I was at the drug store to buy anti-depressants and maxi pads. While I waited for my pick-up, I scanned the newsstand to find anything worth reading when “Suddenly Last Summer” by The Motels drifted over the speaker – a song from my youth, a song from a happier time? I felt the emotional flood that happens in your middle years, that sweet trickle of familiarity, a memory of a moment in time. I thought back to my seven-year-old self, sitting on olive green shag carpet in my bedroom watching MTV videos at midnight.
Somehow, the song felt like one big menstrual cramp. My mother’s music was different. She grew up in the 1950s listening to Johnny Mathis, The Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. She would get teary-eyed and sappy as if she wanted to go back. I felt like Molly Ringwald’s character, Andie Walsh in Pretty In Pink rolling her eyes as Iona daydreams about her prom night, slow-dancing to “Cherish” by The Association.
To my eyes, the pop culture of the 1950s resembled a bubblegum mask to shield children from the realities of the Atomic Bomb. Perhaps it was necessary for society to simplify and coat the culture with icing, a kind of euphoric bubble – the inside protected from a looming terrestrial supernova. It’s not surprising that Disneyland opened in 1955.
So, what’s wrong with my generation? I’m not dreamy about my generation’s nostalgia, growing up in the wake of the Vietnam War, the 1974 gas shortage and the Three Mile Island accident. Nothing was hidden. Music took on a futuristic, synthetic sound only after the nihilistic Punk years, a kind of Dadaistic movement and the end of disco. In the 1980s, behind the angular shoulder pads, Aqua Net hairdos and androgynous makeup, there was a hint of something approaching, like a dead end sign where the asphalt stops. We can’t back up the ‘57 Chevy and turn around.
I wonder if nostalgia works in reverse. Maybe the “Lost Generation” of the Great War looked pensively toward the 1980s future – George Orwell, not so much. Disneyland was brimming with excitement for the future with its Carousel of Progress and Tomorrowland. Today, many people who gravitate toward the Goth subculture – are nostalgic for Steam Punk. I know I was giddy as a gerbil on crack when I first saw The City of Lost Children. It appeals to my desire to bring the “Gilded Age” forward and let it live placidly with The Sex Pistols. Unfortunately, like Goth, Steam Punk has become watered down, glammed up, hair sprayed and fossilized. Looking back on my generation makes me want to pull a urinal out of a gas station, install it in an art gallery and paint a mustache on Bob’s Big Boy.