I caught this breezy, entertaining story about the baby on the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind album on All Things Considered last night. That baby is 17 now, which — as reporter Chana Joffe-Walt helpfully points out — makes me very old.
I almost feel bad for the kid — whose real name is Spencer Elden — because his over-the-top teenage ennui is permanently captured in the NPR archives. It doesn’t help that Joffe-Walt assumes a near-mockumentary tone throughout the whole piece. It really doesn’t help that Elden is nostalgic for an era that he never knew and calculatedly overwrought about it to the point of self-parody:
These days, Elden says, his peers concentrate on “playing Rock Band on Xbox, like, that’s not a real band! That’s the difference between the ’90s and kids nowadays; kids in the ’90s would actually go out and make a [real] band!”
But overall, life is good, he says. When he’s not being repressed by video games and computers, Elden blasts music — mostly techno — and carries around a big bag of angst, mostly around the fact that he is “so over” high school.
“Same people, same teachers … going to your locker, worrying about stupid girls … I wanna get something going, I wanna travel,” he says.
Andrea points out that if Elden is disappointed by doing the same thing every day, he is likely to be unimpressed with life after high school in its many forms. I was grateful that no one interviewed me on national radio when I was a teenager, but I’m mostly just impressed at how little things change: everyone wishes that they were a teenager at a different time, as if that is the precise circumstance that would make young adulthood more bearable.
You see, when Elden was being photographed in a swimming pool, I was a teenager. I think I had Nevermind on cassette. Elden is nostalgic for an idealized version of my adolescence!
I find his nostalgia wholly hilarious, since I spent an awful lot of time jumping through hoops in school, mired in tedium or trivia, and worrying about girls (some of whom, no doubt, were “stupid”). Most pointedly, when I was a teenager, I thought that everything (and especially “youth culture”) would have been better, more interesting, and more authentic had I only been seventeen years older.
Yes, my friends and I gathered our actual musical instruments and congregated in various formations in basements to make noise — but, had we access to Rock Band, we sure as hell would have played it, too. I know this because what we had instead was Jeopardy! on the Nintendo Entertainment System, which involved typing in responses (in the form of a question) with a joypad — and we played that by choice.
Instead of posting angsty rants on MySpace, we published them at Kinko’s. When I was a teenage “independent publisher,” I often spent more than half of my after-school income making photocopies. Now I spend a few dollars a month on web hosting and don’t lose money or irritate friends if I don’t accurately estimate my readership numbers every time I write something new.
When I wished that I had been a teenager a short generation earlier, part of the appeal was the prospect of being able to hear punk rock bands like the Sex Pistols or the Clash while they were still young and relevant, still performing, or still alive, depending on the group. In the Sex Pistols’ 1976 song “Anarchy in the U.K.,” Johnny Rotten snarls “I don’t know what I want, but I know how to get it.” I can think of no better single-sentence summary of the mindset of teenage angst.