good enough for granddad

6/15/05

Since we’re rounding into the middle of 2005, I think it’s time to look back for a second and pay homage to the Ten Year Anniversary of Generation X’s Last Fad. Around 1995, those of us who were still young and chasing skirt found ourselves running into the Retro Swing era that overtook Los Angeles, featured the music of some fairly decent bands, drove some people to dance class, and culminated in the shooting of “Swingers,” which came out in 1996.

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The Squirrel Nut Zippers in “The Pink House”

Curiously, Chapel Hill played a major part in this micro-era: The Squirrel Nut Zippers hadn’t intended – nor done the focus group research – to be the de facto House Band of Retro Swing, but they stumbled right onto it. Those guys are all friends of ours, lived in our houses, drank our beer, and finally provided us with the breakout national “hit” we’d been expecting since Spin called us “the next Seattle” in 1992.

Jimbo Mathus had been in a band called Metal Flake Mother that produced “Beyond the Java Sea” – arguably, the best-kept secret gem in Chapel Hill music history (an honor I think it should share with Hobex’s “Payback” EP). His new band sounded nothing like them, but managed to keep the lo-fi ethic that made each Squirrel Nut track sound like there was someone from 1923 actually doing laundry with a washboard in the other room. It kept the sound clunky, honest and fun, as opposed to other outfits like Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (“Zoot Suit Riot”).

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20s Party at the Pink House circa 1996: N’Gai, Zia, Jiffer, Chip, Jay, me

By 1997, every sorority girl in the country had “Hell” on their mix tapes, and the Pink House had already had several Roaring 20s parties, where Lars Lucier took nude portraits of all of us once two or three boxes of Franzia wine had been emptied. Later that year, I found myself in Los Angeles with the other Beachwood residents migrating over to the Derby wearing a tie.

By then, however, that entire scene was rather burnt-over, with the detritus of the era tinkling into bad karaoke, and finally, wedding parties. Generation X, whose youngest cohorts turned 18 (with the oldest pushing 40) had seen its last fad. From then on, individual artists in our generation might still lead bands, write novels and inspire teens, but we would never do anything again en masse.

It was a classy ending, I suppose, to those of us who had roller skated in the late 70s, obsessed over Simon LeBon, wore eyeliner with the Cure, participated in the Daisy Age around 1990, threw ourselves into the pit with the likes of Nirvana and the Archers of Loaf, then dropped ecstasy at our final rave.

The randomness and eclecticism of the iPod might have rendered most musical fads a thing from a simpler era, and there’s still time, like Summer says, to see if the ethic of Burning Man keeps Gen X or Y together in some fractured fraternity. But I’d be lying if I say I didn’t miss the brotherhood of experiencing a new movement with all my friends, even if it had been borrowed a hundred times before.

0 thoughts on “good enough for granddad

  1. CarolineM

    I remember the very first night that the Zippers performed in public. I, along with two friends, owned the tiny basement restaurant, Henry’s, where the group played to a stunned audience. If memory serves me correctly, they had only enough material to perform one set, so that when they met with such thunderous enthusiasm for more, more, more, they obliged by doing the same set all over again! You could feel that something special was happening in the room that night. (Lots of special things: little did I know that my future husband was present at that show as well!)
    Ah, Ian…thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    Reply
  2. Just Andrew

    Jimbo (Metal Flake), Tom (What Peggy Wants/TTK) and JW (Sex Police) were all on the same label before getting together for the SNZ.
    If Metal Flake Mother hadn’t imploded, they would be a household name. I was very sad to hear about Randy Ward’s death a couple of years ago. They still top my list of bands I’ve worked with, seen live or to listen to.

    Reply
  3. eric g.

    I gave a friend of a friend a ride home from the A’s game last night, and when he heard I had gone to UNC from 1987-91, he started reeling off the names of all of his favorite bands (Archers of Loaf, Superchunk, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Flat Duo Jets, etc.). This is a guy who’s lived in Jackson, CA and SF all of his life. I never realized that our little corner of the world actually did spill over into other corners there for a while…

    Reply
  4. fiend

    Oh, Just Andrew, you just made my month. After catching Zen Frisbee at a little benefit about a month ago, I started thinking back to the old school CH indie wonders and have been blanking on who Teasing The Korean turned into.
    Sure, I could have googled it, but this is way more fun. Thanks!

    Reply
  5. Pete C

    I think our generation had a couple more musical fads up our sleeves after 1996. One that I’ve been nostalgic for recently has been acid jazz, which crested around 1998-1999.
    Many of us may have been out of our 20s by then, but we still owned that fad. You had to already have the odd Blue Note CD in your collection to get excited about it. And you had to remember the glory days of the 1993 rap scene to understand what it had morphed from.
    Acid jazz spent its best years dovetailing with other musical fads of the time, and had a couple of overplayed hits (“Cantaloop”, “Lucas with the Lid Off”) before it splintered into nu soul, electronica, disco, crossover latin, etc. It was a good run.
    But you already know this. All I’m saying is, I miss that stuff. I’m going to go listen to Red Hot + Rio now.

    Reply

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