Banter M Issue 20

In this issue of ‘Banter M’:

Where Have All The Bad Times Gone? – Chez Pazienza asks why Millennials are so happy, and argues their culture is dangerously deprived of pain, contemplation or a sense of mystery.

The Civil War in London – Ben Cohen reflects on the rapid gentrification of his home town, London and asks whether the city is on the cusp of a major revolution.

Accepting Miley Cyrus’s Bullshit – Jamie Frevele humbly asks you hear her out on the emerging musical and artistic genius of Miley Cyrus.

 

Where Have All The Bad Times Gone?

by Chez Pazienza

I haven’t always been completely uncharitable in my thoughts on Millennials. Back in 2007, when my blog was in its relative infancy, I wrote about hopping a train on a cold, not-yet-spring night in Manhattan and riding out to Nassau to see My Chemical Romance live at the Coliseum. Aside from the ushers and the parents who’d brought their kids — kids dressed in every conceivable shade of black — I was easily the oldest person at the show and, as such, one of those ushers was kind enough to deposit me in a tiny seating area just to the right of the stage, all by myself. It was the Black Paradetour, in support of an album that in my humble opinion remains the best alt-rock record of the 2000s. With that in mind, the show was great. The band did the entireBlack Parade album in order, then left the stage, came back, and performed a bunch of other stuff from previous records.

The piece I wrote, however, wasn’t about the show. It was about my train ride back, as I sat next to a couple of young girls — maybe 15 or 16 at best — still basking in the glow of seeing their favorite band. The two perfectly captured the emo aesthetic but, much to their credit, their look seemed more homegrown (as if Mom had driven them to the local Goodwill) than mass-market (as if Hot Topic have vomited all over them). I sat quietly and listened to them talk about the show: which songs they loved, their favorite members of the band, whether the b-sides were better than the stuff on the actual record etc. Despite the black clothes, the ripped leggings, the faces that looked like The Crow had dragged Eric Draven back from the dead one more time simply to give them make-up tips, they were essentially just normal kids. In fact, there was something sweetly charming — hopeful even — in the fact that their giddy smiles belied all that gloomy camouflage.

While I hated to get all Tom Friedman and draw vast conclusions from momentary personal interactions, my thoughts after spending a little time eavesdropping on these two was that maybe all the talk of the upcoming Millennial generation as a bunch of self-aggrandizing narcissists hopped up on the new power of their own social media brands was nonsense. Maybe kids are always just kids, no matter their place on the historical timeline. As I said toward the end of my piece, when I was growing up, among the people I knew there were the selfish and the benevolent, the arrogant and the humble, the noble and the unscrupulous, the saintly and the depraved, the industrious and the apathetic, the needy and the independent. Our parents feared for our well-being — afraid that the evolving caprices of a new and dangerous world would swallow us whole, or at the very least corrupt us irredeemably. This is how it works for every generation of kids and parents.

Still, as Millennials have evolved into the dominant group in terms of media coverage and national concern, there’s no arguing that certain generational traits are common across their vast expanse. This isn’t meant to suggest that all Millennials are the same. Of course they’re not. But they have shared cultural — and in their case, technological — touchstones that have helped to make them who they are. Their personalities are directly impacted by the age in which they’ve evolved, who their parents happen to be (mostly late-end helicopter Boomers and a few early Gen-Xers before the generational irony and malaise really became a thing), and what kind of technology is available to them to make their lives easier/more self-centric/more on-demand. What I want to know, though, is that throughout their development, what’s happened to music that expresses any kind of angst? What happened to the music of rebellion that’s been a staple of the past couple of generations, the past several decades?

Seriously, think about it: in the 50s there was bebop and the birth of rock-and-roll. In the 60s, there was psychedelia and acid rock, with the youth subculture making sure a substantial portion of pop music was about breaking free from the system. In the 70s and 80s there was punk and metal. In the 90s there was the Seattle sound and the rise of Nine Inch Nails-style industrial. While often a watered down version of what came before it, the 2000s had emo and screamo. Pop music has always, certainly throughout its recent history, reflected the need for young people to express their anger and fear as they moved out into the real world. But that seems to be gone in the 2010s. Whether it’s music aimed at teenagers or even 20-sometimes, the overall sound now is upbeat and cheerful, deprived of pain, contemplation or even a sense of mystery. It used to be that when a someone wrote a song about “the youth” it was about the confusion of growing up. Now when you hear a song about the youth, it’s about how joyous it is to be young and have the whole world ahead of you, complete with the requisite chorus of “Whoooooooas!” and “Ooooooohs!” I’m left wondering where the misfits, and there are always going to be those, turn anymore for the music that makes them feel better or at least understood.

Yeah, I know. I sound like a middle-aged man bitching about “kids these days.” I’m like Cliff Poncier in Singles complaining about where the Misty Mountain Hop is of this new generation. But honestly, it runs deeper than that. Sure, as you get older it’s maybe one of the last rites of passage to begin disliking the entertainment the next generation loves and champions, but I’m not talking about not really getting into, say, Drake; I’m talking about where an entire, and one would think necessary, kind of music went as the Millennial generation emerged and ascended. And it’s not necessarily a rock-versus-everything-else debate either. There’s plenty of angst-ridden music that’s had nothing at all to do with rock-and-roll. The question is about whether there’s a kind of music out there, being made right now, that serves the rage and terror young people sometimes naturally feel as they get older. It really doesn’t seem to be there anymore — and I’m not someone who’s getting this news second-hand because I’m not someone who abandoned new pop music as I grew into middle-age. There’s an argument to be made that you have to dig deep to find that unease in music now — as you’ve sometimes had to before — but there’s another possibility and it’s a really scary one.

Author Bret Easton Ellis wrote a piece for Vanity Fair this week titled “Generation Wuss,” about the Millennials and their particular tics as Ellis sees them. Granted, Ellis is both a Gen-Xer looking down from above and someone who gets most of his insight on the next generation from the fact that he’s dating a Millennial, but some of his points make a lot of sense. He admits his viewpoint is as “one of the most pessimistic and ironic generations that has ever roamed the earth,” but when he says he believes that Millennials as a whole revel in their optimism because they’ve been taught since birth that they’re special by their equally self-obsessed Boomer parents, it feels like it rings true. “Millennials can’t deal with… cold-eye reality,” he writes, after having provided several, admittedly anecdotal, examples. “This is why Generation Wuss only asks right now: please, please, please, only give positive feedback please.” But here’s the thing: What if it’s not just positive feedback they’re looking for? What if, for much of their generation, it’s also positive inspiration? Gen-X, my people, grew up, as Ellis says, detached and ironic, the product of broken marriages and the cynicism of the post-Watergate era. But oddly, Millennials, many of whom grew up or came of age in the post-9/11 era are somehow still brimming with positivity — and that’s reflected in their music.

Back around 2008, I spent a lot of time bemoaning the ascendency of the “tween,” 12 to 13-year-olds whose parents had inexplicably allowed to completely control music and entertainment. We lived through Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber and whatever child star du jour had captured the attention of these little shits because parents ceded their tastes to their kids. Well, if you do the math you’ll find that those kids are now in college; they’re the ones concerned about phantom threats like “microaggressions” and silly violations of whatever identity politics orthodoxy they’ve chosen to align themselves with. They’re terrified of their own shadows, but again, that’s phantom crap, and they still manage to solider through it and be optimistic precisely because they believe they’re creating a better world. Their music is still every bit the treacly, wafer-thin pop it always was. Like great comedy, great music has a thread of suffering running through it — and other than the pre-packaged pain some music traffics in now, there’s no real power, passion or authenticity to the sound of today’s music.

It’s possible that one of the issues with music now is that the mystery of who these bands and artists are and what their lives are like is gone. If you’re an artist now, you’re expected to be the same slave to Instagram and Twitter that everyone else is, putting every minute of your life on display for all the world to see. The problem with this is that it makes musicians and bands no different than everybody else. It makes them relatable in a convivial way, which automatically removes any sense of angst or isolation. They may still sell out arenas, but the music lacks something when you know everything there is to know about the artists performing it (or at least believe you do). Social media has made everyone a celebrity, which in turn contributes to a feeling that everything’s coming up roses, which in turn means that no one has to lean on a guy or girl with a guitar or a keyboard who expresses the genuine pain inside of him or her, pain you can relate to. Now the goal is to get together with friends and joyously toast the world with the liquid from a glow-stick at a giant party that features Avicii pushing a couple of buttons on a giant, multi-colored DJ stand.

Something is lost when there’s no sadness left to express or when it’s buried as a culture and a generation. When there’s no one left to express what little there may be. When everyone is expected to be Soma-high and happy to be alive. There has to be darkness to balance out the light and if there isn’t — or if everyone has decided to pretend there isn’t — there’s something legitimately wrong lurking underneath the shine.

 

The War in London

Gary and Alan Keery at their Cereal Killer Cafe in London

by Ben Cohen

I am currently in London to see family and friends and have yet again been struck by the enormous changes to the city I grew up in. I have written about this before, but have always retained a glimmer of hope that the relentless gentrification would slow down at some point. It has not, and the ramifications of this monied colonization are now beginning to manifest in increasingly overt and precise ways.

For example, the enormous discontent with the status quo was expressed politically with the election of far left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Socially, violent protesters aimed their rage directly at gentrifiers in a traditionally working class area

London, it could be argued, is a microcosm of the epic struggle between rampant market capitalism and human sanity.

The house my parents live in is now surrounded by extraordinarily expensive cars (there’s a Ferrari two doors down) and minor celebrities (the chap who acts in several Guy Ritchie movies is two doors the other way). When I grew up, my neighbors drove Vauxhall Novas and Volkswagen Passats. The most famous person in the neighborhood was an England rugby player’s dad.

Two minutes round the corner is a small road now filled with boutique art shops, an incredibly expensive organic butchers, a wellness centre with New-Agey health care treatments, two fancy coffee shop packed with rich housewives and several new hipster restaurants that have sprung up in the four months I have been away. Growing up there was a video rental store, a small bakery, a butchers run by a bloke with three fingers on each hand and an independent grocery store run by a local family. The independent grocery store is still, by some small miracle, alive and well but has been moved to the far end of the road in a much smaller location. Literally every time I come back to London, there is something new in the street I rented my videos from and the only thing consistent about it is the skin color of the customers.

This has been going on for 15 years and appears to be speeding up. House prices are so high that no one I grew up with can afford to live in the area they were raised in and are moving further and further out of the city. Private schooling for their children is completely out of the question – making rent and having enough left over to pay for groceries is the number one priority, and few have anything left over in the way of savings.

For those not born in middle class families, the outlook is far, far bleaker. The British class structure has now been completely solidified with the nation ranking bottom of all OECD countries in terms of social mobility. In Britain, if you are born rich you stay rich, and if you are born poor you stay poor.

This has been sold to the British public as the natural order of things – a result of its supposedly meritocratic economy that rewards hard work and innovation and punishes laziness. This is demonstrably nonsense and as wealth inequality grows wider and wider, the public is beginning to smell a rat. Being forced out of your own neighborhood while working insane hours to barely make rent does not exactly mesh with the ideals of a free-market, meritocratic utopia.

The unlikely election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour Party leadership is clearly an act of political protest. Corbyn, 66, is a far left activist who opposes Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons and openly declares himself a socialist, a taboo in a country molded by the capitalist mania of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Corbyn, a vegetarian peace activist, has spent much of his career on the fringes of British politics, may not be electable as a Prime Minister, but his meteoric rise within the Labour party represents a drastic shift in leftist circles fed up with being coopted by Blairites and moderates who stand for nothing other than a slightly less appalling version of the status quo. The fringe is no longer the fringe. It is now embedded within the mainstream of British politics and can no longer be dismissed, no matter how hard the media and political establishment try to ridicule him.

Jeremy Corbyn: A voice for change in Britain

Gentrifiers are also experiencing a backlash in increasingly innovative ways from Londoners who have grown sick of the trendification and ethnic purging of their neighborhoods. If the London riots of 2011 an aimless mass of hatred against the police and the establishment, the recent assault on a a hipster cereal bar in trendy East London was a laser sharp attack on the face of gentrification – a symbolic protest against the relentless onslaught of white middle classness. Reported the Guardian:

Hundreds of protesters attacked a cereal cafe in east London on Saturday night, daubing the word “scum” on the shop window and setting fire to an effigy of a police officer.

"Riot police were called in to defend the Cereal Killer Cafe in Shoreditch after it was targeted by a large crowd of anti-gentrification activists carrying pigs’ heads and torches….

The protest was advertised on Facebook as the third Fuck Parade, and was apparently organised by the anarchist group Class War. The event page stated: “Our communities are being ripped apart – by Russian oligarchs, Saudi sheiks, Israeli scumbag property developers, Texan oil-money twats and our own home-grown Eton toffs. Local authorities are coining it in, in a short-sighted race for cash by ‘regenerating’ social housing."

It was arguably unfair to pick on the brothers who started the ‘restaurant’ (I have a soft spot for independent entrepreneurs), but charging the equivalent of $7 for a bowl of cheap cereal in an area with some of the worst child poverty in Britain wasn’t exactly the best way to endear themselves to the local community.

The fact is, the living situation in London for the vast majority of Londoners is becoming complete intolerable – just as it is in other market driven societies around the world. When you spend up to 72 % of your earnings on rent, something has to give. Free market capitalism is a powerful mythology created by the rich, for the rich, and sold to everyone else as an intrinsic part of life itself. It is not, and when enough people stop believing in its inevitability, human sanity may finally prevail. And in Britain it may have started with a vegetarian lefty and an assault on expensive cereal.

 

Accepting Miley Cyrus’s Bullshit

by Jamie Frevele

No matter what your taste in music is, it’s probably safe to say that Miley Cyrus is not one of anyone’s favorite performers right now. It’s not for lack of trying; it’s apparent that she’s trying really hard, and quite often, to make things for people to both look at and hear. But it’s hard to tell exactly what she’s doing. One thing is undeniable though: she’s talented at something.

Hear me out, because I’m going to defend Miley Cyrus now.

Now that Ms. Cyrus has put her tongue back in her mouth, it’s easier to pay more attention to what she’s trying to make, and that is a form of music. Is she alternative? Is she some weird species of country? Is she actually just corporate-manufactured shock pop? Did I just create that term myself just now? Whatever she’s doing, it’s definitely attracting attention, and that’s definitely the first step of cultivating an audience. What I think Miley Cyrus is trying to figure out is who that audience is supposed to be. That, however, can only happen after she figures out who she wants to be and stops caring about what gets her the most attention.

That’s what I think turned everyone off to her a couple of years ago. Everything Miley Cyrus did in 2013 was for the sole purpose of shocking people after spending years as Disney’s darling, Hannah Montana. She’s sexual! She has short hair! She’s sticking her tongue out! She’s naked! She’s taking the drugs! She’s twerking and dry-humping Robin Thicke! And all of this was pretty gross. But at the same time, she was still singing, and she has a hell of a singing voice.

You forgot, didn’t you? Underneath all that childish acting out for the mere sake of begging for attention was a really great singer! Cyrus took a break to remind us that she could sing a couple of times, notably at this year’s 40th anniversary special for Saturday Night Live when she put on your Aunt Zelda’s capris and blazer and gave us all a frankly excellent cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.” It was really nice of her to temporarily drop the crack baby act and be a legitimate performer for once.

But even before that, she still gave us “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop,” which might not be spectacular works of art, but at least in the case of the former, there’s a damn fine song there. If I may be cheeky, that is a fantastic, emotional song with great vocals when it’s stripped of the video, which still isn’t that scandalous despite Miley gyrating naked on a literal wrecking ball. “We Can’t Stop” is even a pretty fun little party anthem with a decent enough sound, until you see the debauched, nonsensical video.

Nonsense seems to be Miley’s schtick, really. I get what she’s trying to do here — any random shit that pops into her head, born of either a giggly sober chat or a smoky, stoned adventure in the wee morning hours, will inevitably become a thing in a thing that she makes. It doesn’t matter what it is. Anything that seems like a good idea will materialize. No, not a good idea. Just any idea. But I get the sense that at 23 years old, which Miley will be next month, this very young artist is still figuring herself out.

Try to remember your early 20s. If you’re in your mid- to late-20s, they seem like they were kinda crazy. If you’re any older than that, they were definitely 100 percent idiotic and pointless. In your early 20s, you’re not being pressured to settle down like previous generations. In your early 20s, you’re a child who can now buy your own alcohol and move out of your parents’ house, and you don’t even have to do that. But you’re still in no way a fully formed person, as much as you totally convince yourself that you are. I think this is Miley’s temporary defect as a musical performer. She has lots of vision. Give her weed and she’ll have even more vision. But she has no discipline while having a lot of talent and a lot of resources, which make her pretty unstoppable as far as producing things go. As we’ve seen, however, that doesn’t mean that everything she wants to make should be made. She’s living an unabashed life, like most millennials, and there’s definitely something empowering in that, especially considering how trapped she probably felt as a child ward of Disney. So, what she’s doing makes sense, but it’s just not all worth sharing. SNL’s “Resident Young Person” Pete Davidson, all of 21 years old, said it best on last year’s season finale when he said he might spend his summer learning how to do his job. Miley just needs to figure out the best way to do her job.