Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The genius Xer aesthetic of sadness

If there is one thing that my generation excels in, it is sadness. This is not the same thing, although it obviously overlaps with, the medical concept of depression. And by “sadness”, I also mean something very different from goth/death sub-cultures, who seem to me to be vapid adolescents, whatever their actual age.

It is a mystery to me why happiness gets so much good press compared to sadness. People can, and do wallow in happiness as much as sadness. But IMO sadness has a much greater range than happiness, and so is actually preferable aesthetically.

Here’s a trio of particularly Xer sadnesses, which hopefully show some of the tonal depth and amplitude I’m positing.

My end-of-Year 10 school-formal theme song, as chosen by my classmates and I in 1980 was . . .

. . . "Dust in the Wind" (1976, by a band called Kansas).

The lyrics mournfully proclaim:

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

You get the idea – it’s not the sort of inspirational song that you could imagine 16 year-olds choosing as their celebratory motif in 1970, 1976, or anytime in the last decade, for any reason whatsoever. The reason we chose it in 1980 was singular: a much-liked teacher did a solo-guitar version of it as his “thing”, hence our making it our theme song was a tribute to him. Otherwise, I don’t think that any of us had previously even heard of the song.

Our choice was an inspired one, in hindsight. As a quite genuine personal tribute, it was unimpeachable, yet it made us stand out as freaks more than we could possibly have known, much less intended. The school’s adults were presumably uncomfortable with our dubious taste in selecting an adult (= boomer) dirge for an occasion supposed to be "young" and uplifting, but it was our party, and our underlying choice was due to quite sane, adult motives, rather than to a Jonestown-ian collective death-wish.

Eternal Nightcap (1997 album by The Whitlams)

Picking at the far-left of the piano keyboard is hard to satisfactorily pull-off. Tim Freedman does it – without overdoing it – while at the same time singing. Sorry boomers, but your generation’s acme of exploring sadness through music appears to be the treble warblings of “Hello darkness my old friend”.

“Six Feet Under” – Nate’s funeral episode (third-last of final series, broadcast in Australia 12.01 a.m. 6 June 2006)

If taut enough, sadness can be sustained for small-t tantric lengths of time and experience. Nate’s funeral episode of “Six Feet Under” was a 65 minute masterpiece in this regard. Despite being chock-laden with large and small sadnesses in every second, as a whole it was drum-tight and drum almost-empty. I lost it only once, with the 1994 flashback of Nate and Claire responding to news of Kurt Cobain’s death. Which sounds, and probably is, corny, I know.

But Xers are like that: supreme connoisseurs of sadness. When we let our emotional guards down, which is rarely, we’re as transparent as tears. For the rest of the time meanwhile, we plod on through Boomer-land, as baffling, slightly-unhinged dust in the wind; our heads and our sadnesses down.

Its a good point that I think few people understand or realize -- that sadness and happiness are not necessarily simply two points on a single continuum.
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