In Defense of Choosing a Musical Era and Living In It Forever

Aging brings with it a number of startling indignities and difficult internal monologues, and while we have our elders, decades of American literature, and countless two-guys talkin’ podcasts to help guide us, there are some things each of us has to face alone.

What I am saying is that I did not expect to be the guy who rocked a little too hard at the Toad the Wet Sprocket show.

I wasn’t the only one. There is something in the air about that medium-mope, wounded-dude mid-’90s music moment: Counting Crows, Collective Soul, Soul Asylum. Somehow I’m hearing it more now than in 1996, my glory days of wearing a Kangol hat backward and trying to use hype as an adjective. The soul-patched soundtrack of alternative radio, a revolution that was ignited at least partly by our disdain for classic rock, has become our new classic rock.

It’s IPA-core—soothing, warming, heavy but not too—and it might be our last classic rock.

Toad the Wet Sprocket was playing the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles last summer, with Gin Blossoms and Barenaked Ladies, a package tour so solidly middle-aged it could have been sponsored by Maybe Signing Up for a 10K This Year, a scene that with a few tiny adjustments could have been identified by the word megachurch. We were all doing it, and we were all surprised: sincere, blissful, plastic-pint-glass-in-the-air howling. Deep, diaphragmatic whooseven a yessss. Flesh becomes water, wood becomes bone? You’re goddamn right it does, Toad. Here we are now, entertain us—and get us home at a sensible hour.

The long, defeated yeah at the end of Counting Crows’ “A Long December” is the sound of your soul.

In choosing a year of music and deciding to live in it forever, we are doing exactly as our elders did and exactly what we made fun of them for. The reason classic rock is an enduring radio format is not that Foghat and Kansas were the pinnacle of music. It’s that it was the last mass appeal rock music before a cultural reset. The 30-something boomers who were programming and consuming radio in the early ’80s were afraid of the angular, British bands that were coming up, so they froze time in the year 1985. Now it’s 2023, Duran Duran and Eurythmics are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and your classic-rock radio station reacts by ignoring them harder, which is why they’re playing Lynyrd Skynyrd right now. (Switch over there! See?) Those 30-something radio guys are now 70-something, and if you think you’re going to get a 70-something boomer to voluntarily relinquish his power, may I introduce you to the government of the United States of America.

IPA-core doesn’t have the revolutionary swagger of the Rolling Stones or the party misogyny of Mötley Crüe—the alpha and omega artists of the classic-rock radio format—but it represents the last huge rock bands of the time when we could all agree on who the huge rock bands were. The acts that came after were Staind and Trapt and all those other bummer bands whose names look like Grindr, and for the past ten years it’s been the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons and an endless parade of artists who look like they want to make you a negroni. Now the lead singer of Staind is a MAGA country star. IPA-core won’t do you like that. Adam Duritz and Dave Matthews got into the wine business, like gentlemen.

This year, Yeah Yeah Yeahs are Grammy nominated, the Walkmen are back, and Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service tickets are selling for Taylor Swift prices. The nostalgia wheel has landed on the music of the early 2000s, the moment when a number of bands had the in their names, better tailoring, more designer drugs. The scene from which the Strokes and the Hives and the Vines all sprung was an exciting one, and having read Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the BathroomI find it a relief to see the bands of the early aughts become the Bands Who Go on 20th-Anniversary Tours.

But when bands who are a micro generation younger than your bands become the Bands Who Go on 20th-Anniversary Tours, people who are a micro generation younger than you begin to talk about how old they feel, the way you did when Goo Goo Dolls did their Dizzy Up the Girl 20th-Anniversary Tour, which was several years ago, which makes you feel older than old. You realize you will see James Murphy in a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony jam session in your lifetime. You become more aware of your mortality but also still feel young, just as every deluded old person has done before you. Where else is there for you to go than into the warm, mohair embrace of Counting Crows, a band so perpetually middle-aged that they played the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony before their debut album even came out?

What else is there for you to do but stay there?


IPA-core is soothing, warming, heavy but not too—and it might be our last classic rock.

Brian Finke

IPA-core nails a moment, whether you lived it in real time or not. It speaks to that stage in your life when you’re far enough into the real world to lose your illusions about it. You’re feeling mature, so you express that maturity through the easy outlet of ennui. The long, defeated yeah at the end of Counting Crows’ “A Long December” is the sound of your soul.

The music has met its moment. We’re watching a world slide into chaos, democracy appears to be unraveling, and now we have to know who Andrew Tate is. We’re navigating life at what may be the end of the world, so we can finally be as weary as Adam Duritz when he was dating Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston.

IPA-core is the spirit of ’96, and it is right on time in 2023. Pop it open. It’s Generation X’s gift to you.

And no, I’m afraid we did not keep a receipt.

Essential Dave Holmes stories to read next:

  • Tina Turner Is Pure, Eternal Energy
  • I’m Gen X and I Just Got My AARP Card. This Feels Like a Mistake.
  • The Story of Huey Lewis Is Not a Tragedy

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Dave Holmes


Dave Holmes is Esquire’s L.A.-based editor-at-large. His first book, “Party of One,” is out now.

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