The Pavement reunion and the end of baby boomer cultural hegemony.

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March 18 2010 4:20 PM

Flux=Rad

The Pavement reunion and the end of baby boomer cultural hegemony.

(Continued from Page 1)

What is new, however, is the breadth of post-boomer music knowledge advertisers, network executives, and other cultural apparatchiks seem to be increasingly confident they can expect from a 2010 audience. Last month, for instance, Saturday Night Live broadcast a skit involving the supposed reunion at a wedding reception of an '80s hard-core band named Crisis of Conformity.

Nearly all the comic details of the sketch, from the name of the wedding party—"Cadena–Norton," an homage to two hard-core stalwarts, Black Flag's Dez Cadena and Hüsker Dü's Greg Norton—to the year the band had supposedly broken up (that'd be 1983, the same year Minor Threat disbanded) were inside jokes about a type of music that, until very recently, SNL couldn't have counted on its audience to know much about. Not anymore. In a world in which the underappreciated '90s alt-rock band Jawbox can reunite to widespread acclaim on national television, courtesy of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, cultural phenomena that were once beloved only by the young and hip are now being treated in the media more or less like culture, period. It's impossible to imagine a network taking a chance on Jimmy Fallon's house band, the Philadelphia-based and fiercely independent rap group the Roots, even five years ago; today, they're the most critically beloved band on late night.

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Which is to say that these days, indie rock looks a lot like rock music, without the modifier. There are very few successful young bands today that don't play some variant or descendent of indie rock. And the alternative musical culture that spent most of the '80s and '90s as the exclusive property of college students, critics, and independent labels is now a fairly uncontroversial, major component of pop music in general. As Scott Plagenhoef, editor of the tastemaker Web site Pitchfork Media recently wrote in response to charges that his site's 2009 year-end list had a disproportionate indie bias, "This is what rock music made by and for adults looks and sounds like now." Pitchfork itself, once a punch line about the insularity and wonky isolation of indie-rock fans, is now among the most influential music publications on the planet. It's a measure of the newfound clout of both entities that one of Pavement's reunion tour stops will be the Web site's annual festival in Chicago this summer.

"It's such an icky boomer-like exercise, obsessing over your own demise," a pal told Shafer back in 2005, when he surveyed some of his younger friends about the potential signs of a coming cultural rebellion. True. And boomer self-satisfaction is such that we will probably have to pry the mic stand out of Mick Jagger's sinewy, scarf-draped hands before passing it to a younger generation. That is, if we even want to—because if the signature move of the baby boomer is obsessing over his own demise, then the signature move of the post-boomer is the capacity to be puzzled at our own success. The slacker indifference to accomplishment for which Pavement were beloved, and after which countless successor bands (and fans) modeled themselves, does not make for easy triumphalism. Winning, in this equation, can often look a lot like losing. Hence the generational agony of an article like the one that covered the proudly indie Paste in February: "Is Indie Dead?"

Well, yes, probably, in the sense that the music featured in commercials and in gaudy, months-long reunion tours isn't recognizably the same as what it began life as. (Neither, of course, is "Satisfaction.") But indie-rock fans shouldn't act so surprised that their music is in ascendance. People who were into punk rock in 1980 or Pavement in 1993 are all old enough to be pushing the cultural buttons now—working at newspapers, writing for TV, booking musical guests, A&Ring at labels, and, ahem, writing pieces like this one for national magazines. We were bound to knock boomers and their culture off at some point. Why not right now?

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