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As a rule, I like to stay a good three to 20 years behind any given trend. I find this gives me the time and space I need to develop the proper perspective. For instance, I didn’t start rocking the ripped jeans and flannel look until earlier this summer. This puts me approximately 15 years behind the grunge thing, and a good five to 10 years ahead of any chance of a legitimate revival trend. Exactly where I like to be.


The downside to this approach is that it tends to get expensive. I have to buy “vintage” Screaming Trees and Mudhoney t-shirts off eBay, and let me tell you it’s no fun picking up a heroin habit in today’s seller’s market. But it’s all worthwhile, if for no other reason than it confuses the hipsters at my local record shop. The key to sustaining this sort of impulse is blank earnestness and rock-solid consistency. I don’t just show up occasionally in a ripped Cardigan sweater. I bring the whole package, every day, along with a circa-1994 Sony Discman and a Nirvana sticker on my backpack. Then I ask if they have any new Sub Pop records in.


I’m kidding, of course. But this does remind me of a joke:


Q: How many members of Pearl Jam does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Listen here, pal. Pearl Jam isn’t going to change for anybody, got it? Not for you, not for the fucking record labels, not for the corporate suits. It’s about the music, man.


My sense of timing with bandwagons and trends is truly perverse, and I mean that in the dictionary definition of the word—an uncontrollable disposition to oppose and contradict, regardless of the consequences. It isn’t that I wouldn’t like to be trendy; I just seem to be incapable of it.


I’ve suffered from the debilitation as long as I can remember. You might remember a brief window of insanity in the early 1980s where it was cool to wear pastel t-shirts with linen sports jackets. Well, I finally made up my mind on that about five years after the Miami Vice thing had crested and receded back into the Ocean of Terrible Ideas. Tragically, this happened to be my senior year in high school, and I tried to pull off the Sonny Crockett look on spring break in Florida. Needless to say, I did not make much progress with the ladies that trip.


But then, fashion has never been my strong suit. Mostly my chronic cultural tardiness applies to music, film and books. I often find myself espousing the brilliance of a writer, filmmaker or band to puzzled friends who indulge me with pity and sadness. “Why yes, Glenn, Charlie Kaufmann is indeed one of the brightest new talents to emerge in Hollywood for quite some time. But did you know you can now buy Being John Malkovich on DVD for $4.99?”


Nevertheless, I always insist on the rightness of my cause regardless of the timing. For example, I can and will, with the slightest of prompts, tell you loudly and repeatedly that the boys in Green Day are the real deal and are gonna blow all these other punks out of the water. And that William Gibson is the best science fiction writer working today.


I’m even behind on my revival trends. It only recently occurred to me that the 1960s might be worth a little reassessment, and that I’m not the first to discover the appeal of old-school hip-hop. Confusing matters even further are these pop culture nostalgia shows like VH1’s I Love the ‘70s, The ‘80s Strike Back, or Rocking in the Renaissance (I think that’s on The History Channel, actually.) For me, these shows frequently come across like breaking news reports. Wow, have you heard of this band, The Replacements?


It’s an uncomfortable sensation to realize you’re doomed to be slightly but consistently out of phase with the cultural timestream. A distinctly modern problem, I expect—it’s tough to keep current with all the cutting-edge business. Today’s hot new trend is tomorrow’s old news, and (in my case) a burning passion several years hence.


Perhaps you are sensing that I am leading up to a point here. Indeed I am. Very recently I came into possession of Blowout Comb, a fabulous jazz-meets-hip-hop record by Digable Planets. I’m loving it in a big way. Even in my own dim fashion, I realize jazz/rap fusion has been around a while, but these guys are doing things with melody and flow that’ll flip your lid, for real. After a little online research, I would like to state for the record that this album was released 11 years ago.


Ah, well. If you’re looking for incisive, up-to-the-moment music writing, check out those guys on the left-hand side of the PopMatters homepage. They know what they’re doing. Anybody needs me, I’ll be over here with my headphones on, partying like it was 1994.

Glenn McDonald writes about popular culture from his home in lovely Chapel Hill, NC. His humor essays have been described as "grammatically consistent" and "remarkably frequent". He is editor of the Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me daily news quiz at NPR.org, and a film critic at the Raleigh News & Observer. He lives virtually at www.glenn-mcdonald.com.


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