I was reading Simon’s Blog the other day and (probably only a few hours after my wife read me some excerpts) saw that he had posted some portions of a great article about a new breed of adult that I can totally relate to. You can read the entire article here.
If being a Grup means being 35, and having a job, and using a messenger bag instead of a briefcase, and staying out too late too often, and owning more pairs of sneakers (eleven) than suits (one), and downloading a Hot Hot Heat song from iTunes because it was on a playlist titled “Saturday Errands,” and generally being uneasy and slightly confused about just what it means to be an adult in these modern times—in short, if it means living your life in fundamentally the same way that you did when you were, say, 22—then, let’s face it, I’m a Grup.
Once upon a time, pop culture, and in particular pop music, followed a certain reliable pattern: People listened to bands, like the Doobie Brothers or Cream or Steely Dan, that their Frank Sinatra–loving parents absolutely despised. Then these people had kids, and their kids became teens, and they started listening to bands, like the Clash or Elvis Costello or Joy Division, that their Cream-loving parents absolutely despised.
And then these Clash-listening kids grew up and had kids of their own, and the next generation of kids started listening to music, like Franz Ferdinand and Interpol and Bloc Party, that you might assume their parents would absolutely despise. Except it doesn’t really work that way anymore. In part, because how can their parents hate Interpol when they sound exactly like Joy Division? And in part, because how can their parents hate Bloc Party when their parents just downloaded Bloc Party and think it’s awesome and totally better than the Bravery!
“All of the really good music right now has absolutely precise parallels to the best music of the eighties, from Franz Ferdinand to Interpol to Death Cab—anything you can name,” says Michael Hirschorn, the 42-year-old executive vice-president of original programming and production at VH1. “Plus, the 20-year-olds are all listening to the Cure and New Order anyway. It’s created a kind of mass confusion. I was at the Coachella festival last year, and the groups people were most stoked about were Gang of Four and New Order.” No wonder Grups like today’s indie music: It sounds exactly like the indie music of their youth. Which, as it happens, is what kids today like, too, which is why today’s new music all sounds like it’s twenty years old. And thus the culture grinds to a halt, in a screech of guitar feedback.
As a result, says Hirschorn, “some of the older parents I know who have teenagers claim that there’s no generation gap anymore. They say they get along perfectly with their kids. They listen to the same music. To me, that seems somewhat laughable. But I do remember when I was young, trying to explain the Beatles to my dad, and he didn’t even know who they were. I don’t think that’s possible today.”
Here’s the bad news about kids: They’re not cool. Especially little kids. Like, 2-year-olds? Forget it. Left to their own devices, they don’t dress well, they have no sense of style, and frankly, their musical taste sucks.
Here’s the good news about kids: They’re defenseless. So if you want to put a Ramones T-shirt on your 2-year-old, you don’t need his permission. All you need is for someone to have the great idea to make a 2-year-old-size Ramones T-shirt. (And trust me—someone’s had that idea.) And if you want to play the Strokes for your 4-year-old son, what’s he going to do? I’ll tell you what—he’s going to learn to love the Strokes.
See, Grups aren’t afraid of parenting. Grups don’t avoid having kids. Grups love kids. In part, though, this is because Grups find kids to be perfect little Mr. Potato Head versions of themselves. Of course, there’s more to Grup parenting than simply molding your kid’s tastes. You must be vigilant that you don’t grow up and become uncool yourself. “I recognize that changes and sacrifices are necessary. I do occasionally wake up before nine these days,” says Pollack of parenthood. “But I didn’t want to lose touch with the world’s cultural progress. I didn’t want to freeze myself in time.” So instead of playdates, Pollack invites other cool dads and their kids over for playing (kids), beers (dads), and sampling new CDs (everyone). Or he packs up his toddler for the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Though that plan didn’t work so well. “It was really hot and crowded,” he says. “And the music sucked.” His son apparently concurred.
“It’s hard to say right now, because most of these kids are between the age of zero and 5,” says Pollack. “So they’re still . . . I don’t want to say accessories, but they’re still moldable. You can still sort of play with them.” Although, if you’re planning to take this parental approach, you’d better make damn sure you’ve got good taste. “I find myself arguing with dads about the music their kids like,” he says. “One guy was telling me his son was really into Wilco. And I was telling him that’s lame. Because Wilco is so over.”
In college, I remember a friend of mine playing Public Enemy at high volume at his mother’s house, at which point she sputtered into paroxysms of clichéd parental dismay, saying, quite unironically, “Turn that off! It’s nothing but noise!” Later, we tried to imagine what kind of high-decibel air-raid-siren music our teens might one day listen to, causing us to react the same way. It’s a concept that Pollack, for one, seems literally incapable of processing. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen with this generation,” he says. Besides, he explains, the alternadad’s worst nightmare isn’t that his kid will grow up to be something he doesn’t want him to be. “The worst nightmare for a quote-unquote alternadad,’ ” he says, “is that he’ll grow up to be something he doesn’t want to be.”
And this, improbably, is the happy ending to our story. (And, I admit, I’d hoped for a happy ending; for all the bedhead haircuts and Hives-peddling parents, I wanted this to end well.) Being a Grup isn’t, as it turns out, all about holding on to some misguided, well-marketed idea of youth—or, at least, isn’t just about that. It’s also about rejecting a hand-me-down model of adulthood that asks, or even necessitates, that you let go of everything you ever felt passionate about. It’s about reimagining adulthood as a period defined by promise, rather than compromise. And who can’t relate to that?