Teen Age Riot: Is ’90s Retro the new Classic Rock?

Like many people who are past the 30 mark, I’ve found that I’ve been immersing myself in nostalgia lately. It’s hard not to, really – so many “˜90s bands now find themselves with the ability to fill huge venues they never could have booked in their heydays are doing anniversary tours. As a huge music fan, there’s no way I could turn down the opportunity to see Pavement or Teenage Fanclub or Evan Dando with Juliana Hatfield. Living in a medium-sized city, I didn’t get to see most of these guys in their day, and focusing on the music of my youth is just so much less work than keeping up with what’s new.

Unsurprisingly, I found myself at a Pixies concert last week, one that celebrated the 20th anniversary of the band’s masterpiece album Doolittle (which actually came out in 1989 – they’re on the second year of their “anniversary” tour). Also unsurprisingly, many in the crowd were in their 30s and 40s. I remarked to my husband as we walked in, “Man, there probably isn’t a babysitter to be found in this city tonight.” As I took a closer look around, however, I realized that was doubly true, because in addition to all the parents of young children being at the show, the babysitters that they usually hire – i.e., teenagers – were there in droves as well.

Among the gray-haired men and women in leather jackets and combat boots were teenage boys and girls, also wearing “˜90s-style garb. “What the what?” I thought to myself. “Shouldn’t these kids be listening to some kind of young person band I’m not privy to? Or at the very least, Lady Gaga?”

The Pixies
The Pixies, circa 1990. Both photos courtesy of

Then my mind wandered back to my own early high school years in the late “˜80s/early pre-Nirvana “˜90s. Before the internet and the alt.rock explosion of the early “˜90s, I was too cool to be into mainstream pop and not cool enough to like indie rock pop pioneers like The Replacements or  Husker Du. I dabbled in some early R.E.M. and The Smiths, but without the Internet, I didn’t have the resources to get to the lesser-known stuff that lurked in the realm of college radio. So, I rounded out my ninth grade listening habits by turning to classic rock. Led Zeppelin, The Zombies, and The Kinks, plus classic punk bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash. This is what got me through my teenage angst. It got me through until I discovered Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr., and yes, The Pixies.

The Pixies. Standing there at the 20th anniversary show, I realized something. The Pixies are these kids’ classic rock band. The Pixies are to them in 2011 what The Zombies were to me in 1989. Which means that I am to them what the baby boomers were to a teenage me. My mind was blown, and I suddenly felt very, very old. For the very first time I felt a generation gap in which I was on the Northern side.

So, music fans, young and old, do you feel any of that tension when you go see “nostalgic acts?” Normally I wouldn’t care about age gaps, but for so many of us, music is so intrinsically tied to our early emotional growth that we tend to get greedy about it. Do you resent older audience members who feel possessive over the music of their youth? Do you wish those crazy kids would find their own damn music and leave you to relive your glory days? Or should we all just stop focusing on albums that came out 20 years ago and move on to the new?

By Sissy Larue

30-something, mother-of-two, former rock 'n' roll reporter, currently into retro house-wifey things, bad TV and any movie that I can sneak out of the house to watch.

5 replies on “Teen Age Riot: Is ’90s Retro the new Classic Rock?”

In the last few years I’ve seen The Stiff Little Finger, X, and The Knitters (X’s alt country side project) where I was sort of the mid-range concert goer. There were some kids there who probably found them via their parents, but the target audience was clearly the 40-somethings. So I probably have a couple of years yet before I start becoming the top-end of the target audience. Echo and the Bunnymen are playing this Thursday and I’m still kicking myself for missing Gary Neuman when he was touring last fall. (A good portion of the music I listen to is stuff I was just slightly too young for when I was growing up — late 70s/early 80s punk, New Wave, first wave goth, so I get to hang out on the younger half of the divide for now.)

Ooh, when I saw Sisters of Mercy two years ago, there was, like, no one under 30 in the building. Which is probably why Andrew phoned that shit in.

Anyway, your actual questions: So, music fans, young and old, do you feel any of that tension when you go see “nostalgic acts?” Normally I wouldn’t care about age gaps, but for so many of us, music is so intrinsically tied to our early emotional growth that we tend to get greedy about it. Do you resent older audience members who feel possessive over the music of their youth?

When I was a kid, I tried to bond with my stepfather by liking the music he listened too, and was always hurt when he would brush me off. Now as an adult, I totally see where he was coming from because sometimes I get a little twinged out when I see bands I love being utilized as, say, fashion moments (I saw an episode of Fashionistas where one of the girls was wearing a Jesus and Mary Chain t-shirt and got irrationally upset about it, just like that time I saw Keisha in that Pixies shirt). But I do love sharing my music with my captive younger audience (my daughter and her friends!). I was playing ‘Live Seeds’ (a live Nick Cave/Badseeds cd) in the car the other day and slowly realized that Minibelle was absently singing along with every song that came up, which just made me so happy.

I haven’t passed 30 yet- but I’m approaching it. Last fall I went with my sister (who’s only 18) and my friend (my age) to see Cake. The concert was sponsored by the local alternative rock station and I was expecting a younger crowd- boy was I mistaken! My sister looked like a baby compared to everyone else. She’d been making fun of me for being a dinosaur leading up to the concert and I was very excited to show her that I’m not the only one.

Give it a few years. I don’t think Cake are quite old enough to be “classic” yet — maybe the kids are aware enough of them that they’re not novel. I’d be willing to bet however that in 10 years all of the bands you love(d) will hit that sweet spot where you still consider them kinda sorta current and 15-year-olds will be crazy over them like they’re Jimi Hendrix or something. It’s a weird phenomenon.

The greatest concert I ever went to was a Three Dog Night free outdoor summer show. I was the youngest person there by probably twenty years, easily, but I had a fantastic time.

I’ve always been more into classic rock and oldies than anything current. As I got older, my interests got a little more diverse, but I’ve never been one to keep up with the latest bands, at least not since the height of New Kids on the Block hysteria. My opinion has always been that you like the kind of sounds you like, and who cares what other people think about it. If people want to like a band because of their #1s and not the deep tracks, well, whatever. They’re the ones buying up the mp3s so the band can stay in business. I am more annoyed by the snobs of the bunch than the new kids. (Of course, I say that having been a younger fan of many of my favorites, so…)

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