Anyone who thought that the ill-fated monstrosity Woodstock '99 signaled the death of the '90s as surely as Altamont shuttered the '60s hasn't been paying attention to how little has changed since the nation was gripped with Y2K mania. It's understandable to want the rampant destruction of those three days of peace, love, and music to mean something more than, well, nothing, so the media's preferred take on the event was that the kids, noble and true, were fed up with this crass commercial exploitation. Four-dollar bottles of water and similarly overpriced merchandise made these kids set aside their date-rape drugs to rise up and say, "No more!", "Hope I die before I get old!", and so forth. So they broke shit, as per Fred Durst's eloquent entreaty, and those soulless profiteers were beaten back for good.
Or so one would like to believe. However, all it takes to have these cherished illusions smashed like Good Charlotte's guitars is even a brief glance in the direction of the Vans Warped Tour. Now entering its 10th year of existence, the Warped Tour started up around the time Kurt Cobain killed himself, and the coincidence is eerie. Nirvana rose from the underground to become superstars, and as such, they were constantly uneasy about their position. Not so their followers. Grunge was a good way to get famous, and any homegrown anti-establishment stances featured in the music were quickly replaced by corporate-sponsored facsimiles peddled by hip-gear-mongers like Vans. The angst of grunge rockers worried about compromising their ideals was gradually replaced in faux-alternative land by the glossy mohawk of pop-punk, a genre whose collective middle finger extends towards easy targets like George Bush or backstabbing friends, and never towards the record companies making them rich and putting them on the Warped Tour.
The two-disc compilation from the 2004 version of this phenomenon unloads 50 songs and costs much less than most single discs. If we're talking strictly in terms of bulk for the money, this comp can't be faulted. Look at it with a more penetrating gaze, though, and you'll see that there are really only about five songs here: good ones by groups like Sugarcult, the Lawrence Arms, and the ever-dependable Alkaline Trio, and then a couple more repeated ad nauseum by the others. What are those two songs? Beats me. Some teen-screamy stuff, I think, but honestly, after listening through it all, it blurred together to leave nothing but an impression of vague angriness, and that vagueness sterilizes it, makes it safe. Life sucks and then you die, or don't believe the lies they tell you, or you fucked me over so fuck you -- all striking a great pose, all very familiar and dull.
If this strikes some as being too harsh, then let me temper my scorn by saying that having an original message is not a necessary ingredient of great art or effective entertainment. Just because these shoe salesmen didn't invent their brand of bluster doesn't mean that offering it to a new generation of listeners is without value. The children of 2004 need spokesmen and -women to articulate what it's like to be alive now, not what it was like to be alive in 1998. Fine. Rock on with your Anti-Flag, your Good Charlotte, your Simple Plan. But just consider for a moment what it means for these people to be a part of the Warped Tour. Label Networks Market Research, the "official marketing intelligence and research firm" for Warped, has this little gem on their website:
"We go to the breeding grounds -- emerging and important new markets in youth culture -- like music, action sports, urban, and street," says Kathleen Gasperini, Label Networks' Vice President and Youth Culture Expert. "On Warped, we're talking to these people all summer long, like a giant traveling focus group taken from a massive Petri dish of youth Americana. We're unobtrusively learning as much as possible, participating in their life every single day in every single region of the country, wirelessly transferring data and images. It's absolutely genuine."
So by all means, ignore the advice of a crank like me. Buy this sampler, or better yet, lay down your wad of disposable income, and you too can become a part of a massive Petri dish of youth Americana. And don't worry -- it's absolutely genuine.