Jeff Vrabel: Proof that music was better back then

Jeff Vrabel

Like anyone who finds themselves rocketing speedily into middle age, obsolescence and eventually death, there are a great many things I am promising to never ever do, believe, wear, think, vote for or say out loud, all of which I will almost certainly do, probably by the end of writing this column.

Such things include: wearing a light-blue polo shirt tucked into khaki shorts, listening to a complete album by Josh Groban, golfing, talking about golf, telling stories about golf, purchasing a GPS for my car, getting really into a reality show, worrying more about the traffic leaving an event than the event itself, spending any appreciable amount of time discussing the amount of material currently on my TiVo, and going on an extended discourse about how much better music was when I was in college than it is now.

Yet I am finding my hand forced on that last one today, because, as it turns out, music WAS extremely better when I was in college than it is now. But lest you think I'm some sad aging hipster trying to hold onto the last tender shreds of his fading twenties -- which I promise to get back to doing as soon as I'm done writing here -- I have proof.

Some time ago I found myself back in my college town, a leafy limestoney hamlet in the Midwest known for its verdant landscapes, John Mellencamp and the ability to kick sad old basketball coaches out of their jobs in an extremely inconsistent fashion. I hadn't been back in many years, during which time I had the unpleasant experience of getting older, while the school itself evidently underwent some shift in enrollment policy that allowed it to admit children who appear to be in the eighth grade and below.

I bring this up to illustrate that time had, in fact, passed, which is an important plot point. That night, as one is inclined to do when one is revisiting old haunts, I went out to a few old favorite bars with my cousin, whose boyfriend served as the DJ at the last place we went to, a very popular sports-oriented spot that employs 11-year-old doormen who uproariously carded me on the way in. (Confidential to the Jonas Brother with ridiculous dinner-plate-sized sunglasses who pretended to check my ID: Thanks, junior, I think I'm OK, and your Mom's in the Explorer waiting for you to go home.)

Anyway, granted, I did not go to school in Manhattan, or downtown Chicago, or South Beach. But being at a college bar in a college town I more or less expected the DJ there -- and at the other bars, of course -- to be playing some combination of whatever familiar-sounding skintight-T-shirt wearing collective with 12-word song titles has been slobbered over this month.

Imagine my surprise when, after just a few songs, it became shockingly apparent that the music the kids listened to now was the EXACT SAME as the music I listened to then, and in most cases, it went back even further: Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, jeez, even, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Dave Matthews for some reason, bands whose hipster-approved Circle of Life has apparently lapped itself already and whose levels of appreciation have gone from Actual to Ironic to Post-Ironic in record time.

The newest song he threatened to play was that one that basically consists of featherweight nitwit Kid Rock singing some absolutely hilarious lyrics over "Werewolves of London" and "Sweet Home Alabama," two songs that are popular already, which is sort of like being a sports fan but only watching the Bulls' 1990s title runs.

I left the bar that night thinking a number of things, mostly that I was tired and that the music was too loud and $3.50 for a Miller Lite -- are you kidding me with these prices? But I also felt heartened and validated, for my generation was apparently the last to produce music that people want to listen to when drinking, which is when most people listen to it anyway. You can't hide from that, kids, no matter how big your sunglasses are.

Jeff Vrabel is a freelance writer whose first concert was Bon Jovi, and whose third concert was Bon Jovi. He can be reached at www.jeffvrabel.com.