'Glee' sings to a forgotten generation

by Mary McNamara

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

8 June 2010


LOS ANGELES — Fox’s musical comedy hit “Glee” has revolutionized TV in many ways (including the fact that TV critics can now write the term “musical comedy hit,” and who thought that would ever happen?). But watching the recent “Safety Dance” episode, it all came together: Here is a show celebrating popular music and there isn’t even a whiff of boomage.

Those of us who had the misfortune to be born in the first half of the 1960s are truly a lost generation. Not quite boomers, not quite Gen X, we came of age as the Carter White House succumbed to the Reagan years, when women rediscovered shoulder pads and men wore penny loafers with no socks, when everyone found the conceits of “Bosom Buddies” and “Three’s Company” racy and hilarious. Our musical taste, as I remember it, was eclectic — yes, there was Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and Genesis, but there was also Duran Duran, the Go Go’s, Stray Cats, Wham! and Men Without Hats.

With a few exceptions, our music was derided by our elders as utterly commercial and forgettable, mere shadows of the Titans who reigned during the ‘60s and early ‘70s. And like the cowed younger siblings we were, we believed, hung our heads, hid our Blondie collections, made excuses for that Supertramp phase, admired Madonna perhaps as an icon but never as a musician. All those hours spent dancing to “Holiday” and making out during “Hotel California” or sobbing away to “Beth” were acts of cultural desperation — we were young, we didn’t know any better.

And then along came “Glee,” with its lost generation creator (Ryan Murphy was born in 1965), its post-PC sensibility and its determination to turn every sort of stereotype, including the musical ones, on their heads.

From the moment it premiered, it gloried in the mishmash. “Les Miz” rubbed shoulders with Journey and Amy Winehouse, “Gypsy” bowed to Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper and Young MC, and no decade has benefited quite so much as the ‘80s — Journey’s now ubiquitous “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” was released in 1981, the year I graduated high school. Indeed, there have been times when I wondered if the musical list had been lifted directly from my senior prom — all that was missing was a cover of Christopher Cross’ “Sailing.”

Is it a thrill to be able to bring the music of one’s youth out of the closet, to have it discovered by a younger generation in a celebratory rather than dismissive way? Yes it is. The iTunes generation doesn’t seem to have the same rigid musical caste system of their elders, and for better or worse, the tweens are discovering music more through television than the Top 40.

But more than that, “Glee” allows this particular sliver of between-generations a nostalgia that is, for once, neither borrowed nor assigned. I may be technically a boomer, but I do not remember Woodstock; I was 5. Patchouli smells like old people to me and by the time I hit my teens, the world had gone preppy and I sat through endless “special assemblies” during which professed former hippies warned that marijuana use led to LSD and young people jumping out of windows, and by the time I could avail myself of and talk of “free love” the cultural conversation had moved on to herpes. But still my peers and I were somehow shoehorned into the collective memory of the boomers, expected to worship at the altar of Janis and the Dead and the Stones.

“Glee” is, in many ways, a very modern show, addressing topics usually reserved for serious drama — teen pregnancy, a father coming to terms with his gay son — in what is essentially a musical comedy that more than occasionally borders on camp. Over and over again, the message is “Don’t judge.” In many ways, that was the mantra of the boomers as well — don’t judge us for our hair or our fashions, don’t judge us for our sexuality or our politics and certainly don’t judge our music. But the boomers were revolutionaries, and by definition revolutionaries are fairly judgmental — and not just of those who come before but also of those who come after.

With its rainbow coalition and handi-capable mentality, “Glee” may be the first truly post-boomer television show. Because even though it both embraces and pokes fun at the concept of diversity, “Glee” honestly does not judge. Which is why we fortysomethings can now tell our own children that the song they are singing in the car, with maddening repetition, was a super-big hit when we were in high school. And for once, we need not feel ashamed.

So if Puck or Finn ever covers, say, Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes,” the rumble you will hear is the millions of us who remember those days of yore when MTV actually mattered rising to our feet and dancing once again.

//Mixed media

Call for Music Writers... Hip-Hop, Soul, Electronic, Rock, Indie, Americana, Jazz, World and More

// Announcements

"PopMatters is looking for smart music writers. We're looking for talented writers with deep genre knowledge of music and its present and…

READ the article