Midnight In Paris Syndrome

MIPS, or Midnight In Paris Syndrome (a syndrome I just made up) is a hell of a thing. Named after the movie, Midnight In Paris, it is a syndrome that affects all of us at one time or another in our lives. If you haven’t seen the movie, I suggest you give it a watch. In my opinion, it is one of Woody Allen’s best films and I say that as a fan of Allen’s work. Not the work he did with his step-daughter, that’s just nauseating. But the man can make a movie. In a very brief nutshell; the film is about a man named Gil, (Owen Wilson) who travels to Paris with his fiancée (Rachel MdAdams) and her stuffy, wealthy, boorish-American family. While there, Gil is magically transported to the Jazz Age each night at 12, where he meets and mingles with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali and many more. Gil is enamored with this time period and when he eventually falls in love with a girl from the seemingly time-stuck parallel universe, he decides he would rather live that life in that universe rather than the life that he had in daylight reality. One of the most interesting conversations in the entire movie comes near the end. He and the girl he has fallen for are magically transported to late 19th century Paris or a time referred to as, La Belle Époque. This happens to be his new love’s favorite time period from the past. She makes it clear to Gil that she would rather spend the rest of her life there, rather than the 1920’s or the Jazz Age, which was Gil’s favorite time from the past. It is at this moment when the truth dawns on Gil and he realizes that people will always be nostalgic for the past, regardless of what generation they belong to. Again, excellent movie.

This idea became very apparent to me a couple months back while having a conversation with one of my students. For some reason, this particular student is interested in the music of my generation. Namely; grunge and alternative from the early to mid-nineties. It is fun to talk music with him and dig up names, songs and ghosts from the past that I haven’t thought of in years or spoken of in ages. It is almost flattering to hear him speak in such glowing terms about the bands that became part of my everyday existence when I was his age. Flattering insofar as it is nice to know that someone appreciates the generation for what I love it for; the music of the time. For the entire lives of Gen Xers and millennials, we have had to endure endless hours of circle jerking and tearful remembrances of the 1960’s from our parents. Let me be clear; I enjoy the music of the 1960’s. I am not saying that the decade was not an incredibly important time in American history. As for the pop-music, I absolutely love a lot of the songs, bands, groups etc. that came about in that almost insanely talented and musically innovative decade. However, I couldn’t give a rat’s about the ‘movement’ that went along with it. Honestly, it just seems like everyone decided to become a whiny little wimp for a while until the harsh realities of looming adulthood eventually forced them to grow a few more layers of skin. For some, it was unfortunately too late and that is why we still have to endure people like Jerry Brown. So, it is nice to receive some credit for my generation’s contribution to pop-music for once. Even if it is from a kid who isn’t legally old enough to vote.

As life seems to have a twisted sense of irony, it was ’90’s weekend’ on a popular radio station out of Hartford a couple days ago. The wife and I had a few errands to run which gave me about an hour in total to annoy her with my off-key singing to such gems as ‘Big Empty’, ‘Plowed’, ‘Sex and Candy’, ‘Backwater’, ‘The Distance’, ‘Peaches’, ‘About A Girl’ etc. I should mention; she is 4 years my junior and so while she remembers the majority of the songs that I caterwalled to, she was a little too young to really embrace the spirit of the music at the time. Most 7-year-old girls aren’t interested in being sullen and telling their mothers and fathers that they don’t “understand the pain of this generation.” At least I hope they don’t. Strolling down memory lane was fun as it usually is but as it always seems to do it led to the dull ache of nostalgia. Which led me to think about the conversations about the 90’s and pop-music that I’d had with my student. It was sort of eye-opening in a bizarre and relatively harsh way. I realized that once I removed the sentimental hooey from my analytics of the time period and thought about some of the passing comments I had made to my student, it became clear; my generation was dangerous.

When I first started talking to my student about the 90’s and grunge, it was because I had made a passing reference in class to a Nirvana song which only this one particular student recognized. At first, I found myself being the preening generation groupie that I used to loathe. I gloated about how great the music was, how it was a time of rebellion and breaking cultural expectations and how for the first time kids got the idea that they were more than robots operating solely out of hormones and stupidity across to their parents. Yeah, pretty much a bunch of bullshit. The kid was eating it up. MIPS in full effect, he said something along the lines of, “I wish it was still like that.” I swelled with pride. The 90’s meant something to me. They were the decade in which I found music and more importantly, my own music. For the first time, driving around in the backseat of my parent’s car didn’t mean that I had to endure hours of their music whether I liked it or not. Now, when flipping around the dial, every once in a while I would yell, “LEAVE IT!” from the back of my dad’s Oldsmobile. I was officially plugged into the scene and I was hooked. I would watch hours and hours of MTV by myself or with friends because I was in the transitional time of life between watching cartoons and discovering sketch comedy like MTV’s The State. I knew more about pop music at 12 years old than Duke Ellington knew about Jazz at 30 years old simply because I was inundated with it. It was the only form of entertainment we had. Or at least that is what I thought. Clearly, I was aware of the existence of TV and movies and comic books and video games and blah blah blah, but none of them seemed as important to me. To illustrate this point, years ago, I was talking to a friend about shows that we used to watch when we were kids. He was absolutely astonished when he heard me utter the words, “I’ve never even heard of Thundercats.” I had no idea what the hell a Thundercat was nor could I tell you literally anything about WWF but I could tell you what the cover art for STP’s Core was and the songs that I liked and the songs that I disliked from Siamese Dream. I thought he was going to have a stroke when I told him that I had never seen The Goonies. Whoops.

I have friends my age who absolutely know what a Thundercat is and could tell you how much oil was used to make those WWF wrestlers as shiny as they were and they know a hell of a lot about music also. I pointed to the fact that I was borderline obsessed with the music of my generation and how oblivious I was to everything else to illustrate how proud I was when discussing those days with my student… at first. I say at first because after a few more chats I found myself saying things like; “yeah man, it’s good stuff but I mean… don’t listen to too much of it” or, “I don’t know dude but if you start to get depressed, put Incesticide down for a while and play some Blind Melon or something.” All I could think of was this poor kid going home and staring at his wall until his eyes started to bleed while listening to ‘Runaway Train’ by Soul Asylum. And that is what I ultimately mean when I say that the generation and its pop music were and could still possibly be dangerous. There is no doubt in my mind that the reason we only have Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan left of the ‘big’ frontmen is because when you peddle bleakness, hopelessness and depression for the better part of 25 years and throw in a healthy heaping of drugs there is a good chance it’ll all come back to string you up one day. Literally.

This is partly the reason, I think anyway, why my generation sort of skipped over the 90’s nostalgia and for some reason decided the 80’s were the end-all be-all of ironically cool fashion, music, movies etc. When I was in college (early 2000’s) there were a plethora of 80’s themed parties. It was almost like you couldn’t escape it. It grated on me. I was not the biggest fan of the decade for a number of reasons.

  1. I didn’t give a shit about being in the first grade nor do I look back on it and say, “those were the days.”
  2. The music overall was crap. However, my favorite band is still Tears For Fears and I have a robust library of 80’s songs and groups that I think are fantastic.
  3. I don’t really remember them other than … nah I don’t really remember them.

So there I was, in my early teens / late twenties surrounded by people pining for the days of Flock of Seagulls. I never understood, perhaps because I simply didn’t want to, the fascination with the 80’s and the nostalgic game of leapfrog my generation played which completely cropped out the 90’s. It is much clearer now. No one want’s to recreate being miserable whether it is genuine or ersatz misery. Case in point: arguably the worst episode of the Simpsons ever created was the flashback episode where Homer and Marge were supposed to have gotten together during the 90’s. The, ‘Sadgasm’ episode. *Shudder* Talking to my student for a few weeks about the 90’s put things in a much clearer perspective for me when it came to being honest about my generation and the music I loved. I find myself now thinking; I am glad that the 90’s are over and they need to stay over.

I am not going to attempt to lay out all the positives and the negatives from that decade or explain why I loved it as much as I did. That is not the point. The point I suppose I am trying to make is that MIPS is a real thing. Real enough to seduce a normal, modern teenager. Unfortunately a serious case of 90’s MIPS can produce more than just someone wearing outdated clothes and blasting music their parents like. It can produce a longing for a time when everyone was absolutely miserable for one reason or another. Even if you weren’t miserable, you had to pretend to be. Sullen was the name of the game and we who played it were fucking masters at it. A very real possible by-product of that mock misery is real misery. Make no mistake, the aftershocks of the 90’s can still be felt in our modern social justice warrior legions. We all need something to be miserable about or at least that is what the 90’s convinced us of and the parents of the college kids you sneer at for needing safe spaces are the people who grew up listening to the morbid shit we shoved in our ears constantly in those days. The only difference between the unchecked misery of the current generation is that they have to put some effort into finding music that fits their attitudes seeing as how pop music seems to have reverted to a modern version of Frankie Valli-esque, bubblegum crap. We were lucky. Our anger-fueling music was spoon-fed to us on a daily basis by major media confirming our right to be depressed and justifying our anger at a world that hadn’t done a fucking thing to harm us yet. What a time to be alive.

I found myself trying to sell the 90’s short in subsequent conversations with my student. Not because I dislike the music now and not because I have the power to dissuade him from heading down the 90’s rabbit-hole. I never once said to him, “well I was there, kid” in an attempt to sound like an expert or belittle his interest in the music. The fact of the matter is that I was there. They represent a special time in my life for a number of different reasons and that is why they will always be special to me. Remove those reasons and all I see is a bleak, pretentious, depressing, annoying, violent and kinda stupidly serious decade. My parent’s generation wanted to run away to San Francisco. Mine wanted to run away to Seattle. ‘Nuff said. I end up selling the generation and decade short now on purpose because of those awful aspects of it. There is no reason under the sun to fondly desire a time when if you didn’t tell people you hated your life, even if you didn’t, you would be ostracized for being, “lame.” Unfortunately, in true 90’s fashion, the more I shit on the decade the more my student seems to be interested in it. Eventually I am going to shake his hand at graduation and look him dead in the eyes and say; “it’s been awesome knowing you and talking to you about some of my favorite music. Now please go live your life and don’t kill yourself.”  If that isn’t a stinging indictment of my generation, one which I never thought I’d make, then I don’t know what is.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go watch Seinfeld and listen to Greta.

Midnight In Paris Syndrome

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