Sunday, September 21, 2003

“Authority sucks, but just a little”
(aka “Eeek! I’m the same age as Ruth Ostrow”)

Journalist-sexologist Ruth Ostrow (b.~1964*) turns out to have been a child prodigy when it came to backing the right pop-culture horse. In her regular Australian column yesterday (no URL), Ruth recounts the disappointment of a recent, “Walk on the Wild Side”-less Lou Reed concert in Brisbane. But never mind, it was Art Garfunkel (who has also toured Brisbane recently), who made the bigger impact on Ruth’s childhood:

While others were getting ripped and getting high, my youth looked more like a scene from The Graduate, with Scarborough Fair and Sounds of Silence playing pensively, moodily in the background.

Given that Ruth was all of about eight when “Walk on the Wild Side” (Transformer, 1972) came out, I’m not surprised that Ruth chose to retreat from the company of her acid-dropping, bong-chugging fellow Grade-3’rs, and find solace in some folksy power-ballads from her toddler years (1966-68). But nonetheless, I’m still mightily impressed, and a teensy bit jealous, at the eight year old Ruth for even having hanged-out on the fringes of this crew:

Everyone is telling stories about where they were when Walk on the Wild Side became a hit. What they were doing, who they were sleeping with.

Which leaves me feeling rather inadequate. I didn’t even hear of Lou Reed until the mid-80s. While I can’t remember my actual musical preferences at eight years old, given that within two years they were dominated by ABBA and Queen, I think it can safely be assumed that my lack of Lou Reed awareness in 1972 was NOT because he was such a parvenu – “I mean, compared to the fuckin’ Stooges, man . . .”

Alternatively, of course, Ruth may simply be lying about her age. Either way, I discovered via a poke around the internet that the Western world is awash with those who claim to be boomer “tail enders".

This guy (born 1960) bemoaned his runt-status in 1995, when it seemed that the easy money in real estate had all been already snaffled up by those greedy generations who came before the boomers:

And by the time I was finally able to shop the housing market, the sale was over. The residential gold rush of the 1970s and 1980s had tailed off--which some analysts say had to do with baby boomers reaching the home-buying stage.

For Susan Mitchell (born c.1959), there was actually a double-whammy effect:

I got screwed in the housing market. Job competition, I can assure you, was very strong throughout my life. There's no doubt there were situations where I felt I was jostled by too many elbows.

Was very strong, and “throughout my life”? (And this was written in 1997, when Susan was all of 38). Maybe things had gotten so tough for her by then, what with the “young people today . . . benefiting from a labor market so tight that they're coming out and almost naming their salary” (same URL) that Susan decided to pack it all in. Somehow, I doubt it, however.

Because, let’s face it, being at the self-described tail-end does have its privileges – one of which is that life can easily become a self-congratulatory whine-fest about how “we wuz robbed”, even of the “Gen X” moniker itself:

I was born in 1962, I am part of what Coupland originally called Generation X. Generation X originally referred to the tail end of the baby boom. It was too cool of a name for that group of losers, so the younger crowd hijacked the name and it now refers to people born between 1965 and 1980.

So can I (born 1964) join this self-described “losers” club, and start ranting against “the younger crowd”? Yes, just – according to the “1946-1964” masthead of But this track very soon becomes circular – if I’m indeed an “ageing hipster”, it must mean I was cool once, before (i) I “sold out” and/or (ii) the wheels just fell off. Pete, the actual guy behind, is not re-assuring here:

For me, the horrible reality of actually working was my defining moment. My first corporate job was a stark contrast to the life I had been leading. Sell-out? Yeah, probably.

At 39, I’m still waiting (in the Centrelink queue) for “my first corporate job” – which of course is fine, “selling out” wise, but just a little bit uncomfortable and spooky given that the latest instalment of is all about boomers and the funeral industry. Again, I’m being shamed by prodigies – this time the Ruth Ostrows of the world are riding high on the death trip, while I’m still waiting for the show to get on the road in the first place.

So where am I to go, “tail end” wise? The approach of, to call the end of the boom in 1958 (with Madonna as the Last Boomer) has some possibilities. But again this only brings us back to the Ruth paradox – that musically, it just doesn’t work for me, getting lumped in-wise. This guy (born 1961) comes close, with a plausible enough argument for a lost generation of those born between 1960 and 1967 (whose music = “the Bee Gees and the dawning of androgynous rock bands”), but he all but otherwise loses my enrolment form with this clanger:

Baby boomers are now successful business people and presidents and excessive campaign contributors who drive BMWs and Saabs and Volvos and are starting to put kids through college. I'm still a full tier below that. I drive a Honda and a Jeep

Yeah mate – my other 4WD is a bicycle, too – NOT.

Last, but not least, is this valiant attempt by a guy born c.1959, to construct a more detailed musicological demographic: the “punk generation”:

We came of age in the late '70s and early '80s listening to the Sex Pistols, Devo, Talking Heads, B-52s, Elvis Costello, Ramones, etc.

Hey, now you’re talking! During first year uni in the big city in 1984, I finally chucked off the legacy of my country-town childhood ABBA and Queen music taste mistakes, and discovered a whole new world – music of the now, and the recent past. It was PIL more than Sex Pistols, mind, and it took me until second year to burrow back to 1972 and Lou Reed – and that was via a dodgy T-Rex tangent – but I did it! Or did I? I’ll leave it to the punk generation’s chief theorist to sum things up:

We took from our era's music an attitude, a swagger that said "authority sucks, but just a little." (same URL)

* I haven’t been able to confirm Ruth Ostrow’s year of birth; I place it at/near 1964 because in her 21 September 2003 column “Nostalgia junkies lose out” she professes to be a "tail ender" of “the baby boomers born from 1945 to 1964”.

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