Grunge Legend Joe Biden Gives a Shoutout to the Lamestains in the Wack Slacks
This election season, this entire cursed year, has worn me down to such a nub that my emotions aren’t just on my sleeve, they’re dripping off the end of my fingers like motor oil. And I can prove it. Because this Joe Biden ad just about made me cry.
This fact is, well, it’s rather pathetic. But it’s also true. The ad, titled “The Blind Pig,” features Joe Malcoun, co-owner of the titular Blind Pig, a rock venue in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a fabled rock haunt that hosted, among many others, Iggy Pop, R.E.M. and Nirvana, who called it their “number one venue of choice anywhere, ever.” Malcoun talks about how his venue has been empty since March and is in serious danger of shutting down, a fact he (quite rightly, I’d argue) blames on Donald Trump’s feckless reaction to the pandemic. As someone who counts live music shows as one of the things he misses most desperately in 2020, the ad makes me righteously furious, as was intended.
But mostly, in its use of The Pixies and the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” — which the band licensed to the Biden campaign, the first time they’ve ever let one of their songs be used in a political context — it makes me feel seen. Because no one ever sees Gen-Xers.
I wrote about the sorry lot in life for us Gen-Xers at the very beginning of this pandemic, how we were very much stuck in the middle: As parents, we worried about our children’s mental health, and as children, it made us worried about our parents’ physical health. And that has very much played out: Baby boomers are hanging on desperately to power, Gen Z and millennials have all the spending power (and free time without kids to care for so they can go out in protest in the streets like we Gen Xers all want to) and we are … ignored as always. That I could get so emotional from a simple nod from a presidential candidate — albeit a 77-year-old one who wouldn’t know J Mascis from J.Crew — speaks to how little anyone in the political arena ever thinks about Generation X. Candidates want the older vote. Candidates want the youth vote. Nobody much sweats the “middle-aged record collector” vote.
It’s little wonder, really, that we’ve been so passed over politically. As the late great Gen-X icon Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote for GEN just last year, there has been nothing but political failure for the failure generation. Generation X is generally defined as people born between 1965–1980, which is a pretty massive number of human beings (around 65 million), people between the ages of 55 and 40 right now. How close are any of these people to power? Take a look at the line of presidential succession. Do you know how far you have to go down to find someone between the ages of 40 and 55? All the way to the Secretary of the Interior! That’s eight full spots. And the Secretary of the Interior is David Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist (of course) who looks like this:
Something tells me he’s not a huge Dinosaur Jr. fan either.
There has never been a president or a vice president from Gen X, and the only Gen X nominee ever was Paul Ryan. (To Ryan’s credit, he, presumably unlike David Bernhardt, was a fan of Rage Against the Machine and the Coen brothers. To Ryan’s deficit, literally everything else.) Of the 45,372 Democratic candidates who ran for president this year, six are members of Generation X (from oldest to youngest): Steve Bullock, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Julian Castro and Andrew Yang. O’Rourke is often considered the most traditionally Gen-X candidate — the guy played in a punk band, ran a fanzine, lived in Williamsburg and wrote a blog, for crying out loud — and that makes sense, because he had a wandering youth, is introspective, worked himself up to something impressive while seeming sort of guilty about it and, most of all, never wins any office he runs for. But it’s worth noting that none of these men, O’Rourke excluded, are particularly “known” for being Gen-X, at least outside of those in Generation X themselves. No one thinks any of them will “bring in the Gen-X vote.” The only people who even care about the “term” Generation X now are people in Generation X themselves. And then only barely.
Which is why the Biden campaign’s nod to Gen X felt so appreciated. We just want to be noticed. We just want someone to remember that not being able to go see Wilco and Sleater-Kinney right now really sucks, man. But, of course, the slightness of this nod is proof of the overall concept. Remember, there are an estimated 65.2 million members of Generation X in the United States. That’s a lot of voters. And what do they give us? A little one-minute web-only ad with two seconds of The Pixies and five of the Beastie Boys. It is a sign of how little anyone cares about us that just giving us that much felt like the kindest thing any politician has done for us in years. And you know what? We will take it. This nation of latchkey kids will take any attention we can get.
(A shoutout to the greatest Gen-X prank ever for providing this headline.)
Will Leitch will be writing multiple pieces a week for Medium. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.