I remember it well — the crushing moment when I realized I had lost touch with popular culture. It was two or three years ago, during an appearance by NBC newscaster Brian Williams on a late-night talk show; Letterman, I think. In the middle of the interview, Williams dropped a reference to Snow Patrol. I recognized it as a band’s name, but that was it.
Crap, I thought. I’m less hip than even friggin’ Brian Williams.
For many years, I had managed to maintain the illusion — at least to myself — that I was keeping up with music and cultural trends. I had been aided in high school by a few trusted peers and, mostly, a great radio station that ushered me through the highs and lows of the 90s alt-rock era. (The station’s corporate overlords subsequently switched it to an all Spanish-language format.)
I had intermittent success with other radio stations in slightly more recent years, enough that I was the only person in my newspaper bureau who had ever heard of Death Cab for Cutie. But comparing my cultural currency against reporters 10 to 20 years older than me was, perhaps, setting the bar a bit low. (No offense, guys.)
As I write this, I’m embarrassed to say I still don’t know the difference between a Snow Patrol and a Vampire Weekend. I still haven’t heard a full song by Arcade Fire. I’m gradually forcing myself to become culturally literate by dialing up Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber on YouTube, but what I get out of those experiences usually consists mostly of detachedly analyzing the music’s component parts and how it was formed (in much the same way that I carefully examine the ripening contents of my compost bin). And whenever I do find radio station that plays something current I think I could like, the band names sound frighteningly like something out of Eric Idle’s yammering about Toad the Wet Sprocket, Dead Monkeys, and Trout.
Man, I hate getting old.