I have been listening to a lot of internet radio of late. Time and time again, much to my dismay, I have found that the station I tune into is labeled as “Adult Alternative” or as I like to call it “Easy Listening for Generation X.”
How did this happen? I used to be hip, I used to rock. My CD collection was once filled with ripping guitars, pounding bass and plenty of punk attitude. I should have known it was over when I began humming along to Bruce Hornsby while at the bank. Bruce Hornsby? I love Bruce Hornsby, he freaking rocks. Um, no, they play him at banks, anyone played in a bank most assuredly doesn’t rock.
But really, how did this happen? How could my musical tastes go from The Edge to the old man? As usual, the answer lies in Willie Nelson.
I grew up in with hair metal: Def Leppard, Whitesnake, and Poison. Loud guitars, lyrics about sexy chicks and power ballads. I remember playing hide and seek with my cousins while taunting them with the chorus to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Many an afternoon was spent pondering the deeper meaning behind Motley Crues “Girls, Girls, Girls” (ok, so maybe the time was spent ogling the hot girls in the video, but still.)
I knew the Sex Pistols, Operation Ivy and Fugazi. As a teenager I laid my long hair on the floor and let the Smashing Pumpkins panoply of sounds whirl around my head.
In college I met, and subsequently fell in love with a girl by wearing a Dinosaur Jr. t-shirt. She was one of those Punker Than Thou chicks, always out to prove that her music was hipper, that she was cooler, and had more edge in her fingernail than I did in my entire body.
Without fail, every time, she beat me. Sure I knew who Jello Biafro was, and watched Gas, Food Lodging just to see J Mascis. I can name 5 Ramones albums and drove all night to see Sebadoh play at Tipatinas in New Orleans. But she walked circles around me in terms of the bands she had seen, the records she owned, and in general punk cred. I would always lose.
It didn’t help much that I also had a soft spot for Hootie and the Blowfish.
There was a break up. A long, hard break up.
Most people would have retreated into the loud angst of punk and metal, letting their middle finger of attitude kick out the hurt and loss.
Instead I found Willie Nelson’s subtle, quiet and aching album “Stardust.”
For months, every night after the breakup, I retreated to a friend’s place who was also experiencing The Heartbreak.
We would sit up well past the After Hours burning candles, lighting incense, and letting Willie sing our blues away. Often we would talk and curse and holler about the stupid whores that left us. More often than not, we would sit and think and listen.
Stardust is an album of covers, Willie Nelson’s favorite songs. Standards and classics like “Sunny Side of the Street” and “Moonlight in Vermont.” Songs that have been sung a million times, by a million voices; yet Willie sings them like they have never been sung before, as if they were the greatest songs ever sung. And we believe him.
I think I turned away from Punk music because it reminded me of the girl. The anger and the angst didn’t bring me release, only more pain. In something softer, in Willie Nelson, I found the emotional release I needed.
My CD collection is embarrassingly light on the rock and the roll. Gone are the Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies, and Alice in Chains. Now the shelves are filled with Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett and Lucinda Williams.
Periodically, when those pissing matches on who is the most punked punk around get going, I get a little nostalgic for my youth. I break out my old Sonic Youth records, crank up the stereo and feel way too inadequate to jump into the argument.
Adult Alternative listeners just don’t have those types of conversations. No one boasts of seeing Bill Monroe before he got too commercial. Blood is never shed at a folk festival. Hipsters aren’t saving their sweaty t-shirts they wore when they saw Robert Earl Keen at the Tennessee theatre back in ’88.
There just isn’t the attitude with a folk audience. We bring our families, dance with our kids and talk about the weather between sets.
Whenever I start looking in the mirror wondering how I’d look with a nose ring, or a snarl begins to creep upon my lips I turn on Gillian Welch singing “Snowin’ on Raton” or Lucinda William’s “Jackson,” then settle back and tune into the Adult Alternative station.
I’ll never be punk again.