Tag Archives: MTV

The opposite of Gen X: Neil Diamond and All Time Low

31 May

Neil Diamond poster

I am a Gen Xer by the skin of my teeth, having been born nine months after the Baby Boom shut its doors on December 31, 1964. I’d like to think I embody my generation’s reputation for being “savvy, skeptical and self-reliant,” particularly in terms of musical taste. After wasting our teenage years binging on MTV, we Xers demanded  the seething purity of Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, the Pixies and Sonic Youth. We wouldn’t settle for pop or posers, we of the clove cigarettes and flannel shirts. We would live and breathe the Real for the rest of our existence and pity those who didn’t follow in our Doc Martens’ footsteps.

Therefore, I feel I have to explain why I went to that Neil Diamond concert at the Palace a few months ago …

I don’t have anything against the Jewish Elvis. Diamond was inescapable on 1970s radio but I didn’t give him much mind. I honestly didn’t think he had much of a following. Then my concert buddy Lois called the night of the show with a last-minute request that I join her, her sister and a friend to use their spare ticket – and I learned otherwise.

As I entered the Palace, it was clear there are thousands upon thousands of people who love Neil Diamond – I mean, love Neil Diamond. This was made very public by the messages appearing on the big screens sent from fans in the crowd to #TweetCaroline (nice). Clearly, these folks had been fans for a long, long while:

First concert in 20 years!

So glad to bring my mom

Granny in the house!

Thanks to Lois’ sister being a particularly devoted fan, I was seated directly under the scoreboard at center court: the best seats I’ve ever had at a show at the Palace. (Where, oh where were these when we saw the Black Keys?)

I have to give Diamond his due. His work means a great deal to his fans worldwide, and even at 72 he’s not slacking off. He started promptly at 8:00 with no warm-up act and sauntered through more than two hours of hits, accompanied by a no-nonsense band and two seasoned background singers. I nodded along, tamping down my ageist impulse to snicker at devotees like the gent taking photos with his flip phone. I admire Diamond’s craft and commitment, but his work just doesn’t ring my bell or rattle my cage. As another great pop song writer wrote several generations before, he’s “writing songs of love, but not for me.”


All Time Low tour posterI, the sneering Gen Xer, was equally out of place drowning in a sea of Millenials at the All Time Low concert at the Compuware Sports Arena a few weeks later.

Here’s another act that has no emotional resonance for me; they sound like a Blink-182 cover band doing their best Green Day imitation. My younger daughter, however, has been a rabid fan since kindergarten, thanks to her older sister’s iPod. And she was not alone: the 5,000 seat venue was sold out.

Clearly I was not the only Xer in the place. We parental chaperones and chauffeurs were everywhere, wearing t-shirts indicating the many places we wished we could be instead of in a hockey rink full of screaming teenagers. I wore the shirt I recently got at the Johnny Cash museum in Nashville. The guy in front of me had a B.B. King & Friends tour shirt from 2001; the fella behind me was in a Tigers jersey. One woman even got her CATS shirt out of mothballs. Many of them were also wearing an accessory I should have had the sense to bring: earplugs.

During the three (three!) opening acts and the main attraction, I was under assault. The bass and percussion rattled the stands on the opposite side of the arena. We were sitting in the center section, so whenever the lights spun around they’d go straight through my eyeballs and out the back of my skull. At a certain point, I was doubled over in my seat, my fingers jammed in  my ears and my eyes shut tight. But I was in the minority. Just as at the Neil Diamond show, the majority of the audience knew every word of every song and squealed every time a new one began. They were having fun doggone it, despite me curling up in a ball and running through a mental list of synonyms for “excruciating.”

I know that generational superiority only goes so far when it comes to music. Everyone has his or her own internal soundtrack that draws from decades of material, and what warms one heart leaves another one cold. Rather than rage against music I don’t enjoy, I would be better to allow someone else to take my seat. Otherwise, I will become my dad – a proud member of the Silent Generation – who pretty much summed up all music written after World War II as nothing but “too damn loud.”

See you on the flip side …


5 Apr

Move over Flock of Seagulls - here are the true paragons of great MTV hair

I just finished one of the gazillion rock-themed books I got for Christmas: I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution.

Even though writing about music videos is like dancing about architecture videos, I loved the book. Through first-person narratives from stars, one-hit wonders, producers, VJs, extras and fans, I relived the hours … and hours … I spent watching the channel. I think my record was fourteen hours straight when, due to lack of a social life, I spent New Year’s Eve watching the MTV Video of the Year countdown.

From its first weeks in 1981, when they played whatever REO Speedwagon clip they could find, to 1992 when it earned a place in hell for creating reality television, MTV’s heyday matched my own. It began airing during my sophomore year in high school, so this was probably the one and only time I was part of the national zeitgeist. No wonder I sigh wistfully when I go to a consignment shop and see a shoulder-padded purple leather jacket on the rack. It is a testament to the last time I had any hope of being edgy.

It’s hard to convey to kids today how scary MTV was when it began. It brought unsettling images into the living rooms of suburbia 24/7, many involving hair dye, bra straps, guyliner and that adorable little boy from the Jackson 5 grabbing his crotch. Everything became unhinged. Red blooded American boys were intrigued by that cute chick singing lead vocals for Culture Club. Protestants borrowed rosaries from their Catholic friends to complement their rubber bracelets and lace gloves. AOR stations had to put Prince into their playlists.

In short, MTV created a whole new way for kids to freak parents out.

This guy full on freaked me out ... yet ten years later I was producing drag shows in San FranciscoFun fact from the book: Tom Petty, who is a musical Zelig if there ever was one, was a key reason for the formation of the Parents Music Resource Center. Tipper Gore’s six-year old daughter was watching MTV in another room when “Don’t Come Around Here No More” came on and spooked the bejeezus out of her. Outraged by that and other salacious material the little girl had been watching—unsupervised—Tipper used her influence as a senator’s wife to advocate censorship of “objectionable video content” … no doubt to protect other little girls from mothers who were too distracted to turn off the damn television.

Of course, music videos are alive and well on YouTube, but the thrill is gone. When you can see your favorite video anytime online without sitting through six hours of hair metal first, there’s no sense of achievement. And now, anyone with an iPhone can put together a video that would make Dee Snyder’s hair uncurl. When anything goes, nothing is shocking. Back in the day, MTV was many things but it was never jaded.

So sit back, enjoy one of my favorite videos from a simpler time – and let me know which video you’d endure a day’s worth of Poison and Cinderella just in case it was the one that was going to play next.

See you on the flip side …

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