It’s been a while since I wrote. The usual holiday melee came on the heels of a surprisingly successful silent film tour in October. Getting time to collect my thoughts has been difficult.
But today, I’m 40. Gotta put something up today.
I’ve spent the last year feeling like I’m already 40 and many years dreading it. But as it approached, I’ve felt better and better about it. Big thanks to Reed Burnam whose thoughts on 40 helped make that the case. It took three years for those thoughts to settle in my brain, but I’m there.
It seems like losing relevance and fear of not measuring up are the big things that scare us about 40 – or any milestone age. I’ve been thinking a lot about the first one.
For me, a fear of loss of relevance has long seemed ridiculous. Who/what is relevant? And to what?
It seems most peoples’ answers to both lies with the coveted teen-to-young-adult demographic and the zeitgeist surrounding them.
Throughout my life, I’ve heard adults (usually parents) say things like, “I don’t know what’s cool anymore.” I have a specific memory of my Aunt Diane saying this and thinking – this is going to happen to me someday.
I finally had a brush with that about 5 years ago when I found myself managing high school aged interns at my day job. During that period, I went from being the same age as their older siblings and cousins to being the same age as their parents. We often listened to music and I realized I was way out of touch with what young people were listening to at the time. Not a single one of them listened to rock music. They liked more dance-pop and hip-hop/rap. Drake and Rihanna were big with them. When I played Guns n Roses “Sweet Child o’ Mine” only one of them recognized it (thanks Guitar Hero!). They thought what I listened to was mostly very, very weird and lots of times very old. It is pretty weird actually… I mean, I listen to pretty off-the-wall stuff even among most people my age. I also I got on a Louis Armstrong kick on Pandora which seemed ancient to the interns.
My music taste wasn’t relevant to them. They had no context for it.
I thought – wow… I’m officially uncool. Then I thought, “but I never have been.” Not even when I was a late teen and young adult. I still find Radiohead boring. Nu-metal put me off metal for a long time.
But even writing myself off (or on?) as an outsider isn’t totally accurate. Afterall, I “discovered” Faith No More and Nirvana the same way the interns discovered Drake and Rihanna — mass media. In my case, MTV and the multiple rock radio stations in DFW that all played the same 14 songs over and over all day.
And just like me with Drake and Rihanna, people my parents’ age weren’t paying attention. Nirvana went on to have an almost Beatles level of popularity and 15 years after Kurt Cobain’s death, my dad bought a copy of Nervermind when VH-1 included it on their list of the greatest albums of all time. He listened to it and likes it… but In 1991, it was just another tape of kids’ music that seemed irrelevant to him. He paid it no attention.
To my interns, I was just another “old” person at their job paying no attention to their interests. Most of them came to appreciate my youthful spirit. One of them was shocked when he learned I was 37 — and younger that Cee-Lo Green. He guessed 25. Bless him.
And there’s where the relativity of relevance is apparent. 25 seems almost a whole life away to a 15 year old. 37 is even harder to grasp for them.
Relevance is relative to the beholder’s context. My aunt may not have known what was cool to her kids but this is a woman with hundreds of friends and connections. Among her peers, she’s pretty cool.
Big media’s roll in our experiences and tastes does’t make them any more or less relevant to you or those around you.
Cool young adults may have become the pop culture taste makers but theirs is not the only experience. The 5-7 year period of young adulthood is less than 10% of life expectancy. The idea that 90% of our lives are somehow not relevant is absurd especially considering the achievements by people older (or younger!) than 18-23.
What’s “cool” changes as we age and gain more experience. The first live show I ever saw as an Austin resident was a Thrill Jockey band from Chicago who I won’t name at Stubb’s. I loved the guitarist! I pulled the CD out for the first time in a very long a few years ago and… it was so boring to me. There’s not a single melody on the album. Just lots of cool rhythmic stuff and some solos. Now it sounds to me like a musical cheese pizza – a good foundation served without any toppings. Some people like cheese pizza. I sure did.
In spite of our evolving tastes, our desire to be forever young makes us jealous of young adults and lately the curmudgeonly use of “hipster” as a derogatory term has come into everyday language. To me, this seems like a modern day version of “young whipper snapper” and only confirms one’s status as a cranky old fart.
Most people I hear complaining about hipsters WERE hipsters… or ARE hipsters that’ve just aged out of young adulthood and feel left behind. I think the best solution to that is simply to participate!
And that’s all that young people are really doing. They’re presented with something and they participate. It’s only those of us who’ve aged that think we have anything to lose by trying something new. Silly.
Throughout my 20s, I met lots of people older than me that I referred to as aging hipsters before the term came to be a negative epithet. They defy the stereotype of straight laced, white bread and seemingly boring adults I knew as a teenager. They retain their youthful sense of adventure and willingness to try/learn new things without falling into the common traps of drug addiction or bad relationships. They have few responsibilities but are not irresponsible. Their path is far, far more appealing than that of the cranky old fart full of regrets. Many have been my best friends, band mates and colleagues. I’m happy today to have aged into their ranks!