Alternative rock: the culture that leads to death?

This post is something of a personal memoir; if you have no interest in reading about popular music from the 1990s and 2000s, feel free to skip this one. 

I can vaguely remember, about 24 years ago, hearing “The Freshmen” for the first time. It was the epitome of the new sound,  something my friends and I called simply “alternative” music. As that drum beat rolled along, I was shocked — this was the first time I had ever heard abortion and suicide mentioned in the same song. But at the same time, I was irrevocably, indelibly hooked.

I couldn’t explain what had hooked me; later I would understand that as a teenager, I felt angst because of my impression that the world around me didn’t really listen to me. And I would connect with angst-filled songs because I identified with the emotions they expressed.

Enter the genre of so-called “alternative” music. This was a never-ending sea of angst, there to make us feel heard and validated. That’s how it seemed then, but nearly 25 years on, it seems much different.

Everything looks different in the rear-view.

As an adult, my mind now goes to the actual suicides (the one from “The Freshman” was fictional) of alt-rock superstars Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, and the overdose of Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland. See, the Verve Pipe was never able to follow up on the success of “The Freshman”, but Cornell, Bennington, and Weiland produced many of alt-rock’s hits through the 90s and early 2000s.

These are not the only alt-rock musicians that have succumbed to suicide or overdose in recent years. Matthew Roberts of 3 doors down was found dead last year after an overdose. There’s Mikey Welsh (Weezer), Mike Star (Alice in Chains), Paul Gray (Slipknot), Dave Brockie (Gwar), Elliott Smith… the list goes on.

Time after time, we failed to recognize danger.

Kurt Cobain

I can vaguely remember when Kurt Cobain of Nirvana killed himself. It shook the rock world. And in the wake of a suicide, people are always apt to sugar-coat things. People said, “We lossed him,” and, “He passed,” just the same as they would have if he had died of old age. But he wasn’t old — he wasn’t even 30 years old. He left behind a wife and a daughter.

Scott Weiland, leader of the band Stone Temple Pilots

Scott Weiland was a complex character, convicted of buying drugs in 1995 and sent to jail for a while; I can still remember radio stations counting down the days until he would be paroled and become able to tour again.  Stone Temple Pilots released a new album and were suddenly back at the top of the charts. 

These alt-rock performers were kings and queens — they could do as they pleased because their respect for the law paled in comparison to their lust for the stage. And nobody penalized them for their misdeeds. Cobain eventually became something of a martyr; Weiland, little more than misunderstood.

We smeared the character of those who made one politically incorrect statement in public; but drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and suicide, were all excused, as long as we fans could keep listening to their angst-filled songs.

If we can’t recognize death, it will kill us.

Obviously, I would never advocate being insensitive about suicide. In the wake of death, it is appropriate to say, “We lost him”. But eventually, there must come a point where we publicly acknowlege that, though we loved the person, we despise what they did. Somehow, that point never came for us, the alt-rock generation. And now, as musicians continue to succumb, we are paying the price.

We weren’t actually being authentic, even though we said we were.

As I look back all these years later, it becomes apparent that we didn’t actually identify with these singers — not the way we thought we did. We didn’t share some kind of good connection with them as we drove down the highway, listening to them scream about infidelities. We weren’t appreciating them — we were using them.

They were our crutch, our escape, our drug. We cared not for their wellbeing; we cared only that they seemed to give us a voice.

The tragedy here is incredibly complex. It seems apparent now that if we, the public, had ever drawn any kind of line in the sand — if we had ever said that violence, harmful drug abuse, or suicide would result in our disavowal of a rock star — it may have made a difference. It seems to work in other genres.

But we never placed any boundary on the behavior of our beloved rock stars. And as they used us to support their lust for the stage, we were happy, so long as we could use them as our loudspeaker. This is the culture that has led to death, and continues to give those on the edge an inkling that violence and suicide are within the realm of what is acceptable.

And that’s why the suicides of three rock superstars should matter to us. We’ve got to make a stand, as the alt-rock generation. Our lives depend on it.

 

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The Manipulation Behind the Millennial Myth

I wrote at length about what I call the Millennial Myth yesterday and how feeding the myth is destructive to our relationships and culture. Today, I was able to find the above video, which captured the essence of my point very clearly.

Here’s the main thing I want to take out of the video: for decades, Americans have been operating based on this chart:

Every 25 years or so represents a new generation, and there are 4 generations, in general, that are alive and entering adulthood right now. This is the conventional wisdom that we have all grown up with, and it’s perfectly normal to hear Gen-Xers complain about Millennials in their workplace, or Baby Boomers talk about how everything was different for their generation, and so on.

The truth is that generations are a myth.

While we all have been told that the above chart is relevant and helpful, we all actually should have been operating with this chart in mind:

The truth is that there are just people — not generations.

There are people around us, and some are young, and some are older than us, and as we live, work, and play we interact with them. That’s it. That’s the truth.

Why is this more true than the Generational Myth?

  • The Generational Myth tells us that Millennials are flighty and frivolous with their money, but actual research reveals the opposite.
  • The Generational Myth told us that Baby Boomers were narcissists (The “me” generation), and now so-called Baby Boomers tell us that the real narcissists are Millennials.
  • The Generational Myth, when you really get into it, doesn’t actually help us describe anyone any better than if we just relied on actual research. That’s because the Generational Myth isn’t real research — it’s just a marketing tool, and it doesn’t help real people learn about other people in any meaningful way.

If you read about generations and feel resentful or superior, there’s a reason for that.

The generational classifications are made to divide people into groups. In order for people to accept the classifications, two elements must be apparent: the majority of each group must:

  • identify in some way with the description of their group, and
  • be content with how they are different from the other groups.

The Generational Myth promotes feelings of how we are better than other groups. This is called superiority. 

The Generational Myth also promotes resentment, because it highlights things we don’t like about people who are older or younger than us.

The Generational Myth also leaves people feeling unaccounted for, if they feel they don’t identify with the description of their group. These people can feel a little superior or a little resentful of their group.

What can you do with people who are resentful or superior?

TELL THEM THINGS!

Once a common enemy is well defined, it is possible to spread messages across groups of people. Now, we might not think of Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers as enemies, but in each generation, there is an obvious message to rally around: we are us! We are not them! And people like us believe this!

SELL THEM THINGS!

This is obvious. Kurt Cobain wrote music that was resentful and individualistic, and people who were resentful and individualistic bought it. Now, Cobain was an honest artist, but marketers didn’t take long to catch on to his popularity and were able to sell a lot of things to a lot of people based on the fact that they all wanted to buck authority.

So if you seem to be alienating another generation, the best thing to do is to quit seeing them as a generation!

Just try to think of them as people, and ask yourself, “What are we doing (or not doing) that may make it hard for some people to identify with us?”

People — not Millennials, not Baby Boomers, not Gen-Xers — are the key.

 

 

 

 

 

A new perspective on the millennial myth

There is a glut of material floating around the interwebs about the so-called millennial generation and how the entire generation is little more than an impedance to the progress of the human race. The fact that the entire generation — which includes people under 36 years of age — lives completely inside of a world created and directed by individuals from the previous generation notwithstanding, millennials have recently been blamed for everything from the death of the American Church to the imminent collapse of capitalism.

We are lazy. We are self-absorbed. We are inexperienced. We are soft.

The stereotype is unflattering. Millennials are an entire generation that grew up with technology and wealth that previous generations could have only dreamed of, and it made them soft, selfish, and somehow incomplete. They did not have to pay their dues in order to gain a middle-class life — not the way that their forebears did.

Life used to be harder. They’ve got it so easy. They didn’t have to sacrifice. They didn’t have to give up anything.

I hope the reader will by now have an inkling of my intention with this post (as if the title did not already give away my intentions). The further we go down the road of millennial-bashing, does it not become obvious that all arguments devolve into the mere “us-versus-them” language that we see in every book, every superhero movie, every plot of every story known to man? I’ll cut to the chase: you need a villain, and so you create one based on any kind of stereotype or characteristic you can muster, in order to cast yourself as the hero.  

When we compare movies to real life, what is the number one thing we usually learn?

Movies can be finished in two hours because they are simple. There is usually good versus bad, they face off, and one side wins. Real life, however, does not have a screenwriter. And while there are often many losers in the world’s big conflicts, there are rarely any true winners.

The millennial/boomer dichotomy is not real.

The weakness inherent in most of the millennial-bashing “literature” can be brought out with a single question: Who are the parents of the so-called millennials? 

(It’s easy to figure out — just subtract about 25 years from the so-called Millennial range of 1980-1995, and you get 1955-1970. Younger Baby boomers and older Gen-Xers.)

One could easily say that we should have never expected anything from the children of pot-smoking, free-loving, anti-authoritarian hippies who never paid back their student loans and reaped huge (and undeserved) gains from the post-war growth of Western economies.

Concert goers at Woodstock, 1969

But that perspective doesn’t get expounded because most of the people doing all the writing about so-called millennials are not themselves millennials. Simon Sinek — not a millennial. Joel Stein (the man who wrote this article) — not a millennial. Up to now, mostly because many millennials are still just entering the workforce — the vast majority of voices contributing to the noise surrounding the millennial myths on the internet are not themselves millennials.

But there’s a better reason as well: Baby boomers (and some old Gen-Xers) are our parents. We know that our parents worked hard, whether in a factory or in an office. We also know, thanks to the hours of documentaries we watched on their cable, that some of them made some bad decisions. But to say that our parents by-and-large are “lazy”? “Pot smokers”? “Hippies”? That’s not something that anyone is really able to say. The real world, it turns out, is a lot more complex than that.

So, IMHO, when we participate in the Millennial/Gen-X/Boomer rivalry, we are not commenting on modern culture. We’re advancing a myth. 

Tell me about how the world is messed up because every millennial got a participation trophy, has a smartphone, and is lazy. I can just as easily say that their trophies and smartphones were given them by Baby boomers, who themselves all have smartphones, and are in massive debt.

Basically, the Millennial stereotype — just like the Baby boomer and the Gen-Xer — is a caricature. It may have some element of reality in it, but it is mostly an inaccurate, insulting representation of an enormous group of people. Just ask any actual Baby boomer.

When we attribute real problems to simplified caricatures, three things happen.

First, we harm our ability to build meaningful relationships with the people we have caricatured. Who wants to be friends with someone who assumes they are lazy, based on merely their birthdate?

Second, we rob ourselves of a more objective perspective on the world. The truth is, for every story about the laziness and self-interested nature of Millennials, one can easily produce a matching story to say the opposite. Laziness? Every generation has always considered the next one lazy. Maybe they are lazy, but in comparison to what? See — it’s subjective, not objective. They  probably aren’t actually any more lazy than their parents were at the same age. Once we come to realize that, it enables us to relate to each other without pretense. But we never come to that place if we insist on keeping up the stereotypes.

Third, social structures begin to crumble. The fact that we all — Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials — choose to think in terms of those stereotypes is a reason that we don’t want to be in groups together. It’s one of the reasons that, once people get to be adults, they leave things that their parents made them participate in. They realize that as long as they stay around, it’ll be hard for the group to view them as adults. It’s something that they never saw their parents have to deal with, and something they would rather not deal with, either.

Conclusion: So what then?

First, abstain, as hard as it might be, from the building of the myth. No generation is really better than another — just different. Generalizing is not wrong, but this post isn’t about mere generalizing — it’s about pitting gross generalizations against each other, to try and justify some form of superiority in comparison to others.

Seek knowledge. The more we read, listen, and talk to others, the more we will understand just how complex our world is, and how much it is different from a movie. We will become more comfortable with the complexity around us, and stop trying to blame the world’s problems on any one group of people.

Be friendly. The more friends we have, the more we will understand about different perspectives. Go out, find someone from a different generation, and be friendly to them — you will not regret it.

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Stop it with all the Music: Millennials are leaving the Church because the Church is worried that Millennials are leaving the Church.

DISCLAIMER: I include myself when I speak about millennials as a group, because I consider myself a millennial. I have not personally left the Church — far from it — but I resonate with many of the attitudes that Millennials feel toward the American Church, and that is why I speak in terms of “we” for this entry. 

Jesus-Tattoo-21-e1349204145916

To understand me, you ought to understand something about American culture and the so-called “millennial generation”.

Millennials are a generation of people who came into adulthood around the year 2000. For me, that fits perfectly — the Clinton presidency coincided with my teenage years; the Second Iraq war and 9/11 both happened while I was in college. I can still remember walking over to my friend’s apartment off campus on the day the Twin Towers came down; his father had come up to make sure we were ok and spend the afternoon watching CNN with us. Those were some of the big memories that characterized my experience of growing up in the United States.

All of these things that I mentioned happened over a decade ago. Someone born at the end of the Clinton presidency would now be learning to drive a car. The towers have been gone for 14 years. 12 years have passed since we entered Iraq. We, the people who experienced these things as high school and college students are no longer in school — we are all adults. And we have been for quite a long time. Many of us now have children of our own. And yet, many in society refuse to acknowledge our adulthood.

Millennials have quit going to church.

One of the trends that people talk about, when they talk about us Millennials as a monolithic entity, is that we no longer feel it necessary to attend church. Indeed, this was the focus of one article that was sent to me recently over at… Red Alert Politics (Please forgive me if I’m not familiar with this news source.).

Though this particular site may be a bit obscure, it does site several bits of research from more well-known sources, the Pew Center, the Public Library of Science, and the Barna Group, that highlight the perceived trend that millennials have quit attending churches in the United States. Twenty-six percent of millennials do not identify with any religion, the highest percentage of any generation.

According to Pew,

Fully one-in-four members of the Millennial generation – so called because they were born after 1980 and began to come of age around the year 2000 – are unaffiliated with any particular faith. Indeed, Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle (20% in the late 1990s) and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults (13% in the late 1970s). Young adults also attend religious services less often than older Americans today. And compared with their elders today, fewer young people say that religion is very important in their lives.

The solutions for the problem are offensive to me, as a millennial.

Many schemes have been developed to combat the trend of millennials leaving the Church. The scheme that people usually identify is the effort on the part of many churches to adopt “cooler” forms of worship music, liturgy, and appearance, thinking that millennials will be more likely to darken the doors of a church if they can hear a drumset and see people in sandals and shorts.

The Red Alert piece acknowledges this trend: “A lot of churches are trying to pander to the youth and it comes off looking ridiculous. Pastors are trying to be the cool step-dad, trying to gain favor with kids that aren’t his,” [RealClearReligion editor Nicholas] Hahn explained.

The first problem with this statement, and with the article that includes it, is that the entire article is about “the Millennials” — a group of people aged 34 to 15 years — and yet this commentator refers to “the youth”. For the vast majority of us, it is no longer correct to refer to us as“youth”. 

The idea offered is that “youth” would consider a church relevant if it appears relevant — that is, if the churchgoers wear “our” clothes and sing “our” type of music. This is offensive. It implies that an entire class of society — the vast majority of whom have left their parents’ homes (75% of Millennials are now on their own) — are too naive to look past such superficial elements as appearance and judge whether a church is making a difference in the lives of actual people. It implies that we still come to church in the way we might have when we attended youth group (the name usually used in churches for their high school ministry) — riding in the back seats of our parents’ minivans, wearing kakhi slacks and polo shirts that we didn’t particularly like.

Furthermore, this analysis implies that we pay attention only to the style of music, and are not qualified to comment on the substantive things that the church actually does with its time and money. It is no wonder that an entire generation has decided to look elsewhere when it attempts to invest in the community.

For millennials, there is no holiness in attending church.

I would imagine that, for most millennials, the notion that attending church has any connection to reforming one’s life is now dead. It is dead because the Church — in spending so much energy changing its style of worship, buying new instruments, and building cooler buildings — has communicated that the most important thing about church is coming to the building for an hour on Sunday morning. Lost is the actual message that the Church was created to communicate — that honesty, sacrifice, and the death and resurrection of Jesus bring renewal and life.

Millennials — the group the Church thought was leaving because of appearances — were looking past appearances the entire time, and what we saw did not appeal to us.

What we saw did not appeal to us. 

Wishard ventures into politics in the second half of his article, highlighting a couple of public statements made by liberal-leaning denominations. The point made is that Millennials are not impressed by social or political liberalism in the Church. 

But I would counter that we are not impressed by conservatism, either. What we’ve seen in the Church is a huge amount of judgment toward any divergence from a political and social ideology with which we aren’t completely in agreement. Whats been communicated is that if we want to follow God, we must support a political agenda that isn’t necessarily found in the pages of Scripture. We’ve heard statements that imply that any questioning of conservative political dogma are stupid, and will be summarily dismissed or corrected. 

Some actual quotes I’ve heard while inside an actual church:

“Capitalism is based on Biblical principles.”

“The ideas young people in our denomination have about politics and economics are literally stupid.”

“Our nation is a Christian nation”

“We are being persecuted by the liberals in the government.”

The Christian message should be about Jesus. 

Even those of us with only a cultural knowledge of Jesus understand that he was unwilling to be drawn into the political debates of his day, and, seeing that fact, we look at the modern Church with a certain amount of confusion. Why does devotion to a decidedly a-political leader require us to support such a message that seems so… political?

Unfortunately, the Church has done a better job of leading people to arguments for ideologies, than to Jesus. 

I’ve written a fair amount on how the Church should be the place for communities of openness, confession, and repentance. I would wager that the absence of Millennials in churches today is a sign that such communities, in general, are not being created among people from the millennial age group. This is the work of the Church, just as becoming a part of such a community is the work of the Christian. 

We left because they said, “Why are they leaving?”

Millennials are wise to all of this talk. We know that our culture is steeped in two centuries of Church tradition, and we know that people are asking where all the kids went. 

But we didn’t leave because of the music. We didn’t leave because of the clothes. We left because a community that cannot see us as adults has neglected to bring us into their process of transformation, and yet has changed their music and appearance in an effort to “bring back the youth”. Instead of willfully and purposefully bringing us into true communion as equals, they have reiterated their idea that we ought to warm the pews for an hour of our Sunday morning, and listen to them equate Jesus’ message with political ideologies, be they liberal or conservative, that are not essential to the gospel message that is found in Scripture. And we left because, on the occasions when Scriptures do seem very clearly to speak to very important socio-political issues in our country that we care about, the Church has seemed to say very little. 

This is why Millennials have left the Church. I’m afraid fixing the problem is much more complicated than changing the style of music.