The pop culture identity of Generation X will always be synonymous with the 1980s and '90s. Collectively those were the decades that we grew up, came of age, and reached adulthood. During the Reagan years our radio airwaves were dominated by the likes of Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson, three performers that while technically weren't members of the Pepsi Generation (all were born in 1958), they were part of those crossover years that happen between every generation and had far more in common with the kids of the '80s than those born right after World War II. As the decade wore on a slick, glammed out version of heavy metal dominated MTV and the radio. Underneath the surface of all of that glitz and pomp bubbled a scene filled with misfits and freaks, nerd and rejects, art kids and the unwanted, punks and goths and rudies and straight edgers and the like, all creating a music and a scene that would blow up and dominate the next decade. Some of the bands that came out of this/these scenes found crossover success early on (see U2, INXS, and a slew of new wave one-hit-wonders) but others never would. The 1990s would see these same freaks and geeks thrust into the spotlight of mainstream success, changing the world, as Hole would later sing, "with one song."
Now it would be impossible to do a comprehensive study of the music that defined Generation X, at least here and certainly not by me. There were movements in heavy metal, country, and most notably hip hop that I am simply not qualified to write about (though I do love me some late '80s and early '90s hip hop jams). What I can discuss is the music that boiled out of the punk scene of the 1970s and the various scenes and sub-genres that followed (though I barely know anything about industrial or goth music), but even with that limitation doing a comprehensive look at this music would be a massive undertaking (there have been books written on this subject for Pete's sake). So with that in mind, I'm going to cover the voices that define the musical legacy of this generation to me in a new series The Voices of a Generation X.
The beginnings of the band go back to 1978 when a 19 year-old Bob Stinson gave his 11 year-old brother Tommy a bass guitar to keep him off the streets. The pair enlisted Chris Mars and a band was formed. Paul Westerberg overheard the band rehearsing when on his way home from work and was eventually invited to jam by Mars. After a failed show at a church, the band changed their name and officially became The Replacements. According to Mars the name had a specific meaning --
"Like maybe the main act doesn't show, and instead the crowd has to settle for an earful of us dirtbags....It seemed to sit just right with us, accurately describing our collective 'secondary' social esteem."It was this sentiment the oozed out of everything The Replacements ever did, from sloppy records of incredible power pop songs played through the combined lens of Big Star and The Jam to baffling inebriated live performances that were either legendary brilliant or epicly horrible. The band found itself either too rough around the edges or too polished at varying points in their career, making them the greatest band of the '80s that never quite made it. In the end they went out in true Replacements' fashion with each remaining member leaving the stage mid-performance to be replaced by their respective roadies. During their run, they released eight records (seven full-lengths and one EP), each good to great in their own rights with the three in the middle being nothing short of brilliant. Twenty-two years later, Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg reunited to perform at the Riot Fest shows in Toronto, Chicago, and Denver before embarking on multiple tours over the next couple of years before once again calling it a day. The long and storied history of the band was detailed in Bob Mehr's book Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements and the early, pre-major label portion of their career was covered in Michael Azerrad's brilliant book Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981–1991.