Fucking Mick Jagger. Never mind “Sir” Mick Jagger; you should replace the “Sir” with “Fucking” and insist, at all times on that far more appropriate mode of address. You should have a party. Only, don't invite the Kate Mosses, Chris Martins and the rest of the showbiz kids – you know they don't give a fuck about anybody else. Invite your own contemporaries, who deserve their slice of cake also. Invite Leonard Cohen. Invite Alan Vega, who just turned 75 but whose group Suicide have never enjoyed the good commercial fortune their innovations deserved. Invite Hans-Joachim Roedelius, whose birth in October 1934 is the very first event on the krautrock timeline, whose work with Kluster and later Cluster is foundational in the histories of noise and ambient respectively, and who is still cutting it, as shown in his very latest release Tiden. Invite Irmin Schmidt and Jaki Liebezeit, surviving founder members of Can, whose continued inventions (on the Cyclopean EP for example) are a discreet counterpoint to Kraftwerk's more widely feted Touring Synthpop Museum. Invite Joni Mitchell, who might have a thing or two to say about why women aren't necessarily granted the same indulgence to carry on being rock stars into their senior years as their male counterparts. Happy birthday and rock on – we know you will.Meanwhile elsewhere, how Guns'n'Roses' Chinese Democracy made possible the current wave of comeback albums, including albums like My Bloody Valentine's m b v and the new Kraftwerk, Stone Roses and Smiths albums we'll almost certainly hear over the next few years.
Meanwhile, the slogan “punk's not dead” is vividly illustrated by an annual festival in Blackpool, where original punk bands from the 1970s and 1980s reunite to play sets and the veterans of the punk scene momentarily put aside whatever accommodations they had since made with the status quo and return to the glorious mayhem of their youth:
"The original punks stand out because they're older and fatter, and struggle to do the pogo now," Rooney says. Many once fearsome punk rockers are now cuddly parents, who bring punk rock babies in punk T-shirts and earmuffs. Their parents' record collections or the internet lure slightly older youngsters into seeing what this threat to society was all about.
"If you're singing about being downtrodden, 90% of the population is going to identify with it," Bondage says. "I'd be prepared to kill off punk if we lived in a perfect world. But it isn't. Punk's the modern blues."
New York is facing an onslaught of middle-aged subway taggers; latchkey kids from the 1970s and 1980s who never put graffiti vandalism behind them, or else who decided to recapture their lost youth, spurred on by one thing or another to pick up their spraycans and get back into the game:
In torn jeans and saddled with a black backpack, Andrew Witten glances up and down the street for police. The 51-year-old then whips out a black marker scribbles "Zephyr" on a wall covered with movie posters. He admires his work for a few seconds before his tattooed arms reach for his daughter, holding her hand as he briskly walks away.
Witten's brush with fame now often comes with his freelance art writing and his sporadic visits to his daughter's school, where he teaches her classmates how to draw. Lulu knows her father draws "crazy art," a term she picked up from seeing graffiti on trains.
For decades, Ortiz, 45, has been known on Manhattan's Lower East Side as LA II. A traumatic loss of a girlfriend brought him out of a 14-year hiatus from graffiti writing. He has since been caught three times spraying his tag on property, each time while walking a friend's dog. "Everywhere that dog stopped to pee I would write my name," Ortiz says. "The streets were like my canvases. I just started writing my name everywhere."Alternatively, it could be argued that he and his dog bonded by participating in territory-marking activities together.
Perhaps the inevitable result of the aging of the punk rock generation: a middle-aged Cardiff punk band named Punks Not Dad has written a song about pottering about in the shed. It arguably captures the spirit of punk—the short sharp shock, the brusquely defiant assertion of one's right to be antisocial—in a more authentic fashion than many of the meticulously stylised, overengineered Sex Pistols/Buzzcocks/Clash copyists young enough to be these blokes' sons fighting for the cover of the NME these days:
Theres a place where I wanna be -
get away from the family
Where a bloke can be a bloke
put me feet up have a smoke
If you want me - you know where to find me If you need me - you’ll know where to look…
In me shed - varnishing a picture frame
In me shed - mending a toaster
In me shed - doing the sudoku
In me shed in me shed
(via Boing Boing)
A nursing home in Düsseldolf has come up with a novel way of dealing with stray Alzheimer's patients; they set up a fake bus stop outside the home:
“It sounds funny,” said Old Lions Chairman Franz-Josef Goebel, “but it helps. Our members are 84 years-old on average. Their short-term memory hardly works at all, but the long-term memory is still active. They know the green and yellow bus sign and remember that waiting there means they will go home.” The result is that errant patients now wait for their trip home at the bus stop, before quickly forgetting why they were there in the first place.
(via Boing Boing)
As alternative-rock fans age and, in many cases, start families, a US company has brought out lullaby versions of alternative rock songs. Hip parents can now soothe their kids to sleep with mellow, ambient renditions of Metallica, The Cure, Tool, Radiohead and such played on glockenspiels and acoustic guitars (or, indeed, Coldplay, who for some reason are still classified as "alternative" (presumably because of their shaggy indie-boy haircuts or something) rather than filed next to Dido, Celine Dion and James Blunt in the adult-contemporary section). Yesteryear's teen rebellion becomes today's nursery music.
Lullaby. A whisper. The Cure's music is just like heaven to their fans. Beautiful, infinite and captivating, The Cure's best work captures a dreamy sense of love and longing. This album is a mesmerizing and serene take on the kind of quirky, romantic songs that the Cure helped make famous. If only tonight we could sleep as soundly as your child will after hearing these interpretations of The Cure.
I wonder what else we could see get the lullaby treatment. Nine Inch Nails perhaps, or Limp Bizkit? NWA? 90s rave techno? Perhaps this phenomenon will cross over with Nouvelle Vague, giving post-punk parents baby-friendly versions of the Buzzcocks and Bauhaus and such.
(via Boing Boing)
Web entrepreneurs are attempting to adapt the MySpace formula, massively successful with teenagers and twentysomething, to the huge baby-boomer demographic. One attempt is Eons.com, which replaces the pop music and cool animated ads with brain-exercising games, a longevity calculator and an obituary notification service:
"Many people no longer live where they grew up so the idea of a rich story about someone's life in a local newspaper is often lost," said Taylor, who sees online obituaries replacing the traditional death announcements in newspapers.
He said baby boomers, the 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, also wanted to have a greater input into their own funerals. This prompted Eons.com to look into a service where people could plan for their favorite songs to be played at their funeral and where friends and family can go afterward for food and drink.
More evidence of neoteny being a characteristic of evolutionary advancement: as coping the modern world requires more flexibility, immaturity levels in adults are rising. Which sounds alarming, until you consider that "maturity" (and the nebulous "wisdom" that comes with it) is a sclerotic set-in-one's-ways inflexibility and resistance to change, which no longer cuts it:
"The psychological neoteny effect of formal education is an accidental by-product -- the main role of education is to increase general, abstract intelligence and prepare for economic activity," he explained. "But formal education requires a child-like stance of receptivity to new learning, and cognitive flexibility."
"When formal education continues into the early twenties," he continued, "it probably, to an extent, counteracts the attainment of psychological maturity, which would otherwise occur at about this age.
While the human mind responds to new information over the course of any individuals lifetime, Charlton argues that past physical environments were more stable and allowed for a state of psychological maturity. In hunter-gatherer societies, that maturity was probably achieved during a persons late teens or early twenties, he said.
By contrast, many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people," he said.Some of the symptoms of neoteny include novelty-seeking, which ties in with the possibility of a "neophilia gene" previously mentioned here. In fact, if there was a genetic mutation that caused neophilia, the abovementioned article suggests that, in today's environment, it would be strongly selected for.
If today's Cat and Girl is anything to go by, the chav phenomenon has jumped the Atlantic and they've already got them in New York:
While we're there, this Cat and Girl, from a few weeks earlier, is also really good. A small excerpt:goes goth: the same idea eight years earlier, though he was being ironic.
(via Cat and Girl, bOING bOING)
A BBC TV programme is using computer-based photo-aging technology to model the effects of decades eating junk food:
I wonder what algorithm chose the grey sweatshirt/polo shirt in the aged images.
As the baby boomers reach old age, the latest threat to public order is "Hell's Grannies", raising mayhem on their motorised wheelchairs.
Former NME editor Paul Morley comments on the spectacle of Glen Matlock complaining about the amount of swearing on TV, and asks whether the former Sex Pistol, now a middle-aged family man, has turned against what he stood for, whether he really stood for it in the first place, or whether he has a point:
Clearly, Matlock has decided that as a musician, as an entertainer, he is going to grow old gracefully, even if this means spending most of his time as an unknown. He will not be an expletive-packing Pistol cursing freely into his 50s and 60s, committed to the cause of perpetuating a wild image even as the wrinkles deepen, the flesh softens and the desire crumples. Gene Simmons of Kiss, Alice Cooper, indeed Lemmy are not the right role models for Matlock as he approaches 50, which even if it is the new 40 is not really close enough to the magic years of the 20s where in the old-fashioned sense you can, in a dignified way, wreck yourself, and possibly elements of surrounding civilisation.
Then again, those of us who are watching rich celeb chef Jamie Oliver swear his way through his school dinners show actually might agree with Matlock that there really is too much swearing on television. Middle-of-the-road TV programming freely tosses in the obscenities to suggest there is grit and realism where really there is just frantic emptiness. Matlock might actually be anxious that the swearing is in the wrong mouths, that dull people are exploiting mock controversy as an easy route to commercial attention and that as an ex-Pistol who witnessed the Grundy incident he's responsible for that, and embarrassed by it.
Today I turned 30. Which means that I'm now no longer in my 20s, and only through the modern miracle of extended adolescence do I have five more years in the prime lifestyle-product marketing demographic.
Funny, as I don't feel any different than I did when I was 29; the number-rollover shock that usually hits me twice at this time of year (as it does when you're born close to the start of the year) wasn't any more severe than last year; probably because I was aware of my being about to turn 30 for some time.
Either that or it's senility setting in.
Another piece of cheerful news I can't resist passing on, given that I've just gotten a year older: new research shows that young women no longer dig older men; so, guys, if you were hoping that age would give you an aura of sophistication, and the sorts of cute chicks that ignored you when you were their age would be irresistably drawn to you and away from the immature young studs their age, prepare to be disappointed. (Not that it's a personal issue for me right now, mind you; just passing on the good tidings.)
(All of a sudden, I feel like putting on Pulp's Help the Aged.)
A study at Imperial College, London has found that eccentrics become more extreme with age. The researchers speculate that this is due to the human nervous system becoming less plastic, and less capable of covering up eccentricities to better fit in. Though Eliot from whom I got the link suggests it may be due to people becoming less concerned about others' opinions as they grow old. Though I wonder whether, given that thought and consciousness are physical processes, one is not a physical side-effect of the other.