Who does not love a good coming-of-age story? That indescribable, indefinable moment when a child becomes an “adult” (whatever that means); or more accurately, the moment when a decision is made that sets the course for adulthood. We all have these moments, starting about the same time as the dreaded puberty, where the road forked and we made a choice to go this way or that.
The decision to stand with classmates getting stoned but not get stoned ourselves. The decision to kiss the nice, “appropriate” boy (or girl), or the one who makes your heart race. The decision to break a curfew, skip a class, defy a rule. The decision to be yourself, even if that means facing rejection, punishment or “failure”. The decision to grow up.
The problem with my coming-of-age is that it happened in the 80’s. I literally turned 13, officially a teenager, in the summer of 1980 and spent 1981-1989 in high school and college and so THOSE are the most formative years I had when it came time to “discover myself”. The 1980’s, for those of you who just crawled out from under a rock or were born later (???!!!), were known as the decade of “greed” and “excess”. You can look it up, if you don’t believe me. Or watch Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, that explains it pretty well.
My generation, known by the less-than-loving moniker “Generation X”, has developed something of a reputation for a particular brand of selfishness, supposedly born out of the unfortunate timing of our coming-of-age years. I think we can best explain our refusal to conform to societal standards by exploring the soundtrack of our youth.
The music you listened to growing up (especially when coming-of-age) is a powerful, powerful thing, and there have been studies to prove it. Lock a bunch of senior citizens up for the weekend and make them listen to the music of their younger years and guess what happens? Stamina returns, medical tests improve. Like a magic trick, immersing them in the music of yesteryear makes their bodies respond as though it were yesteryear, and if that isn’t an amazing thing, I don’t know what is.
So let’s talk about the music of the 80’s, and the powerful, regenerative force it holds for my generation. Actually, first let’s talk about the universal agreement we now all have that the music of the 80’s sort of sucked. Ahhhh, it feels good to admit that, doesn’t it? At the same time, I am the very first person in the world to crank Hall and Oates You Make My Dreams (Come True) when I hear it on the radio. No shame in it, either.
The thing you have to appreciate here is that teenagers are CRAZY. Right? Even the ones who seem okay, we know all about their under-developed brains and how they respond to a zit like a five alarm fire, so let’s just accept that point. Being crazy, not only do they attach incredible significance to ideas and events that are utterly unimportant, but they also feel a bizarre level of passion for some really lame things (shout out to Taylor Swift!!!)
Take me, for example. I wore pink and green when preppy was in, wore designer jeans so everyone knew my ass had good taste and LOVED the groups A-ha and Naked Eyes. I’m not saying any of it was right, I’m just telling you how it was. And if you think I don’t belt out Take on Me EVERY-SINGLE-TIME I happen upon it, you are very naïve indeed.
So now, my point: remember Tears for Fears, Everybody Wants to Rule the World?
Ha-ha-ha, of course you do, who could forget a song that still gets an otherworldly amount of air play? That song, in addition to being pretty craptastic, is also obviously dictatorial, but without making a real point. That song, bossy in a universal way, seems to promote stalking and controlling but not planning or even making sense. Stop Making Sense was a hit for The Talking Heads in the 80’s, in fact.
This music, this credo, became sort of emblematic for my generation. We desire to rule the world in a theoretical way, not in the way of planned mergers or hostile takeovers. We want to rule the world by being ourselves and not letting anything interfere with that. The 80’s, that much maligned era of “greed” and “excess”, seems to have spawned an army of people who would rather not play by the rules.
Who would rather not conform to the standard. Who would rather not “play nicely with others”, if the others feel the need to tell us the “right” way to do things. We want to rule our world, and we don’t really care if anyone else approves of it.
It seems ungenerous to pin this whole thing on Tears for Fears, so let’s spread the wealth of blame: how about The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me? Holy cow stalker, what an unconvincing case you make for yourself! You better start loving me again or we will both be sorry? I am going to force my will upon you, even though I really can’t tell you why (does he even once say it’s because HE loves HER? Brrrr, CREEPY).
Or take Animotion’s Obsession…please. On the one hand, I am a possession, unopened at your feet. On the other hand—I will not accept defeat, I will find a way and I will have you. Hmmm. Sounds like SOMEONE needs a Snickers. And a restraining order.
And let’s not forget We’re Not Gonna Take It (self-explanatory), I Want You to Want Me (let me tell you how to feel about me), Every Breath You Take ( let me tell you how I feel about you even if you don’t care one bit. Oh, and btw I’m stalking you), and One Way or Another (Jesus Wept).
The list goes on, my friends. People talk a lot about Gen X being “anti-establishment” and I think you can look no further than the music we grew up with to see why we are such a my-way-or-the-highway generation. I was brainwashed into being a bossy, megalomaniacal, stalker-like, vaguely-informed madwoman!!!
If only I had been a teenager in the 60’s, THEN I could accept that you can’t always get what you want! Or in the 70’s—I’m easy, I love the one I’m with, we’re all be free to be you and me! 80’s, you screwed me!!! And now I am going to hunt you down and force you to be exactly the way I want you to be, just like you taught me to do.
But then again…my fellow Gen-X-ers, my peers, are the most unique, interesting group of people I have ever encountered. There is very little “greed” in the traditional sense, only a driving desire to be authentic and whole. And yes, we seek out like minded souls and attempt to create together by thinking outside the box and understanding that our authority is the ONLY authority as far as we are concerned.
Is that wrong? If you think it is, then you don’t understand that everybody actually does WANT to rule the world. But only a few of us have the guts to try.