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Music and Art

Outside The Outside

I feel like I'm outside the outside. Maybe because I'm in my mid-40s, or because I've been in therapy, I've been examining my past from various angles. Recently I've been having Gen X nostalgia. I'm halfway through a book by Jeff Gordinier called X Saves The World: How Generation X Got The Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking. I do identify strongly with most of what I've read so far. I'm on the young end of Gen X so I missed some of the experiences others had, but I'm there. And as is mentioned in the book, in many ways X is a mindset, not an age. The game was rigged from the start and I lost before I even knew I was playing.

Gen X is much smaller than the boomers or millennials to either side. We were too late to have careers like our parents, and we were too old to have the advantages of being natives to the information age. We are outsiders, both by choice and by circumstance. The world didn't open up like a fresh sunrise that the boomers got, and when we looked over the fence we decided we didn't really want to put up a fight for the rat race anyway. I've always felt like I'd prefer being a mad scientist tinkering away in my lab rather than play the Gordon Gecko game. But that's not what America wants. Bogus.

However, there is one aspect consistently covered by writers on Gen X that bugs me - music. Something inextricably linked to Gen X, and really to every generation, but thanks to MTV Gen X music was even more saturating. Music is a shorthand, Cliff's notes way of framing the attitudes of a generation. And in the coverage of the music makes me even more of an outsider. Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is often held as the moment Gen X hit the mainstream, and I think that's accurate. Though I was never much of a Nirvana fan, I do still listen to Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. But I feel like I'm at risk of loosing my X member card if I'm not a super fan of The Pixies, The Cocteau Twins, and Siouxie and The Banshees. In fact, aside from Nirvana, many authors I've read just give passing mention to the rest of the grunge movement. I just never clicked with the "alternative rock" sound that older X-ers grew up with. I didn't have older siblings and I lived in the great lakes region where trends slowly drifted in from the coasts. I guess it was over by the time it started. Sometimes I feel like the younger sibling of X that mom and dad made X drag along to the beach with her friends.

I'm an X-er, but I'm also a metalhead and a guitarist. That's the music I chose as mine when I hit my early teens. Iron Maiden, Rush, Metallica, Queensryche, the Vai/Satriani/Malmsteen school of shredders, that's my musical home base. Gordinier even singles out Queensryche as a counterpoint for what was on top of the charts when Nirvana broke. So, music, one of the most significant badges worn on the X uniform, marks me as outside that group, too. Maybe some metal is totally in the X wheelhouse, but none of the self appointed spokes-authors for the generation see fit to talk about it. Maybe it's not pretentious enough. It's hard to tell other people you're cooler than they are if you write about metal. Works with The Cure, not so much with Cannibal Corpse.

But, as a metalhead I'm not totally on that train either. Metal fans are a wide and usually welcoming group, but I've never really 'lived' like a metalhead. I don't do the lifestyle. I skimmed around in metal and landed in prog rock and prog metal. Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Echolyn, Seiges Even. Even further outside. Eventually this not-quite-metalhead X-er went to college and studied jazz and classical guitar. A niche of a niche of a niche. Outside the outside the outside. Oh well, whatever, nevermind.
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