April 1997
s m u g
ear candy
by Leslie Harpold

Space Age Bachelor Pad Music

As a movement it's about over now, the lounge lizards will soon have to turn in their cocktail shakers and cigarette holders and try to find their way in a workaday world. To be sure, the jet setters they are emulating will be able to carry the aesthetic on, but the crucial difference between the hipsters and the real beautiful people is that the jet set - (and they still exist in places like Monte Carlo, Ibiza and Andorra, anywhere darling is pronounced dahhhhling without irony) - are that the people who are the genuine article aren't just executing some trend achieved step by step with an Optima Card and a couple of issues of Details, they have the cash to carry the look well into their futures, at least until their third time in rehab when "maman" cuts them off for good.

The music the lounge scene embraces and celebrates is not new, for the most part. Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass have been kicking out jazzy jams for well over 30 years. Sure, there's Esquivel, and he is very good at what he does, but I feel compelled to remind you that what he doesn't do is innovate. There's nothing new about this genre of music, except a few new records and a couple new names on the swingers roster. But the phenomenon has spread like wildfire in these post grunge times.

Grunge was a product of some smart people being underemployed, and a generation who waited until after college to rebel against their parents. These people made sure that their bills were paid, or that they at least had enough of higher learning before they got disenchanted and self absorbed, and the "slacker" was born. I know very few members of this elusive "generation x" who used that term self-referentially, it seems that handle was more a tag from the media for the underemployed, over educated, seemingly unmotivated post college kids who smoked pot and made it a point to listen to rock and roll while dressed in a very comfortable combo of lumberjack and fetish wear.

The media (predominantly boomer driven at the time) labeled this ilk of people - myself included - slackers. On closer examination though, it appeared that people were actually working, and quite hard, often pursuing more entrepreneurial endeavors, it was just that the forms of work that were chosen in no way resembled the middle management mill that was more familiar to generations previous. It didn't look productive, and granted, much of it wasn't.

Lately, though, things started to work out for this misunderstood generation, and when the money started flowing, one of the first things to go was the flannel. After listening to our parents urge us to be more like them, and us crying out that they were exactly what we didn't want to become, we finally had a couple of nickels to rub together and guess what we created? The Lounge Scene was born. Rebels? I think not. We became our parents.

Now before you write and tell me how much you love your "Velvet Lounge," "Velvet Room," and Velvet whatever your local lizard den is called, and how you groove on that slinky sophisticate persona you've carefully crafted, let me tell you this:

I remember my mom in a gold lamé pantsuit with the blue Tuesday Weld eye makeup and whitish pink lipstick floating through the house with a martini shaker in one hand and an Eve cigarette in the other checking to see if people's gimlets needed freshening. She had it way over the loungey hepcats of today in spades, simply because she was the real deal. Where it was at - when that place was a destination and not a memory. I have conscientiously avoided co-opting lounge like social mannerisms mostly because I have seen these things executed by a master, and don't want to fuck with perfection. I concede that I did buy a leopard print velvet smoking jacket for a friend, but that was merely me trying to recreate a little fantasy I will not recount for you here.

As for the music - some of it is good. The repackaging is graphically more appealing than the contents - and the great artistic tribute to the innovative graphic designers of the sixties is about the most interesting thing about this movement. The music that was good then and has been re-released is still good - but it is not new, and it was never really ours. Enoch Light and His Orchestra can still set a groovy mood worthy of a hundred lava lamps and Chinese lanterns, but acouterments do not a culture make.

The cocktail music reflects not the real emotional trappings of modern culture for the Xers, but a really nice fantasy, the conservative dress put on to visit mom and dad at the holidays. The root of all humor is truth, but some things are just too true to be funny. I think of lounge music as less a hallmark in a generation's development, and more akin to the "girlfriend" a gay guy, or "boy friend" a lesbian afraid to come out to their parents drags home for Thanksgiving dinner. It's about image and illusion, and like all things rooted in fantasy, reality is bound to take over quickly.

Sell your CDs while they still have resale value, and if you have a yard sale to dump the clothes and furniture, there's still time to be thought of as supercool to be getting rid of all your swinging stuff before the glow fades and everyone looks at your kidney shaped coffee table and says "that's so five minutes ago."


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