When: January 2009
Where: Gold Line southbound (Lake Station)
Who: Assorted strangers
Welcome to 2009. I should warn you that things are gonna get rough. The decade from hell might be at a close, but they’re going out with a bang. The economy is getting worse. Jersey Shore is premiering, and Dubstep has taken over the world. What little quality music does exist for the “hipster” crowd is high-pitched and difficult. And despite the fact that everyone seems to enjoy my company, I’m far from having a good time, at least until November.
I had almost all of January off for winter break, and I spent it as an intern at The Young Turks. Mostly, I filled out Excel spreadsheets, but occasionally I selected music and got to meet famous people. Like the Evolution of Dance guy.
But it felt wrong. I didn’t belong there. And I was didn’t know how to feel about a broham like Cenk, who I’d only previously known through my computer screen and a few chance encounters. “I’m sick of doing fucking pop culture stories,” Ana said to Dave when she didn’t know I was listening. I couldn’t blame her; the pop culture segments are to me the most depressing part of the show. On the other hand, I got to be there for the Obama inauguration, and occasionally showed up onscreen, so I’d probably speak more favorably of the experience at the time.
Anyway, I had a very long daily commute, so I had plenty of time to listen to albums, but this song gave me pause.
“That looks like a letter that I don’t want to open.” Sounded like a personal warning. My mom claimed she got my grades in the mail from college. She was thankfully wrong.
When: 11 July 2008
Where: My bedroom
Weather: Hot, dry
When Genres Collapse
The Flobots are the type of band that could only have released a hit like “Handlebars” in 2008. As the end of the Bush Administration became clear, tastemakers began deliberately distancing themselves from the rest of the decade. Girls in New York were wearing sundresses, and pants that went up to their waists. Many had even stopped shaving their nether regions, as had been the custom. Men were wearing hats again.
But these changes were not so kind to popular music. Autotune was king, Soulja Boy was supermanning ho’s. Formerly promising bands either released uneven albums (The Kooks, Kaiser Chiefs, The Fratellis), broke up (Gnarls Barkley), or simply never showed up (Arctic Monkeys). What few new bands arrived on the scene that year were seldom played on the radio and never formed a true movement. Remember all that fawning over Santigold? Rock and Roll in 2008 was like Saigon in 1975.
In in this environment, it’s no surprise that “Handlebars” by the Flobots became a hit, and it’s just as unsurprising that they were never heard from again. The Young Turks interviewed them that summer night, and there were many others like them. And with every band that came and went, I began to imagine that this was what it must have been like to live in 1980. To cope with disco, not knowing the end was near, waiting for New Wave to come and save the day. It would be a while.
Next: “And so I’ll go…”
When: 7 July 2008
Where: My bedroom
Weather: Hot, dry
The summer after senior year, I never saw anybody from Bosco. Instead, I woke up in my bedroom, alone, and at my own pace. So much preparation for college didn’t leave me much time to go out of the neighborhood, except to work, and as the presidential election really ramped up, I developed quite the schedule. Usually I’d make myself a sandwich, watch Keith Olbermann while eating a sandwich, talk to Jeannie, and finally listen to The Young Turks. I’d gotten into them since the New Hampshire primary, I’d met Cenk at USC a month earlier, and the show stayed comfortably in the background.
TYT was a far more ramshackle operation back then; the post-game show was meant to be after the real show, but it could be hours between the two, as it was on this particular day. I was sitting comfortably waiting for it to pick up when this song came on to fill the dead air. I was eating some Pepperidge Farm cookies, and I should mention at this point that I spent the entire summer sick to my stomach from stress. But I powered through; I wouldn’t let an upset stomach get in the way of college and my sweetheart, and the two were inextricably linked.
And as I considered all of this, the song came back on again. It had been two hours since the promise of the post-game show. Pretty soon after that they came back on. My parents were away, and the weeks that followed would prove to be more uplifting and carefree than I’d expected.
Next: When genres collapse