Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nevermind how the '90s don't seem so long ago

When reading a chapter in Tina Fey's Bossypants I saw a reference to how she moved to Chicago in 1992 after college and had a roommate and could only get a crappy job at the YMCA. This was her starting out. See how far she's come.

Here's the thing: Obviously 1992 is now coming close to being two full decades ago. But when I think of 1992 it doesn't seem like some kind of distant past. I know it was, but it doesn't seem that far back.

When I think of the '80s, or certainly the '70s, they seem like a completely different era; the '90s, however, somehow seem part of a different period in the current era. As to how I draw that distinction, I can only surmise that in the '90s I was in my twenties and living on my own (I did, in fact, move out from living with my parents in 1990, coincidentally) and thus that's the start of what could be considered being a full-fledged adult (by at least a rudimentary definition thereof). I earned a paycheck that paid the bills (and put me through college), and while compared to how I am now I was an utter dipshit, I still remember 1992 pretty well.

However, go back to 1988, for example, a mere four years earlier (when I turned 20, and in theory was an adult) and it's not as distinct. (In 1982 I was a freshman in high school and very few distinct memories come to mind.) There's something about that turning the corner of living on my own that clearly seems to be the delineation; it's not so much graduating high school nor graduating college that are the milestones, but having that first apartment between those events that marks some kind of beginning of what is still… well, not current, but not ancient (so to speak).

This coming September will be the twentieth anniversary of the release of Nirvana's Nevermind. I remember going to the Tower Records in Buena Park to buy the CD single of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" shortly before that album came out, and then getting the full album the week it came out. I don't necessarily remember most of the times I bought CDs (which I'd been doing since 1987), but that I do recall. It was, at the time, a big deal. Little did we realize what a cultural touchstone it would become as that song and then the album would redefine the music landscape, and it's perhaps likely that I have embedded that memory more because of what came later.

But it doesn't at all seem like twenty years have expired in the interim.

What I find myself pondering: Did someone who was in his early twenties when Sgt. Pepper's first came out in 1967 think in 1987 that he couldn't believe two decades had passed? The Beatles' catalog was first coming out on CD then and certainly a big deal was made of the anniversary. Was his personal era distinction still such that the late '60s weren't that far from memory? Or were the differences in culture that had transpired too much for him to think it was not a different era?

Am I able to think of the '90s as not that far back because as a society we're not that different than how we were? Is it that I can walk into a room and pull that Nevermind disc off the shelf and know I could still go buy it in that format (for now) that allows it to seem contemporary?

Perhaps once compact discs are relegated to the niche market that LPs currently have I will have to put this era to a close—even though I'll still be very much in the full-fledged adult phase (alas)—merely because the predominant music format shall have utterly changed.

Yes, one would think there'd be more to it than that.

So, what do you think?


  1. As Tommy Lee Jones said in "Men In Black" (1999), when confronted by a microdisc, "Looks like I'll have to buy the White Album again." Twenty years isn't all that long. Changing technology makes it seem like an aeon, only because it's in the technology industry's best interest to turn out something new every five minutes. Twenty years IS an eternity, to technology. But to the human brain and its holographic memories, it's only an instant.

  2. So, Marvin, how far back do we need to go for it to seem like longer than an instant in your mind?


So, what do you think?