Since we openly mock the Boomer obsession with their music, particularly the whole The Beatles are the greatest band in human history nonsense, it occurred to me to think about what music is most representational of, and influential for, my generation. Keep in mind that a generation’s music is not necessarily produced by its own members; John Lennon was not a Boomer, but The Beatles were most certainly not the Silent generation’s music. This is not a science of any kind, much less precise analytical engineering, but it’s surprisingly informative, as I think you’ll find if you contemplate the subject yourself.
Everyone knows that Gen X is generally considered to be prone to apathy and despair. But it also has a strain of resilience, and even irrational optimism, albeit an optimism in which it has no confidence. I think this is the result of the great disappointment of 1989-90, in which unexpected hope was rapidly transformed into disappointment and heightened cynicism after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union did not prove to be harbingers of a better and more peaceful world.
I suspect one reason Generation X and the Zoomers will relate well is that both are heavily traumatized generations; Gen X by childhood divorce and the AIDS crisis, and Zoomers by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has been much harder on them than most people realize. But both generations are survivors at heart, which is a theme that persists through even Generation X’s happiest, poppiest melodies.
Anyhow, here’s my list of ten songs, in no particular order. I would include Prince’s 1999, but that might be more of a Minnesota thing.
- I Ran, A Flock of Seagulls. The first big musical departure plus a familiar lyrical theme.
- In a Big Country, Big Country. Too early and not popular enough to be THE Gen X song.
- With Or Without You, U2. Like them or not, U2 is the Gen X Beatles. I prefer Streets myself.
- Right Here, Right Now, Jesus Jones. It’s almost painful to recall that short-lived optimism now.
- Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana. Musical and lyrical sarcasm plus the definitive Gen X lyric.
- Blurry, Puddle of Mudd. Exemplifies the Gen X perspective on divorce and children.
- You Get What You Give, New Radicals. The writer could be the generational poster boy.
- Living on a Prayer, Jon Bon Jovi. Sad, but true. I prefer Metallica, but we have to be honest.
- Killing in the Name Of, Rage Against the Machine. A succinct response to Boomer advice.
- Loser, Beck. Says it all in just six notes.