For better or worse, we pretty much like the art our parents gave us when we were little. The Picasso poster our mother put in our room sparked our lifelong fascination with modernist art; our father’s Coltrane collection compelled us to try the trumpet. Like religion and political views, our childhood experiences and our parent’s biases on art forever govern us.

Jess Cox

The thing is, rock music is at a crux and everyone has one group of people to blame: their parents. It happened in the ’70s when art school drop-outs were listening to The Velvet Underground and feather-haired pop-rockers hummed The Eagles. In the ’80s some kids got Zoloft-y to the Smiths; others bought Journey records. Ten years ago it was the Pixies versus Matchbox Twenty. And right now, for every square-glasses wearing, SPIN reading, Interpol fan there are four drunken pals giddily singing along to The Darkness.

It’s corporate rock versus indie-rock. RCA versus Matador. Jet versus Spoon. And based on the sheer amount of hurt feelings and bitterness that go along with any music conversation, the great rock debate of our generation cuts right to the bone.

No one wants to be a corporate tool who’s force-fed mindless soft-rock ballads and couldn’t pick David Bowie out of a police lineup. But no one wants to be the chain-smoking East Village kid who refuses to crack a smile when “Gigolo” starts flowing through the speakers at a bleary Saturday night party.

Now the way these things worked in the past is that the art kids call everyone else a “sellout,” make fun of everyone’s favorite band and pretend to like impossibly dense music. The mainstreamers call anything with the least bit of white noise or lyrical opacity “weird,” and dismiss the other kids as hopeless losers. Calmness drapes itself over the land and everyone moves on.

Damn, those were the good old days.

Now, thanks to that girlyman Seth Cohen, the East and West of rock music are, for the first time in history, colliding. Bands like Death Cab for Cutie and The Killers fake the independent music scene of the mid-’80s but wield PR and merchandise machines that would make KISS blush. “The O.C.” and all of its attempts at trendsetting have done some marvelous things for long-suffering, impossibly talented bands like Modest Mouse and The Walkmen. But the Seth Cohen overdrive also means that young music fans carry the soggy, adolescent digitals of Postal Service hand in hand with modern indie-pop luminaries like Carl Newman. Children like me who grew up listening to Sonic Youth and Mission of Burma on the family stereo are confused. And when we get confused, we get angry. A culture of boldly independent music that preached dissension and innovation has been hijacked by bands who create mindless lyrics and overproduced guitar bridges under the umbrella of “college rock.”

Our generation has foggier rock border regions now. Both a devout drone-punk rocker who adores Big Black and a hippie scion who worships at the temple of Fleetwood Mac can, and most likely might, love The Walkmen’s “No Christmas While I’m Talking.”

What makes it even tougher to talk about is that talking about music taste is damn tough to talk about. All the issues we’re sensitive about come to the surface: social class, intelligence, artistic awareness, cultural knowledge and parental fallibility come into play when we talk about what’s fit for the masses and what is “elite” music.

We can banter all day about what bands are in what boxes, but most of the time we’ve been in one mindset since the day we asked our parents to ditch the Raffi albums and give us big kid music — strained peas and lullabies to PB&J sandwiches and The Rolling Stones. But for the kids whose parents feasted on Chicago, well, when you decide you love Franz Ferdinand or The Strokes, welcome to the party. You’ve got a lot of history to learn. Blame your parents or at least Seth Cohen.

 

Help Evan plot the demise of Seth Cohen by e-mailing him at evanbmcg@umich.edu

 

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