Why did decades stop having personalities?

decades

I saw this quote today and it made me think.

The 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s seem to have all separate, unique personalities, but these last 18 years seem to just be one big chunk of time that has no significant meaning.

Personally, I think decade “personalities” reach back all the way to at least the 1920s.  Although I have no real point of reference for chunks of time earlier than that,  I suspect the growth of mass popular culture (movies, radio, mass produced clothing, magazines, etc.) due to the advance of technology during the early to mid-20th century had a lot to do with the decades developing their own unique “feel.”

It wasn’t just music, entertainment and fashion that defined decades from each other; decades even had their own unique fonts.  You can pretty much tell the vintage of a magazine or paperback book heading or a movie poster by its font.  Colors (and color combinations) and patterns are also telling:  1940s: dark jewel colors; 1950s: aqua and pastels, gingham and boomerang patterns; 1960s: DayGlo colors, paisley, and psychedelic patterns; 1970s: earth colors (specifically, all shades of brown, harvest gold, avocado, and rust); 1980s: mismatched DayGlo colors and clashing abstract patterns, and of course, mauve and hunter green (for home decor); 1990s: the “distressed” look for furniture,  plain white walls, black clothing, tiny floral prints on black backgrounds, heather gray, brown, and lots of plaid flannel.  The 2010s do seem to be defined by the popular “lattice” and oversize houndstooth patterns you find on everything from throw pillows to blankets,  but I can’t think of much else that defines it, other than political statements like MAGA caps or pink pussy hats.

The decades as we think of them don’t generally (or ever) start on January 1 of a new decade.  They could start early, or it could take several years for the next decade to really get underway.  It also isn’t until some years after it began that we actually notice that things changed (that’s why the decade you’re currently in doesn’t seem to have its own personality).

For example, the “sixties” didn’t start until about 1964, with the rise of the Beatles (or possibly, in late 1963, with the assassination of JFK); the “seventies” didn’t begin until sometime in 1974, when early Disco/Philly sound emerged out of earlier funk and R&B; and bell bottoms, Earth shoes and sandals, long straight center parted hair, and long peasant dresses (all more associated with the sixties) suddenly gave way to platform shoes, polyester leisure suits, and sexy Lycra  “disco dresses” in jewel colors.    But it wasn’t until the end of the ’70s, or even the early ’80s, that we realized exactly when the “seventies” started and the “sixties” ended.

The “eighties” started more or less on time (or even early), because disco and its culture had a short run and was replaced with New Wave and power pop music as early as 1978 or 1979.  The eighties ran until the fall of 1991.  The rise of Nirvana and other grunge bands from Seattle commenced the nineties.  Overnight, Generation X was cool and Boomers were just old.  I remember the switch to the nineties well, since I gave birth to my son the very same month “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released, and I remember telling my husband on first seeing the video on MTV, “That song is going to change everything.”  I have no idea how I knew that.

But what happened since the new millennium began?  Why, almost two decades after the year 2000 began, does that decade still seem to have no personality of its own? Why does there seem to be no clear cut off between the late ’90s, the 2000s and 2010s?

Obviously, we are far enough into the 21st century that at least its first decade’s personality would have emerged some time ago.  So it’s not because we haven’t waited long enough.  Now, that could be the case for the 2010s (which we are still in but not for much longer) but not for the 00’s.  But I suspect the reason is something else entirely.

Since 9/11, there’s been a change in the national zeitgeist, a darkening of the overall mood.   People are more suspicious of each other and of the government, and the overall mood is one of distrust and dread.   That distrust and dread, sparked by 9/11, is what led to Trump and the rise of hatred and nationalism, and the disintegration of American democracy.   Pop culture — music, fashion, movies, art, and youth movements — all the things that have traditionally defined the decades take a secondary role to survival itself.   A society that is not thriving doesn’t really care about frivolities, pop culture, and being entertained.  During dark times, people tend not to create a new culture; instead they draw from the past and become nostalgic for happier, more stable and prosperous times.

There’s another reason for the lack of definition of recent decades, one which may be even more important than the darker national zeitgeist.   Technology has continued to advance, to the point that every person can customize their own entertainment.   Up until the 1990s, people tended to listen to the same songs on the radio, watch the same music videos, and shop at almost identical malls scattered across the country.  A mall in Miami was pretty much the same as a mall in Minnesota.  There weren’t 1000 different cable channels.  People bought physical records or CDs because of what they heard on the radio.  In general, there was less choice in entertainment (though many believe the quality was much better).   There was no internet or social media to influence individual opinion or create tiny niche cultures, the way we have today.   Now anyone can start a Youtube channel, anyone can create their own music video or short film and get their own small group of fans or followers.  Anyone can start a blog and sometimes gain a modicum of internet fame from doing so.   Your friend may listen to a band, watch a movie, or be a fan of a comedy series you have never heard of because they have only a tiny niche following on Youtube or Vimeo.   There’s also the isolating nature of today’s entertainment.   People watch videos and listen to music on their phones or iPods instead of turning on the radio for all their friends to enjoy.

And of course, many of us, overwhelmed by too many choices and not enough quality, escape into the past for our entertainment, indulging our need for nostalgia.   The unifying sense of solidarity people once experienced through enjoying a common zeitgeist is almost completely gone.  Now it’s everyone for themselves.   The disintegration of that kind of solidarity may actually have something to do with why Americans stopped caring about each other.

Advertisements

Missing normal.

I was going to write a post, but this piece (I don’t know who the writer is) sums up my feelings as well as I can.

normal

“Tommy” (The Who): full album.

Tommyalbumcover

“Tommy” was one of the first “concept albums” I ever owned, back in the 1970s.  (The album was released in 1969).   “Tommy” may be The Who’s most ambitious project ever, and all the songs tell a story, so they should be listened to in order.

A short synopsis of the story (since this was performed as a rock opera before being released as a concept album, it includes the names of the original cast members):

After seeing his stepfather murder his father during an argument over his mother (Ann Margret), young Tommy goes into shock, suddenly becoming psychosomatically deaf, dumb and blind. As a teenager, Tommy (Roger Daltrey) stumbles upon a pinball machine and discovers he is a natural prodigy at the game. Fame and fortune follow for Tommy, as he first becomes a pinball champion and later the messiah of a religious cult who view his pinball skills as a miraculous sign of divine intervention.

I was just listening to it today (on Youtube), because my original copy (a two album set) was sold in 1994 along with all my other albums I’d collected from the 1960s – 1990s.   The owner of a used record store came to my house and bought my entire collection of about 600+ albums without even looking at the titles.   There was some real shit in there, some of the records or their covers in poor condition, but there were also a lot of classics ones in excellent condition, like my copy of “Tommy.”   The guy just took the whole lot for $300.  I was desperate for the cash at the time, but I still have regrets about getting rid of all of them.

Listening to “Tommy” again today, I was as blown away and haunted by this ‘rock opera’ as I was when I first heard it as a young teen.

For your listening enjoyment, here’s a trip back in time, courtesy of The Who!

1-Overture 00:00
2-It’s a Boy 05:21
3-1921 05:59
4-Amazing Journey 08:48
5-Sparks 12:12
6-The Hawker (Eyesight To The Blind) 15:58
7-Christmas 18:12
8-Cousin Kevin 22:45
9-The Acid Queen 26:52
10-Underture 30:26
11-Do You Think It’s Alright? 40:30
12-Fiddle About 40:55
13-Pinball Wizard 42:26
14-There’s a Doctor 45:28
15-Go to the Mirror! 45:52
16-Tommy Can You Hear Me? 49:40
17-Smash the Mirror 51:15
18-Sensation 52:50
19-Miracle Cure 55:19
20-Sally Simpson 55:31
21-I’m Free 59:42
22-Welcome 1:02:21
23-Tommy’s Holiday Camp 1:06:54
24-We’re Not Gonna Take It 1:07:51
25-See Me, Feel Me 1:11:20

Remembering my favorite seasons of American Idol.

Since Trump got elected, I feel as if a magnet has been taken over the country’s hard drive.  I barely recognize America as my country anymore, and feel almost like I live in an occupied country.   Politics has taken over my mind.   Things I used to care about — like movies, entertainment television, novels, and other “frivolous” pastimes — hardly seem to matter anymore.

But all this obsessing over current events and the political situation all gets a little too much sometimes, and it helps to remember simpler times — like my interest in the singing competition reality show American Idol that lasted from 2006 through about 2009 or 2010 (after that year the show–and my interest in it–went south).    My interest was renewed somewhat in 2014, because one of the contestants, Caleb Johnson, was from my city and went on to win.

I wasn’t that interested in American Idol during its early years (it began airing in 2002 as a summer replacement show), though perhaps I should have been, since two of its most famous winners, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, went on to become major stars who are still making hit records today.   No contestant since has matched their level of success, though several have done well for themselves and have careers in the music industry.

I assumed American Idol was too cheesy to capture my interest (and I won’t deny it could get pretty cheesy), but because my kids were in their early teens and used to watch it, by default I began to watch it too.   The first year I did was in 2006.   It was season 5, the year Chris Daughtry made the Top 4 (and everyone was sure would win).    I watched reluctantly at first, but soon Daughtry, a hard rocker with a post-grunge style very much in vogue at the time,  became my favorite contestant so naturally I had to tune in every week.   I was devastated when he got a shock boot in 4th place.    I didn’t expect that at all. No one did.

In my opinion,  Daughtry’s cover of Fuel’s “Hemorrhage” was one of the best performances ever on this show.

Chris Daughtry’s shocking elimination in 4th place.

Daughtry’s shocking elimination was mitigated somewhat by the fact he became quite successful, with a string of mainstream pop-rock hits over the next few years.

Daughtry’s hit “Home” was used as the elimination song in season 7 every time someone went home (the song played over a film of the contestants’ “journey” on the show.)

The next year I didn’t really have a favorite contestant and didn’t get into it quite as much. A 16 year old named Jordin Sparks won that year.   I would have preferred third placer Melinda Doolittle, a former gospel singer, but that wasn’t to be.   Doolittle’s style probably was a little too old fashioned but she outsang everyone else that season.

2008 (season 7) had its first bona fide rocker win — David Cook, whose style was similar to Chris Daughtry’s.  No one thought Cook would win, but he knew how to play the game, and seemed to top himself every week.  He never had any bad performances. He could cover just about any genre, and make it his own by rearranging the song or by using someone else’s rearrangement that suited him.   2008 was the first year the contestants were allowed to use musical instruments, and David Cook was the first of a long line of white guitar playing male rockers who would keep winning for the next several years (some say this led to the show’s demise).   I was over the moon when he won, because I’d been rooting for him since the auditions and at that time, no one took him very seriously or thought he had any chance at all.

 

Cook’s own rearrangement of the Mariah Carey song “Always Be My Baby”

A performance of his own song, “Anodyne,” which was not on the show, but he performed at many of his concerts on tour.   I’m including it because I love the song, even though the quality here isn’t that good.

The next year, 2009, was the year Adam Lambert, a gay glam rocker, almost won.   Like David Cook, he never had a bad performance, and was creative and innovative, with impressive, unforgettable performances, usually with elaborate stage sets and lighting.   He had a voice that could hit unbelievably high registers, much like Chris Bellamy from The Muse (who was one of his mentors).  Season 8 was a very talented year (some say the most talented year) — all of the Top 4 were great, so it was hard to pick a favorite.   An inexperienced but talented singer named Danny Gokey had a soulful, raw gospel-tinged voice, and most people thought either he or Lambert would win, but neither did.  Gokey finished third.  On finale night, a quiet, unassuming folk-rocker named Kris Allen, who had been building momentum during the last episodes of the season, took the title.   Adam Lambert fans were devastated and shocked.   I wasn’t all that happy with the outcome, as I would have preferred either Lambert or Gokey, but I could see why Allen would take the title. He was very likable and talented in his low-keyed way.

My favorite Adam Lambert performance — a slowed down arrangement of Tears for Fears’ Mad World.

I think season 8 was the last really good season of American Idol.   I watched halfheartedly for the next couple of years, and finally stopped watching at all — and so had my kids, who were entering their 20s and had other interests.

In 2014 though, my daughter mentioned that a boy she had known through her friend in high school (they did not attend the same high school) had made it through the auditions.  His name was Caleb Johnson.   He was a hard rocker with a style reminiscent of the classic rock of the 1970s.     Of course I tuned in to check him out, and saw that he was very good and had a style I enjoyed.   His range was huge.   I didn’t expect he’d go that far though, but every week he kept making it through the rounds, until he made the  Top 3 and a big “homecoming” (a tradition where the Top 3 contestants emerge from the “Idol bubble” and return to their hometowns to be greeted with parades and fanfare) was held here, which I attended.  That was a lot of fun.    I still didn’t think he’d win, but he did.    Unfortunately his album didn’t do very well, but as far as I know, he still makes a living making music and performing at various charity events.

Caleb Johnson’s cover of Aerosmith’s Dream On.

American Idol’s final season was last year, but I didn’t watch any part of it except the finale, because of the tributes to the original judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson, and many of the former contestants.   I don’t even remember who won.    The show has a good legacy, and was cancelled at the right time, after a 15 year run.  It’s peak years seem like the distant past, even though it really wasn’t all that long ago.

 

Long-forgotten one hit wonder I just heard on the radio!

I loved this one hit wonder song when it came out in 1984 but it didn’t receive airplay much beyond its radio life, so like so many other songs that came and went over the years, providing my life’s soundtrack,  I completely forgot about it.

Just a few minutes ago, I heard it on the radio (a local indie-rock station that plays both old and new music), probably the first time in about 20 years.   It’s a song from one of the happier times in my life (which there haven’t too been many of), so it brings back pretty good memories.

I love when that happens.  I wish it would happen more often.  There’s probably so many others songs I completely forgot about, but would remember immediately if I heard them again.

No Doubt also covered this song in 2003.  Their version is just as good.   On  side note, Gwen Stefani appears to be portraying  woman with Histrionic Personality Disorder or maybe BPD.

Raw nerve.

everything_is_fine

Over the past few days I have been extremely anxious, even panicky. I can’t focus enough to write anything or do much of anything else either. I really have no idea why or what might have triggered it.

Last night instead of writing anything, I poked around on nostalgia sites, reminiscing about the things of my childhood, particularly the snack food. My childhood was terrible, but I have fond memories of the various sugary and salty foods I ate (why in %$#& did Buitoni ever stop making those awful but delicious toaster pizzas? Where’s a chalky, non-chewy Giant Sweet-Tart when you need one?) and the toys I played with (those over 45 or 50 or so will remember that Fuzzy Wuzzy soap that grew “hair” just like a Chia pet and had a small but high quality prize inside). These memories bring me a measure of comfort. Things seemed so much simpler before everything started going to hell about 30 years ago and hearts began to harden and greed became good because a movie character named Gordon Gecko said so. Life has just become way too complicated and stressful for someone like me (although I couldn’t live without the Internet, which for someone like me is the best thing that could ever have happened).

Sometimes I feel like I just can’t cope anymore. I’m so tired. I’m getting old. I have too many unresolved psychological issues. I worry about the future constantly. I have a pervasive feeling of nameless dread, as if something terrible is about to happen.

I don’t know where these feelings come from or what might have triggered them, but I feel like a raw nerve and even at work have been jumpy, quick to take offense to everything, and paranoid. I have too many disorders to function well at a job for any length of time, especially when it comes to dealing with others. Sometimes I just wish I could go off by myself and live as a hermit, never having to deal with anyone, but for that you need money and I have no money. I’m caught in a no-win situation.

The job might be part of the problem. I’m burned out; I hate my job. There. I said it. I hate the politics at work, and the favoritism. I’m not a favorite. I have never been a favorite at any job. I can’t play the game; I have never been able to play the game. I wish I didn’t have to work, or could just write and make a living that way. But I can’t, not yet anyway. I don’t want to look for a new job because I know it will be as crappy as the one I have, that I’ll still be forced to deal with people I dislike and who dislike me just as much. I’ll still feel like the odd one out, the employee who is most expendable and always overlooked. I’m so ill suited for the service industry but I can’t get my foot in the door for anything else. I burned all my bridges a long time ago, and now I’m well past 50 and it’s too late to start over in an employment situation or going back to school. My only hope left is to become a professional writer.

The DBT and self-soothing tools I normally use to focus and center are not working. My thoughts are racing and my hands are shaking. My sleep has been fitful. Maybe it’s the heat but I think it’s more than that. I feel like my head will explode. I don’t know what’s really going on with me right now. I need to find a good therapist. I need to be in a relationship but am too scared. I need to write more.

One thing that might be contributing to my high anxiety is caffeine. I’m addicted to coffee. I’m craving some right now, but I don’t think I should make any. I might have to cut down on my favorite beverage–a prospect which itself causes me anxiety.

I spend most of my free time holed up inside the house on this laptop, which is fine when I’m actually being productive, but last night all I did was poke around on random nostalgia sites and Facebook and wrote absolutely nothing. And then felt guilty about it.

I know what I need to do is go out, do something outside the house, get off the computer, but I don’t have the motivation.

Finally I got the idea to just write about my panic-stricken state. After all, this blog was intended to be my therapy, so what have I got to lose?

I can’t get enough of this song.

Here’s a popular country pop song that has more meaning than most current offerings in this genre. I posted the lyric video because I think they’re special. There are those times in our lives we remember many years later because they still remind us that sometimes even the most humdrum life can surprise us with moments of perfect happiness. Those memories keep us going even when the present and future look bleak.
If I played guitar I sure would love to learn how to play this song.

Maybe not the oldest thing I own.

clock_radio_1983

Quite possibly, this GE clock radio maybe among the five oldest things I own (not including photographs). I know it’s not the oldest thing I own but it’s damn near it anyway and the only one I still interact with everyday.

I’ve had the thing since 1983 and it still works like the day I bought it or acquired it or stole it back in the day when I was still called “a kid.”

I remember when my kids were little, they liked to play with it, and that meant dropping it on the floor and pretending it was a factory being hit by a Lego hailstorm.

In spite of their abuse, its sturdy brown plastic housing that’s as firmly attached as a carapace has held up, its cord is supple and undamaged, and its red numerical glow never burned out or faded away. The GE clock still keeps the time and wakes me up with modern country or indie rock instead of Boy George or Cyndi Lauper or Asia.

For 33 years, it has kept up with the changing musical landscape that filters through its tiny but powerful speakers, its tinny sound wafting through my eardrum and finally lodging itself into the long-term memory sector of my brain which transforms the sound into long-forgotten recollections and emotions.

I bet that clock will still be waking me and making me remember until I’m dead and can’t hear it anymore.

Things just aren’t made to last anymore. In 1983, of course, we all said the same thing.

“Simpler times.”

record_player

I remember growing up in the late 1960s and 1970s, I always heard grown-ups talk about the 1950s, which I don’t remember because I was born at the tail-end of that decade. People of my parents’ generation talked about how much simpler things had been in the decade of poodle skirts, The Honeymooners, Chuck Berry, and suburban conformity.

I remember my record player that I got when I was about 6. It was one of those boxy plastic affairs inside an aqua faux-leather box and had a pearlized plastic and chrome handle. It had a dial that said 16-33-45-78. Even back then, 16 rpm and 78 rpm records were pretty much obsolete, but one of my favorite things to do was obsessively play my children’s records on the various settings. My favorite was 78 rpm because it made everything sound like the Chipmunks. It made me laugh. The 16 rpm setting was scary because it made voices sound demonic–like the death metal which was still far off into the future. I used to wonder if there was even a such thing as a 16 rpm record? If so, I never saw one. I do remember a babysitter gave me a molded plastic album filled with her old records from her childhood, which included 78s. They were very small and came in colors other than black. I should have kept them; they would probably be worth something today.

My first album was The Monkees. I was obsessed with the TV show and in love with Mickey Dolenz. I used to play “I’m a Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville” over and over, and kept scraping the needle back over the record to hear those songs again. All the other little girls I knew were in love with Davey Jones, but he just never did it for me. I look at old pictures of Mickey today and wonder what my 8 year old self saw in him. He really wasn’t that cute. One time a babysitter and her boyfriend played a joke on me. She had her boyfriend call and pretend he was Mickey. She handed me the phone and with a twinkle in her eye, said “it’s for you.” I half-believed it was true. I wanted to believe it was true. But when she told me it was a joke, I just said, “oh, okay, I knew it was a joke anyway.” I’m not sure if I did or not. I was so gullible back then. I went back to my room to play my Monkees album again.

the_monkees

I remember the orange and white plastic AM transistor radio I got for Christmas that same year. I was so proud of being able to keep up with all the hit songs. It made me feel so grown up, almost like a teenager. It seemed in those days new songs stayed on the radio for a shorter period of time than they do now–the maximum was about 3 months. “American Pie” was one of the few that remained in rotation for 4 or more months. I lost my radio about a year later when I failed to rake the leaves. When my father found out, he took me out to the garage, told me to bring the radio with me, and as I stood there, he smashed it to bits with a shovel. I was inconsolable. I would have rather been beaten.

I was in my teens during the 1970s and graduated to a real stereo. It was a one-piece console but still a stereo and I could get FM radio, which was considered much cooler than AM. Stereos were a big deal in the 1970s. Outside of fancy stereophonic equipment and color television, we didn’t have a whole lot in the way of entertainment technology. That wouldn’t happen until the 1980s with its VCR and personal computer revolution.

The advances made since the 1980s have been staggering. In the 1990s the Internet was introduced to the public and at first people dismissed it as a fad that would soon pass. Ha! Little did I know that in two decades, it would completely change my life. The Internet was like manna from heaven for socially awkward introverts like myself.

There were also the first cell phones (which almost no one had due to the expense and they didn’t work too well). The turn of the century ushered in the communications revolution, with cellphones beginning to supplement or even replace the old landline phone. The Internet is barely recognizable from what it was in the 1990s. When I look at videos now of the early Internet, it looks so primitive, like something from 100 years ago. It’s hard to believe it was only 20 years ago it looked like that. Things are changing with dizzying speed and time itself seems compressed.

netscape

When I look back on the 1960s and 1970s now, they seem so innocent. Kids didn’t have computers and TV was still pretty limited because so few people had cable TV yet. But what we did get was free. Watching TV became a something families did together after dinner, instead of each family member going off to watch their own show or play a game on their own TV or computer. Kids played outside, because, well, there was nothing else to do. In a technological sense, the 1970s weren’t a whole lot different than the 1950s, even though attitudes had changed pretty drastically.

The 1970s to me seem like another lifetime, not merely 40 or so years ago. Now I hear people talk about “those innocent 1970s” and I laugh because when we were in them, no one thought they were that innocent at all.

With all that said, I’ll leave you with this: