February 1999
s m u g
ear candy
by Maura Johnston

It's Better to Burn Out Than Fade Away

Ah, the aging hipster. There was a time when they were the bleeding edge -- they knew all who were supposed to be known, they had all the records that were vital to that millisecond they existed in. But trends, being the unpredictable buggers that they are, twist and turn, and those who follow the linear path of age get left behind.

And those who have been left behind aren't always so quick to catch up with the ways of now -- or even with the fact that they're still waiting at the hipster station, searching for their train that's running on the oblivion branch. So they become more and more entrenched in their subculture, completely oblivious to the SCHEDULE CHANGED signs that are posted all around them.

You know them. I know them. Hell, we might even be able to count ourselves among them. (If you think you might fall into this category, see below.) It's sort of like the post-high school cheerleader syndrome; stories of the most popular person you went to high school with showing up at the reunion with three kids because she couldn't afford a babysitter are legendary, right? But the only drawback to that analogy is that, if you were like me, there was a time that you actually wanted to be these people -- you thought they were truly interesting, wanted to know what their opinions were on cultural trends, maybe even wanted to hang out with them after shows.

Then you actually talk to them. And all is revealed.

Aging hipsters' most aggravating tactic is probably the full-blown conversation stop. This can happen when almost any subject is being discussed -- the weather can inspire a reminscence about a totally excellent early fIREHOSE show, for example. Anything that you might bring up as a gentle reminder of the present is quickly steamrolled, with a wave of the bangled arm and a quick reminder of your lack of "diversity" in taste.

"Diversity" is the key buzzword the aging hipster uses in her conversation, as a subtle putdown of you and your taste. No matter how many countries your record collection hails from, no matter how many tower-approved genres you plucked your cds from during your shopping trip, if you don't like the music they do, you're culturally undernourished. A lost cause. Or, if you're especially unlucky, a cause that they can help by endless proseltyzing, shooting down of anything you might bring up, or even worse, buying you records and making you feel guilty that you just don't want to hear it.

Take comfort in this: those who replaced them will become them, some time later down the line, maybe when they're not even looking. And at that point, you'll be happily ensconsed in your own world, one where every purchase you make from the thrift shop isn't obsessively analyzed.

A Handy Guide to the Aging Hipster

If you find yourself in a conversation with any of these types and need to extricate yourself as quickly as possible, ask them how they feel about the relative merits of the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync as opposed to Cleopatra. Then run.

If you see yourself in any of these descriptions, go to the record store, buy yourself the latest issue of Rolling Stone and recoil in horror at what you might become.

  • Those Who Won't Let
    The Sixties Die

    Did you know that 1999 is the 30th anniversary of Woodstock? Don't worry. You will.
    WHAT TO BLAME THEM FOR: Oh. God. So much. Let's just start and stop it by invoking Phish, shall we?
    IDENTIFIABLE MARKINGS: Probably holds position of great importance at some new media or entertainment firm; Jerry Garcia tie; complete apathy towards any cultural innovation that occurred post-1975, unless it came from Clapton, Dylan, or the spawn of someone who played Woodstock.
    WILL CONSTANTLY REGALE YOU WITH STORIES ABOUT: Brown acid and how the kids today don't know what real music should totally be, man.

  • The First Punks
    These people will always be so much cooler than you or me. Just so you know.
    WHAT TO BLAME THEM FOR: The Offspring.
    IDENTIFIABLE MARKINGS: Probably in the basement of Coney Island High at this second.
    WILL CONSTANTLY REGALE YOU WITH STORIES ABOUT: How everything totally sucks now. (They don't remember much of then.)

  • The Real Indies
    Hey, man, they had Nirvana records even before "Bleach" came out.
    WHAT TO BLAME THEM FOR: Well, Calvin Johnson ruined rock and roll for an entire generation, if that helps.
    IDENTIFIABLE MARKINGS: Ears perk up when name "Sarah" is uttered; stacks of home-produced cassettes acting as art in apartment; business cards identifying them as A & R reps for larger labels; large collection of Sub Pop "classic" CDs.
    WILL CONSTANTLY REGALE YOU WITH STORIES ABOUT: Chickfactor shows, and the way the "vibe" was so much more authentic back in the day.

  • Caught in the Crossfire
    The unfortunate casualties of the "alternative revolution."
    WHAT TO BLAME THEM FOR: Poor efforts at grass-roots marketing (no doubt a result of all that post-"Teen Spirit" confusion) allowed Aware Records to unleash Hootie and the Blowfish, Better Than Ezra, and the Dave Matthews Band on the world. Also, "post-rock."
    IDENTIFIABLE MARKINGS: Still reluctant to admit which Seattle bands they like, due to conflicting popular opinions over the whole Green River split; complete collection of Guns N' Roses cds (left over from high school); oh-my-aching-head look when the conversation topic "so just what IS a 'faux indie' label?" comes up.
    WILL CONSTANTLY REGALE YOU WITH STORIES ABOUT: Their freshman year, when Pavement and Verve both played the student union, and how the ensuing years only saw a parade of bands with names like Ekoostik Hookah come to campus, and how that totally sucked.

  • Just Outta College (Radio)
    Young and dumb, but no longer full of disposable income.
    WHAT TO BLAME THEM FOR: Nothing. Yet. But give them time.
    IDENTIFIABLE MARKINGS: Cardigan sweaters; bowl haircuts; job at record store; 2 months after hired, all the stuff from the label she runs manages to occupy every display space of said store; slightly dazed look once the first loan bill comes in.
    WILL CONSTANTLY REGALE YOU WITH STORIES ABOUT: That auction site where Belle and Sebastian's "Tigermilk" was sold for thousands of pounds (not dollars, dollars are so gauche).

    Maura Johnston is not aging yet, but the staff reminds her, it's only a matter of time. We like having her around to remind us we're not as cool as we think we are.


    in the junk drawer:

and such
and such

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