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.
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”).
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.