I enjoy times on the weekend when I can get into my car and drive for a long time. My in-laws live about 40 km away from our house, and so I often get these cherished driving opportunities. My enjoyment comes not only from our recently restored freedom of being able to drive long distances (lockdowns theoretically restricted such trips), and not only because it is a guaranteed window of time in which the children can’t demand too much or hurt themselves or each other, but also because these trips are the only time that I get to listen to my CD collection.
Of course, nowadays CDs are antiquated, but I still have a large collection from my younger, pre-married days. The only time that I get to listen to these relics of a bygone era is when I’m in the car and Shannon isn’t with me — let’s just say that my music tastes tend to be louder and more energetic than hers, especially any time before noon.
Recently I have had a few longish car trips and have found myself listening to all my Less Than Jake CDs. For those of you who weren’t into the third wave ska music from the 1990s (probably 95 per cent of readers?) a primer: Less Than Jake (LTJ) is a five piece ska-punk band from Florida which has been around since the early 1990s and is still today touring and releasing new music. I saw them play in Auckland in 2003 and have bought most of their albums.
LTJ was not as commercially successful as their contemporaries Reel Big Fish or The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and perhaps their most well-known song is “All My Best Friends are Metalheads” (see above). Let’s just say LTJ probably won’t be playing on the radio anytime soon.
Anyway, the reason for this longish digression into my obscure music influences is that I was reflecting on the lyrics of LTJ’s songs the other day (in the car) and I realised that pretty much all of them speak to the ennui, the lack of purpose and the futility of modern life. They speak of growing up and then realising that so much of what people put their time, effort and energy into (alcohol, jobs, material things, sex etc etc) are not fulfilling. And how this lack of fulfilment in what society offers leads to depression and purposelessness. (No, it’s not Emo!!!)
For example, the chorus of “Help Save the Youth of America from Exploding” is:
“Sit down, remind me how,
This is the same old story of growing up and getting lost”
While the opening from “Where the Hell is Mike Sinkovich?” is the following (LTJ has creative, but impossible to remember, song titles):
“I’ve never known what made you get up and go
And what pushed you over the edge,
When we were up on the roof
Was it the truth when you said
You never made a single difference”
While “Overrated, Everything is” is fairly self-explanatory:
“I think sex is overrated
So is always getting wasted
Designer drugs and dead end jobs
And classic rock is so outdated
I’m so sick of therapy
And all the things it’s done to me
How can I be satisfied?
When everything is overrated”
Although I like to think that I’m with it and young and cool, every time I stand in the front of the university lecture hall I realise that that is perhaps not true. I am practically a generation older now than my students. Their fashions, music and even speech are removed from what I grew up with. And this year has reinforced my view that they are generally far more concerned, fearful and well, sad then we were at their age only 15-20 years ago.
A lot of those feelings are understandable. This generation is coming into a job market that is far bleaker than it was pre-GFC. They have spent a large amount of time this year cut off from social networks. They are far more plugged in to social networks. They are bombarded with existential fear by the media (global warming and COVID-19). Authority figures are largely discredited and mute, meaning that they have no-one to look up to and be guided by. The meaning of life is a question rarely to be asked, let alone answered.
Even though not one per cent of them would have heard of LTJ, in many ways the songs that I love listening to in the car are redolent of this generation.
However, it is not all bleak. There is one song by LTJ that provides a clue to the search for meaning which takes up a large part of the rest of their back catalogue. The song is called “Handshake meet Pokerface” and it’s about the singer’s mother:
“For over half her life she worked from nine to five
Crossing T’s and dotting I’s, the neon light can’t hide
That she’s lost her shine”
But why has she lost her shine? Because she is working so much:
“She said the overtime is worth these aches and pains
But is it worth the precious time that ticks away?”
And why is she is working so much?
“She only wanted to provide a future
For my brother and I”
As she understands, sacrifice for others is hard, painful and definitely not glamorous. But it might just be enough to get you up in the morning and to keep going. It might even result in a song being written about you.