Loading…

“On the 1990s and Social Calamity Being Correlative with Artistic Quality”

I suppose this phenomenon should have been primarily apparent from the very existence of gangsta rap, but this is just something I’ve noticed in general: periods or decades which feature large-scale injustices, in politics or in the news or both, seem correlative with a wealth of meaningful, gripping statements made in music, in film and also in stand-up or situational comedy, as well.
I place the ’90s as important by way of the title, but the first example I’d like to mention, ironically, is the 1960s. As I’m sure you know, in the last couple years we’ve had a big ’90s craze, the type of thing that, while hashing out music from that era like the Gin Blossoms and the Cranberries (as well as precipitating some cringe-worthy Onion headlines about ’90s pop-rock), also seems to sort of aimlessly spew a mist of favoritism of living in that time as well, as if the 1990s were some utopian environment of peace and love.
Obviously, this is generally how the 1960s are envisioned, too. Well, let’s look at the 1960s. The Vietnam War broke out. Insane asylums crowded, spawning the plot of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and, perhaps most heartwarmingly, JFK, RFK, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were all assassinated.
The Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” ushered itself forth about eight months after the second Kennedy assassination; the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” came some months before that. All of these musics, then, in turn, in some way comment on or take as their rubric the original, founding rock and roll, which as we know is the work of black progeny of slaves shipped to America and depleted of their families and loved ones. But here we see how the vital upward arc of rock and roll — The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead — was concordant with several large-scale atrocities in current events or at the sociological level.
And then despite that in Radiohead’s “The Bends,” which issued in 1995, Thom Yorke proclaims “I wish it was the ’60s / I wish we could be happy”, I did see certain people sharing on Facebook about how they missed the ’90s, that they’d rather be living back then (mind you these were generally people who were not past adolescence by 2000). The 1990s saw the start of gangsta rap and popular, mainstream electronica, in addition to grunge, a style of rock music which exploded with such popularity that it reshaped America’s fashion sense, drawing a flannel shirt photo shoot from Vanity Fair [1].
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the “AIDS epidemic began in the early 1980s” [2]. Given some time, then, this would have obviously created the urgent need for people to come together and focus on the general good will, and music is often the ideal vehicle on which to do that — rap groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Salt ‘n’ Pepa used their records as a platform for vocalizing the need for concern with this issue. In addition, according to Wikipedia, the worst year for murders in New York city in its history was 1990, in which it had 2,245, [3] then seeing both 2pac and Notorious B.I.G. rise to the peaks of their success each within half a decade thereafter. In light of all this, certainly, it’s debatable whether the enjoyment of arts would even be possible with an utopian society.
.
[1] This is according to the grunge documentary Hype!
.
[2] http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/ataglance.html.
.
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_New_York_City.

Leave a Reply