In honor of Bumbershoot’s 40th anniversary (September 4-6 at Seattle Center) we’re rolling out one question a week for each decade that Bumbershoot has been bringing great acts to Seattle. (Dylan, Weezer, and Mary J. Blige are coming this year!)
Each week’s winner scores a pair of Standard Tickets (with guaranteed Mainstage access) to each day of the Festival! The first week, we asked a '70s question: Choose your favorite ’70s pop hit and write a brief essay explaining the secret political subtext of the song. (In the 70s, everything—even Tab commercials—were politicized by Vietnam, Patty Hearst, and the ERA.) Karen Hedberg's winning essay can be found here.
Last week, we asked an ’80s question: What does Ronald Reagan have to do with it?
Our winner, Cara Vallier, writes about Don Henley.
I was listening to X and the Sex Pistols and the Clash. It was 1984, I was 16, and I was fully entrenched in youthful rebellion. I went to punk clubs and threw myself into the mosh pit of hatred for Ronald Reagan and raged with open disdain for teh yuppies and Reagan Youth who elected him. Punk rock was, of course, explicit about its rejection of status quo. There wasn't much analysis about the state of current affairs and our country: It was f*cked.
Yet, it was in Don Henley's sappy, overplayed, MTV mainstain Boys of Summer that I found the relevant sentiment. Slipped in between lines like “babe, I'm gonna get you back” and the mention of “still loving you” was a line that epitomized the deep sadness I felt, and explained the resignation of hope and sense of betrayal I had about where we were as a nation under Reagan.
“Out on the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.” (In a recent cover by The Ataris, the band is changed to Black Flag).
Was greed good? Oh, yeah. Selling out? No problem. In my mind, Reagan's reelection simply proved that the generation before us had abandoned the counterculture principles of the 60's except in bumper-sticker form. They lost the drive to advocate---no, agitate---for revolution, and opted instead to cruise in comfort in their luxury automobiles fueled by the engine of trickle-down economics. Hearing the former Eagle sing it was even more powerful than punk because it came packaged, smooth and glossy, and completely devoid of anger. More powerful, and even more cynical.
And here's our '90s question.
Politically, we think the '90s were vacuous: Petty scandals ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman"); a Republican "revolution" that ended up being about stains on a blue dress; and, unlike '70s protest kids or '80s punks, teenage slackers retreated into grunge. Oh, and the grownups---that'd be the 20-somethings---retired on ill-gotten dot-com gains.
Our challenge: prove us wrong. Explain (with examples) why '90s music was more political than anti-Reagan '80s punk and morose '70s Watergate cynicism—and what it was trying to say.
Send essays to Wes@publicola.net—be sure to put “Bumbershoot contest” in the subject line.
Full Bumbershoot schedule here. Full Festival details here.