Lately I’ve noticed that 30 year cycle of nostalgia rolling across the internet. I happen to get lots of GenX posts on my For You Page on TikTok. If you are born between 1965 and 1979, you are part of this generation. We are a lot like the Lost Generation, which I’ve always been a big fan of. Only instead of surviving World War One, we survived the Cold War.
Though my classmates and I didn’t participate in air raid drills to duck and cover underneath our desks for fear of nuclear war, the subject was always talked about. Our parents, the Baby Boomers, back then were very into themselves. They were the first generation that really had both parents working. They worked hard. They played hard. I won’t get into it.
GenX is characterized mostly by our cynicism and inability to give a fuck. We’ve been Slim Pickens riding the Bomb for a long time. But one of the things we actually did care about–passionately even–was music.
I was at the tail-end of GenX, and so when my musical tastes ripened, I found more identity in the Alternative and Grunge genres than I did hair bands and the earlier “Classic Rock” though I am not ignorant of their contribution. I’ve jammed out to Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, the Doors, then Slaughter, Cinderella, Ratt, and many others. But those jams were not my…er…jam, I guess, as much as what hit in 1990-1998. What I consider the golden era of GenX music.
But here’s the thing that bugs me. People show how little they know about GenX when they think that Nirvana encapsulates the musical experience. Honestly, before Kurt Cobain died, people who listened to music were mostly tired of their shit. Nevermind had a few good songs but mostly it was a novelty experience of listening to Kurt warble incoherently with some garbage lyrics and stoned out of his fucking gourd most of the time. In Utero was some alienating crap with a few mainstream tracks like Heartshaped Box and About a Girl. Unplugged actually gave them verasity. I mean, listen to Scentless Apprentice, (awesome drum track, but the rest of it is some bullshit). Talking up Nirvana is a lot lot telling a Boomer than Woodstock was the ENTIRE experience of the ’60s.
We didn’t wander around playing Smells Like Teen Spirit all damn day. Most people I knew couldn’t even stand Nirvana until Kurt killed himself. The band itself was on the decline by then, with him hitting the horse pretty hard. When he nearly died in Rio, most people figured that was that.
We had other bands too, like Fury in the Slaughterhouse, Love Spit Love, Edwin Collins, Mazzy Star, Pornos for Pyros, Sonic Youth, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, the Samples, Folk Implosion, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Tori Amos, Nine Inch Nails, Machines of Loving Grace, Rollins Band, the Cure, Pantera, Rage Against the Machine, Live, The The, White Zombie, Oasis, the Cranberries, XTC, Jane’s Addiction, Jesus and Mary Chain, Fat Boy Slim, Concrete Blonde, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Stone Temple Pilots, Radiohead, Belly, Veruca Salt, and so many others. Those were just some off the top of my head.
Yet everyone on TikTok plays fucking Smells Like Teen Spirit like any of us actually liked that song. On that album alone, Come as You Are and In Bloom were the actual good songs. Lithium was good too. I had the single! On cassette tape! But it was hardly our anthem.
We also had Enigma, Faith No More, Queensryche, and don’t get me started on 90s R&B and hip hop. We had SWV, TLC, Salt n Pepa, New Edition, Bel Biv Devoe, Beasty Boys!, Sir Mix Alot, then Wu-Tang Clan(!!), Arrested Development, A Tribe Called Quest, Skee-lo, Geto Boys, NWA, and a plethora of others.
Maybe it’s fitting for a generation who were labled disenfranchised slackers as we were coming into our own even then that were as associated with a song that was overplayed and we were sick of even then. A whole generation who hates their birthday because all it does is prove that nobody even comes close to understanding us.
GenX huh? I love Smells Like Teen Spirit!
Yeah? Fuck you.
That isn’t us. Anymore than the Boomers are free love in hippie busses with Mamas and the Papas lilting out the windows, or Vietnam just being Fortunate Son blaring out of the side of a Huey.
They’ve tried to capture the zeitgeist of my generation (and failed) a few times in movies. Reality Bites was one. With Honors was another one. I think Singles came close, but that was very niche and very early GenX. Probably one of the best movies of the time was Kevin Smith’s Clerks. It’s childish and jejune, but the entire concept of “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” caught the spirit of my generation. Maybe Pump Up the Volume, but it was a movie about GenX written by Boomers. Sorta like Hackers, which was a movie about computers or something. Honestly it’s just a spoon for Angelina Jolie.
You want a good GenX movie, hit up Trainspotting. Or even Grosse Pointe Blank. The soundtracks alone…
The reason I’m writing this was because I was listening to my Amazon station and Alanis Morrisette came on. Jeez, I probably wore out my Jagged Little Pill album. I used to like playing it when I was doing dishes and folding laundry. I liked a girl in college who looked like Alanis from the video for “Ironic.” “You Oughta Know” was the weakest song on the album too, but it was shocking so it got play. I liked “Forgiven” and “Head Over Feet” the best. To me, Alanis was closer to the rage and heartbreak of the 90s and being GenX than any Nirvana song.
The disillusionment. The angst. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has somehow ironically become what it was written to make fun of.