I am a Gen X’er. What this actually means still seems to be a subject of debate for academics the world over. Speaking for myself, one of the things that defines those of us who identify as from Generation X is a particular taste in music. Actually, I suspect that all people who grew up as part of a socially identified generation have a catalogue of music that they feel represents their world outlook, their relationship with the rest of us on the cold rock at the end of the universe. For those reaching puberty in the 60’s it might have been Jimi Hendrix, opening their minds to wider possibilities. The 70’s had Pink Floyd pushing boundaries even further, purportedly coupling album sequences with the action in Alice in Wonderland. And then, after all that imagination, something strange happened! No matter who you talk to, one fact is indisputable, things went a little awry in the 80’s.
This is what binds us Gen X’ers together I think, an initial despair at music available, an almost pathological disgust at the crap bleeding through the speakers of our mono stereo. Ten years is a long time to listen to Dexy’s Midnight Runners (did you know that the lead singer refused to let anyone on the film set bathe for the duration of the shoot?), Madonna, The B52’s, Hall and Oates, Night Ranger (although that crazy guy on Boogie Nights singing Sister Christian was awesome!) and Duran Duran. When Guns and Roses came and tore it all apart we willingly followed, much to our parents dismay, but things were only getting started. Because the music in the early and mid 90’s was simply sublime, a true reflection of our dissatisfaction from having grown up in the affluent and stable homes that our parents had had the temerity to provide, those inconsiderate adults, don’t they know how hard it is to be us!
Into the void came music that I felt, we all felt, was a mirror image of our own feelings, they told it how it was. For me, it was Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nirvana, Faith No More, Mother Love Bone and…. Tool. Plenty of other music has meant a lot to me both before and after this period, but nothing comes close to this particular fraternity. And of all these bands, Tool still grabs me every time it comes on. Of course these days it is on my iPod instead of a scratchy CD or even, a tape, but I still find myself pausing whenever a Tool song comes on. Of course I no longer share a parallel train of thought with the band (because I am, after all, a husband and father…and generally fond of living a healthy and happy life) but at one time there was certainly something that made me feel something important. And for that reason I sit tonight, with a glass of wine (Maynard would be thrilled) revisiting feelings that I haven’t had in almost twenty years.
In particular a song on their seminal work Ǽnima caused (and continues to cause) confusion and consternation to those of us that hold it dear to our hearts, Stinkfist! What the hell is this song about? Many say it is Maynard’s profession of a certain sexual act, turning us all inside out (no pun intended) with revulsion. But I don’t think this is the case, I think it is an artist choosing, quite deliberately, to fuck with us.
Something has to change.
Boredom’s not a burden
Anyone should bear.
Constant over stimu-lation numbs me
but I would not want you
Any other way.
What Maynard actually meant when Tool wrote Stinkfist is immaterial to me. After all, it is what the song means to the listener that is important, right? And for me it speaks of alienation, a disconnection to the rest of the world… and a search for something else, something real. I remember listening to it late at night, wondering how it was that someone could render in music and lyrics something so unreachable. And isn’t this the thing that keeps us all listening to the music that we love, a feeling of truth, mine just happens to be this weird, dark, disturbing stuff that many of my generation, and my generation alone, will nod sagely at and know, really know, what I am talking about.
How can it mean anything to me
If I really don’t feel anything at all?
Of course, this state of mind is about as far from where I, and my friends, are at these days. Most of us are husbands, wives, fathers and mothers, responsible members of society and – strangely – adherents of those ideals to which we once rebelled, “why don’t all these fucking Gen Y’ers and Millennials respect my world experience, damn it!” It’s funny how life seems to be circular and those things that we once felt were the domain of our successful baby booming parents are now ours, while our formerly boring, straight-laced parents are taking trips to South-East Asia to share street food with Cambodian Theravada Buddhists.
Through all of this anger (Maynard’s, not mine), reflection, and the better part of a bottle of very nice Pinot, I still love Tool and support the erudite words of a close friend of mine who once said, “They are the closest thing to art that I have ever witnessed in music.” Tool’s principal lyricist and singer Maynard James Keenan is these days, a lover and maker of wine, and I can think of no better example of the journey that we all have taken since the early 90’s. He has not sold out, just moved on, as have the rest of us. But late at night, after our family is safely sleeping, we all take a moment to remember where we came from.
One great big festering neon distraction.