[Date Prev][Date Next]   [Thread Prev][Thread Next]   [Date Index][Thread Index][Author Index]

Re: The Dark Age

At 02:28 PM 12/27/2005, Rainer Thelonius Balthasar Straschill wrote:
>Could anyone please explain to me why the Eighties are often referred to
>as "the dark age"?

Funny, I read this different from most of you. I immediately thought "dark 
age" in terms of aesthetic and emotional content, rather than a "period of 
history where progress stopped". When I read other's responses, it really 
left me thinking about this. To me, 80's music had a darkness to it that 
wasn't really there in music of the several decades prior. In much 80's 
music there was rage, melancholy, aggression, coldness, depression, 
rebellion, hopelessness, cynicism, disillusionment, fear, nihilism. New 
wave, punk, techno, rap, death metal, early goth/industrial, etc. 
I'm not talking about pop music, but even superficial 80's synth pop had 
something dark running underneath. To me this era was really, really 
different musically from much of the 50s/60s/70s.

Where I live, this "dark 80's" theme is really popular in dance clubs 
lately - it seems to be a theme many are connecting to again. Maybe that 

It goes back to that context thing we discussed previously. The music of 
the 80's reflected the times, as well as the life experiences of the youth 
who were mostly creating and listening to it. If you can't put yourself 
into that context you won't get it. Growing up in the 70's and 80's didn't 
look like the "leave it to beaver" reruns we watched on TV. For us 
"genXers" our formative years were filled with recessions, oil crisis, 3 
mile island, nuclear annihilation threats, hostages, post 
cynicism, cold war, AIDS, crack, "evil empires", iran/contra, shallow 
yuppie greed, moral majority, S&L collapse, etc. The times were 
and cynical and harsh, and so was the music. We didn't put flowers in our 
hair; we had Slayer.

Also, our generation's culture was (still is) perpetually overshadowed by 
the huge demographic glut of baby-boomer culture. That plays into it 
somehow as well.

(this was the American version/perspective anyway, in other parts of the 
world I think it worked out differently.)

I think the growing-up experiences of the baby-boomer generation were 
really, really different from this. The 50's and 60's were times of 
economic boom and prosperity in America, as well as a time of optimism and 
a belief in changing the "system" for the better. Times and attitudes were 
more positive and happy and idealistic. On the other hand, the good 
and "times of plenty" of their formative years I think also led to a bit 
self-indulgent behavior among many in that generation, a world-view of "we 
want it, give it to us". A sort of spoiled child effect. (the "Me 
Generation" label always struck me as fitting.) All of this I find 
reflected in the music and culture of those times.

And here is where the clash comes, which I find really interesting. I 
there is much more to it than "kids rebel" / "parents don't get it". I 
think these two generations of people, on the level of values and 
choices, really don't understand each other at all. I think most 
baby-boomers, when confronted in the 80's with stuff like Slayer or the 
Cure or Depeche Mode or Public Enemy or Juan Atkins' techno or whichever, 
just couldn't relate to it on an emotional/aesthetic level. I think this 
resulted in a lot of knee-jerk reactions; that we slackers only produced 
crap and couldn't live up to the supposedly glorious era of Woodstock and 
the summer of love. (it still results in that reaction, as evidenced by 
this thread on this list.)

I know from my perspective, I've never been able to relate to most of the 
baby-boomer era's music and culture. Or what I do connect to is not the 
same elements the baby-boomers themselves wish to nostalgize endlessly in 
VH1 documentaries. I can listen and appreciate easily enough, in a 
historical/academic way, but the music mostly doesn't connect with me 
emotionally. I know I'm not alone among genXers in this. Curiously, I've 
always found it much easier to relate to and understand my grandmother's 
generation, whether it was sitting down and talking to them or listening 
their music. They clearly didn't understand the baby-boomers either (and 
vice-versa), and I think it is because their own cultural values were 
formed under such dramatically different conditions (economic depressions, 
world wars), and perhaps a bit more similar to ours.

Somehow, this difference of context has a big impact on culture and music 
specifically, and I think we really need to consider it carefully when 
trying to judge something from one era or another.

Several times now I've had a really amusing conversation, discussing the 
most influential music of the last xx years with groups of 
musically/culturally knowledgeable people. Of course people tend to 
overweight their own era, but it is really interesting to see what 
different groups of people consider important about one specific period. 
For me, being from the later genX generation, two names that immediately 
jump to the top of the influential music list from the 
boomer era are Black Sabbath and Kraftwerk. Both of these held huge 
influence over the music of the 80's, when I was growing up. The eventual 
sounds of Rap, Metal, Techno, Synth Pop, New Wave, and Industrial drew 
considerably from the aesthetic and sound of these two groups. To me that 
seems obvious, being an 80s kid. Certainly pop-music historians have been 
citing Kraftwerk as one of the most influential groups of the last century 
for some time now, as they were such a big influence on early Rap, Techno, 
Industrial, and New Wave. But invariably, the baby-boomer members of these 
discussions have never heard of Kraftwerk! I always find this really 
surprising. How can you produce one of the most influential groups ever 
not know who they were? Name recognition of Black Sabbath is usually 
better, but they are mostly not on the boomer's list either.

To me this is amusing, but also illustrative of this divide in cultural 
aesthetic. Black Sabbath and Kraftwerk were both reflecting a cold 
in their music that the next generation was really going to respond to 
during their "dark age", but most of their own generation didn't 
understand. We noticed their music and ran with it. Meanwhile, from my 
perspective it was really hard to look back at that era and understand 
the big deal was about Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan or many other such 
artists. It was only when I tried to understand the context of their time 
that I understood it at all. But I still don't relate to it.

I also find it really interesting how we pick out musical examples from 
other eras based on our own era's cultural aesthetic. How when I consider 
the 60s/70s era of music, I immediately think of rather unusual groups for 
their times, like Kraftwerk or Black Sabbath, because those are the bits I 
understand. Or how boomers look at the 80's and mostly see examples of 
music that was really a vestigal remnant of their own era, like Journey or 
Def Leppard, and don't know anything about rap or techno or industrial or 
new wave or metal or even punk. we miss all the interesting stuff.

Maybe that's a point I'm arriving at here. You need the context to both 
understand and find what is good. We obviously miss a lot. It leaves me 
wondering about what we may be missing about the present. If the life 
experiences of someone born circa-1950 can be so different from those of 
someone born circa-1970 as to result in such different music, what about 
those born circa-1990? The context of their formative years produces... 
what? Are we missing it?


Kim Flint                     | Looper's Delight
kflint@loopers-delight.com    | http://www.loopers-delight.com