Monday, September 3, 2012
100 Books #83 - Jeff Gordinier's X SAVES THE WORLD
My best friend from college and I were just across the Hudson River from Saugerties, NY the weekend of Woodstock '94, snarling and sneering the whole time at what we'd been very, very sure was going to be a mountain of suck, the Baby Boomer Generation having yet another stab at putting us in our place. We passed around a cartoon that his co-worker had drawn of what Woodstock '94 should really be like: mohawked punk stick figures stomping hippies into the ground, black helicopters spraying machine gun fire, a mushroom cloud detonating on the horizon. It gave us even greater satisfaction than the news that came over local and national media as that foolish weekend wore on that it was exactly the giant corporate suckfest we'd figured it would be, that we were right.
The first third or so of Jeff Gorinier's book is a lot like that, a litany of memories and realities that fueled a bitterness that I had kind of forgotten I'd had.* And for that reason I almost put it aside, despite the recommendations of someone for whom I have more respect than just about anyone on the internet, the blogger who tweets as TamaranOrBust, who has quite an inspiring and interesting post on this topic (actually a series of posts, but the one I link to here is possibly her finest).
Man, am I glad I stuck with this book, though. For the rest of it is an eye-opening, bumptious, raucous, giddy celebration of what we have done while being ignored and what we might still have in us to do. I poured a glass of wine, cranked up a '90s alternative music "station" on Slacker Radio, and smiled my way through the rest of it.
I've been hearing bits here and there of late about how it's time my generation (born in 1970, I'm an Xer by pretty much every measure anyone has suggested) came out of hiding and started taking another stab at keeping what we care about alive in this world: authentic culture, new and old; the right to live a life on the margins without giving up having a say in matters (the analogy of hypermodern chess comes to mind); the right not to be Boomers or Millennials eagerly participating uncritically in a hive mind serving interests that really aren't our own.
But rather than a call to arms or a lecture about the need to start new causes or take on the Boomers who, let's face it, aren't ever going to let go of their economic and cultural dominance while they're on this side of the dirt (but are perfectly willing to finish throwing our parents, the Silents, under the bus, and have found in Paul Ryan the perfect GenX patsy cheerleader to help them do it), Gordinier is more interested in pointing out to us that what we're already doing is (cough) changing the world, by saving the best bits of everything that has come before it it, one hyperfocused hobbyist at a time (like, say, that wonderful soul who put all of that Byzantine Secular Classical Music on YouTube -- to say nothing of those wonderful souls who invented YouTube!), and continually innovating ways to keep bouncing forward all that good stuff AND making new stuff of our own.
And yes, part of what made reading this book such a pleasure for me was the way it forced me to look at how I'm conducting myself through my early 40s, especially as an artist, and to realize that what I'm doing really does matter, even if mass culture doesn't understand or respect it. You guys do. And that's plenty! Which is how this sonnet, describing a rare chance meeting with a fellow beneficiary of my idyllic footnote below, came about.
Really, all I can think of right now, sipping wine and bouncing around my room to Nirvana and Soundgarden, is in The Two Towers (film or book, it doesn't matter, but the moment in the film is nicely done) when Gandalf talks about how the Ents are about to wake up and realize they are strong.
Might just be that we need to pay a little more attention to what our peers are doing and tune out the screech of the Boomillenials a bit more. I've gotten really, really good at the latter, but I could do so much better with the former.
*I had an idyllic, out-of-sync childhood in rural Wyoming, the land the Boomers kind of forgot. That's not to say there weren't any of that age group, far from it, but in a place that takes pride in slogans like "come to Wyoming and turn your clock back 30 years" even the 30-somethings of my childhood were pretty much just Silent Generation types with less grey hair and fewer wrinkles. Us kids had it really, really good in Saratoga, WY in the 1970s, beneficiaries of a sort of Silent Generation conspiracy to filter out most of the crap of the larger world and bring us the good stuff. The Utah Symphony played concerts in our crappy school gymnasium. An amazing old-timey historical tent show called Chatauqua came through every summer. The Texas Opera company staged full on performances in that same crappy gym where the Utah Symphony played and where from time to time mid-level touring ballet companies performed, too. I had an almost-complete collection of Horizon magazines at my disposal. We had a river to splash around in, bike trails to get us anywhere but keep us (mostly) out of car traffic, and a series of truly extraordinary schoolteachers who taught us how to make stone-age hunting tools and build snow caves along with our three Rs. So I was ill-prepared for the real world of the East Coast, where the hostility of Boomers was waiting to dump bucket after bucket of freezing, stinging salt water over my head before I'd even gotten my bearings. I endured it for almost a decade before deciding I'd had enough and moved back to Wyoming, where I was welcomed back with open arms. I tried to give a new generation the kind of advantages I'd enjoyed in my same hometown, but I didn't have enough co-conspirators to achieve the critical mass to pull it off. Ah, me. But now, here I still am, and now there is the internet. Sing praise, Gaudeamus.