I am now 45 years old, dubbing it my Jordan year.
To be sure, it’s humbling. The weight takes longer to shed. Crinkles frame the eyes. I fashion myself as cosmopolitan and stylish, but I’m probably not hip.
This month I scanned the Lollapalooza lineup and recognized only a few names. Janet Jackson is sampled in a new record, a reminder that her sad song is more than 30 years old. I’m waiting for my children to mock New Edition and Jodeci songs as V103 radio “dusties” the way I referenced Motown music and oldie records played by my parents when I was growing up.
The 1990s were a golden era for music and culture. Exposure to A Tribe Called Quest and Mary J. Blige is essential to impart onto a new generation. But again, it’s probably old people’s music to them. Soon enough I’ll be pop-culture clueless in a way that not even Twitter can save me.
And while I am in denial about the sun rising on middle age, some of my friends and peers are shrieking “get off my lawn!” in a manner that’s disconcerting to me. Every generation thinks the one behind them is worse, disrespectful and hapless when it comes to music — and general simply not as good as theirs. In the words of R&B crooner Keith Sweat, something just ain’t right.
We should check ourselves. Reminiscing about the good ole days can beget a form of amnesia that distorts reality. Can we seriously think we are the moral authority on music when we listened to misogynists AMG and Snoop? Do we really think we weren’t disrespectful to teachers or authority figures?
When my contemporaries complain about the violence in Chicago today being worse than in the past or talk about how we’re the last generation that could play outside without fear, I am dumbfounded. I went to high school in Chicago in the 1990s. I remember hanging out in coed groups, and the threat of gang violence based on colors and territories could threaten a night out bowling.
One time on a CTA bus, a girl from a rival high school tried to cut my hair. Neighborhood boys worried about getting jumped and often had to put on a show of exaggerated masculinity to keep out of trouble. Fights broke out at the mall. We knew people who dabbled in gang life. These stories aren’t urban badges of honor. They are simply the truth. The crime stats alone show that things weren’t better back then.
For many, those experiences are washed away when they become parents. Adulting is hard, and we compartmentalize our past. Feelings of youthful invincibility are shoved out of the way when you have your own children. I get it — you don’t want to take risks with your children or use bad judgment.
The flip side is that while every family wants to make sound decisions, the leash we put on our children can paralyze them. I do wonder if that anxiety projects on children. Playing with friends solo in a park, riding public transportation and exploring neighborhoods during the day are normal activities. Too many restrictions can stunt our children’s growth and development.
I know the headlines are scary, yet fear is its own prison. I live in this city and do not approach this as a pundit but as a resident and a mother. Smothering doesn’t protect my children in the long run.
And instead of wagging our fingers at young people or disparaging their cultural tastes (as our parents and grandparents did to us at times) let’s figure out a better way to settle into middle age. The kids can stay on the lawn as long as they’ll listen to a little New Jack Swing.
Natalie Moore is a reporter for WBEZ.
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