Emasculation and wasted youth

Had a good discussion today with a co-worker whose witty blog included a little insult she hurled at some indie rockers. (UPDATE: She said it’s OK to link.) Let’s just say that if these folks were asked “Are we not men?” these guys couldn’t just shrug it off and answer “We are Devo.”

I asked her if this meant she was sick of the whole “emo” thing. She said she was sick of emo guys, not emo music. I argued that she couldn’t have one without the other, telling her I put aside my dreams of being a classic rock guitarist because, well, I didn’t live the lifestyle.

Then I combined my two biggest interests — music and parenting:

ME: I blame parenting for the whole “emo” thing. These kids are too coddled to spend all day in the garage picking through Jimmy Page and Alex Lifeson riffs. That’s why we have no great guitarists today.

HER: What breeds good guitarists?

ME: Boredom. I was a really good guitarist my junior and senior year of high school. What else was I going to do? Today, kids just isolate themselves with their video games. they might get to Level 49 of whatever game they’re playing, but they’ll never be able to hack their way through the Comfortably Numb guitar solo like I did.

She then argued that kid-friendly rock events were bringing kids into music at a younger age. I countered that it was a fleeting thing, that songs are now disposable items among thousands in a kid’s iPod. She raised a different point — that “kid-friendly” events are taking the rebellion out of music.

And that puts me back to a question I’ve never managed to answer. Do you have to be a rebel to make any worthwhile music?

Sure, some good music is based in rebellion — at the very least, most good musicians break a few rules within the music industry. Yet I always have a bit of skepticism about rebellion rock. They’re so often like the Goth kids in South Park — so nonconformist that they end up conformist. That’s where we stood after several years of “alternative” rock — these guys weren’t “alternative” when they were just fifth-generation Pearl Jam ripoffs. Most hip-hop suffers from being so self-consciously rebellious that it forgets to include any of the elements that make music interesting — melody, good lyrics, a bit of musical drama, etc.

And these days, the kids are concentrating too much of self-conscious rebellion and not enough on the music. They don’t need more tattoos. They need to sit with their guitars until they come up with some riffs that give us a reason to give a damn.

All that said, I know there’s something to be said for having a certain edge. You could put me in front of a drum kit for a thousand years, and I’d never nail the fill from ZZ Top’s LaGrange. I haven’t consumed enough alcohol and pursued enough women within the state of Texas to get that Frank Beard feel. I could probably do some note-perfect renditions of some Hendrix tunes back in the day, but I never, ever sounded anything like Jimi.

But at least I can’t blame my parents for that.

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