A few weeks ago, I wrote about Yacht Rock. In that masters-level dissertation on one of the definitive Yacht Rock bands and two of their definitive songs, I caught myself before going off on a tangent. It’s rare for me to catch a digression, so let’s all celebrate with the digression in full:
Generations are weird things. For the most part, the people that determine the boundaries of a particular generation are full of crap. Historically, generations were supposed to be twenty years long. Hence, by some estimations, everyone born between 1946 and 1965 are Baby Boomers. By that rationale, someone who was born the year after JFK was assassinated has had the same general reference points in their life as someone who was 17-years old at the time. And that’s, obviously, utter bullshit. Recently, I’ve seen a number of social scientists shrinking the size of a generation down to a fifteen-year birth span. So in their eyes, the Baby Boom ended in 1960.
Regardless of the definition, it’s wrong. How in the world would someone born in 1958 have the same overarching life story as someone born in 1946? Let’s take a look at the definitive moments of a Baby Boomers lifetime. The JFK assassination, that great loss of innocence that ushered in the teenage years of a standard Boomer, happened when 1958-kid was five years old. My kid’s almost five years old and she doesn’t even know who the president is. The Summer of 1968, when the rest of this guys “generation” were college students protesting the Democratic National Convention, he was ten. He was fifteen years old when the Vietnam draft was suspended in 1973. How the hell can you be a Baby Boomer if you never had to worry about the draft?
So sorry, everyone born after 1955, but there is no way you are a Baby Boomer. And let’s be honest, you probably know that. You know that the Bee Gees had a bigger effect on your life than the Beatles. You probably have more in common with me than with my parents.
Lately some social scientists have started splitting the generations in half. Early Boomers and Late Boomers is now a thing. Then they try to come up with some kitschy phrase for the “left out” half of the generation, like calling the Late Boomers “The Jones Generation.”
A similar issue is now going on with Millennials. Originally, that generation was supposed to be the babies born in the nineties, but then it started creeping backward. Recently, I’ve see the standard definition of “Millennial” as being born between 1983-1997, but I’ve seen some of those designations stretch as far back as 1981 and as far forward as 2000.
And of course, now we’ve got a “Post-millennial” thing going on, which was recently defined as everyone born after 1997. Not to make you feel old or anything, but the period of time from 1997 to the present is already over the standard twenty-year gap.
And once again, the Millennial thing makes no sense. If JFK was the definitive event of the Baby Boomers, then it’s gotta be 9/11 for the Millennials, right? And can we honestly say that someone who was nineteen or twenty when the towers came down has had the same general life experience as someone who was four? The twenty year-old might remember bringing liquid through airport security, the four-year old assuredly does not. One of the political podcasts I listen to say that the definitive moment for people born after 1990 is more likely to be the financial crash of 2008 than 9/11. Hence the affinity of the under-30 set toward socialist politicians, because they see capitalism, not terrorists, as the thing that upended the tranquility of their early life. A crash, by the way, that happened six years before my daughter, technically in their “same generation,” was born.
(Oh hey, slight editing note: in that last paragraph, where I wrote “the towers came down,” I initially, subconsciously wrote it as “the wall came down.” Want to guess my generation?)
I have a friend who was born in 1981. He really doesn’t like being lumped in with Millennials. Similar to the post-1955 Baby Boomers, he wants to split that generation from the eighties and nineties in two. I’ve heard the early 1980s babies referred to as “Xennials,” which is part Gen X, part Millennial, and entirely fucking stupid. My friend prefers to be called the Oregon Trail Generation, because that’s the game they all cut their teeth on. My niece was born in 1995. If you showed her Oregon Trail, she would probably have trouble distinguishing it from Pong.
And the computer experiences of 1980s babies and 1990s babies go well beyond their favorite video games. My 1981 friend remembers floppy disks and pre-Internet days. My 1995 niece has always been able to point and click her way through the World Wide Web.
I, on the other hand, was too old for Oregon Trail and primarily remember it as a game one of the kids I babysat playing while I was in Junior High.
Wait, did we used to babysit in Junior High? That seems young. Would I leave my daughter with a thirteen year-old? Yikes. I don’t even know if I’d trust an eighteen year-old. Meh. As long as they don’t let her play Oregon Trail, it should be fine.
Interesting, I hear you saying, but what the hell does any of this have to do with Yacht Rock? I’m glad you asked.
You see, I’m from that generation that no longer exists, according to this wonderful infographic that CBS recently ran:
Aw, good old Generation X. We love the fact that y’all have forgotten about us. And that our generation appears to be shrinking by the day.
Growing up, I was barely considered a Gen Xer. One of the many, many variant explanations for where the X in Generation X came from was was because it was the tenth generation of Americans. Assuming a generation lasts twenty years, they used to describe Generation X as ending at the bicentennial in 1976.
So, being born in 1974, I always remember hearing I was closer to Generation Y (a name that ended up not sticking), and I even remember thinking at the time that that was bullshit. Because if Generation X was defined by cynicism and latchkeyism and a general understanding that the world and our parents didn’t really want us there, then sign me the fuck up. Because look at this chart of birth rates following World War II:
You see where that bad boy bottoms out? Early 1970s. Nobody wanted us. And we knew it.
Of course, as time’s gone on, and as we’ve had to move things around to define Millennials properly, we’ve now, rightfully, extended my generation all the way to 1980. The Generation that defied labels is now absolutely, definitively known as encompassing the years 1961, or maybe 1965, to 1980, or maybe 1975. So, meh, if you happened to be born in a random ten to twenty year span, you might be part of this generation that gets dropped off of any sort of discussion of the generations.
Politics aside, I find myself rooting really, really hard for the likes of Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro, or maybe Nikki Haley in 2024, because they might be the only shot Generation X has of getting a president. The Baby Boom’s been in the Oval Office since 1992 (1988 if you count Veeps), and now people are already gushing over Pete Buttigieg as the first Millennial candidate. By 2028, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be old enough to run, and I’m pretty sure the news media has already appointed her to the presidency for the rest of time after that. Kamala Harris was born in 1964 and you just fucking know that if she wins next year, the Boomers will claim her like they did with Obama (1961).
So Generation X, it’s now or never.
So what the hell does any of this have to do with Yacht Rock?
Well, it all comes down to that early/late split of my rapidly dwindling generation. We didn’t have a JFK Assassination or a 9/11. The closest thing we might have had was the Berlin Wall coming down, but that was a win for the good guys, so it doesn’t really count. The Challenger explosion? Okay sure. I remember where I was, but it was much more of a singular event than anything with lasting social or political consequences. Nobody who was alive in 1986 ever talks about what it was like in the good old days before the space shuttle exploded, and that now we all have to drink our Tang differently. All we really have is some off-color Christa McAuliffe jokes.
Quick. Quick! What color eyes did Christa McAuliffe have? What was the last thing she said to her husband? What does NASA stand for? Why are they sponsored by Sprite?
(If you answered something relating to blue and feeding the fish and “Because they couldn’t get seven-up,” then you, too, were in grade school in 1986. Congratulations!)
So now that my generation is only ten years, with no line of demarcation, what’s left to distinguish the early part from the later? What is the great divide that differentiates a pre-1970 baby from a post-1970 baby?
One word: Toto.
Two more words: Rosanna. Africa.
If you thought I was talking about a woman and a place, then you probably aren’t part of my generation at all. Go play your Oregon Trail or your Pong. Still with me? Then put down the Donkey Kong and follow me.
“Rosanna” and “Africa” are two songs on the Toto IV album, which came out in 1982. I assume the album was named after the band’s affinity for taking drugs intravenously. “Rosanna” was the first single off of that album, which was released in April of 1982. It spent most of that year on the charts. “Africa” was the third single from that album, released in October of 1982, and did most of its damage in 1983.
Because if you ask a Gen Xer, instead of asking which Kennedy assassination affected you more, we can ask a far more scientific quandary. What is the definitive Toto song?
Don’t get me wrong. I love “Rosanna.” The groove, the harmonizing, the lyrics. I would put it far higher on the Yacht Rock scale than “Africa.” It was a power ballad before power ballads were even a thing. And everyone I know who was born before 1971, when you start a sentence with, “Hey, you know that one Toto song…” will respond with, “Rosanna?”
My generation? Or microgeneration? We will assume you’re talking about “Africa.” I know they were only released six months apart from each other, but “Africa” had legs that extended well into the mid-1980s. The video for “Africa” features a wacky storyline, something that was clearly created after MTV had become the titular channel for a generation. As such, the song and video lasted well into 1984 and 1985.
The video for “Rosanna,” on the other hand, didn’t get much play on cable in mid-decade. In fact, I just had to look it up on YouTube, and I don’t recognize it at all. It certainly doesn’t sit well with a 2019 mentality. Totally skeevy stalker video. Although maybe it was seen as inappropriate at the time, too, since the band appears to be locked up in detention cell behind a chain-link fence. Or maybe they’re on an inner-city basketball course? Was that a place that pervy white dudes with porn ‘staches would hang out in 1982?
Regardless, “Rosanna” was made to exist on the radio. “Africa” was made for MTV. And really, isn’t that a generational divide as great as any? In fact, now that I think about it, that might be one of the definitive breaks in not just my generation, but the twentieth century writ-large. very Forget the Stock Market Crash. Save your Pearl Harbor. The Nixon-Kennedy debate? Please. The single most monumental turning point in all of history is the moment in time between “Rosanna” and “Africa.”
And I was there for it! I saw it happen, in real time!
Gen X for the win!
Now leave us alone while we keep showing up for work and paying all your taxes.