Anthems of the Adolescent World - Peter Pan Week on BTR


In the 21st century many adults in their 20s and 30s leave home- only to return.
They are often referred to as the Boomerang Generation.

You are still correct, Bob Dylan; the times, they are a changin,’ and undoubtedly they always will.

Along with an overdose of vegan cuisine and the proliferation of smartphones, the 21st century has seen a riptide of change in lifestyle and culture, both for the good, bad, and somewhat pathetic. Women are running companies; work can be done on the fly from computers resembling sheets of paper; retirement age has upped, and gas prices have no intention of going anywhere but to the sky. Also on the flipside, the new age has seen a rise in twenty and thirty year-olds moving in with their folks. Surprise Mom and Dad, Junior is back and he’s broke. Forget marriage and kids, these days it’s hard to support a single life.

According to a study done by the University of Chicago, “Because of divorce, cohabitation and single parenthood, a majority of families rearing children in the next century probably will not include the children’s two biological parents…most households will not include children.”

College grads hoping to delay the inevitable are taking up residence back home, relinquishing financial responsibility until they’re gainfully employed and out of debt. On a different note, the era of young marriage and baby boom has shifted into an epoch of anti-monogamy. More twentysomethings are frolicking amongst themselves, engaging the single life as long as it will hold out.

At a glimpse:

–       The number of children living with single parents increased from 4.7 percent in 1972 to 18.2 percent in 1998, while the number of children living with two unmarried adults who were formerly married moved from 3.8 percent to 8.6 percent.

–       Middle-class people are more likely to marry and remarry than working-class people, who are more likely to remain single or cohabitate.

–       In 1972, 33 percent of parents both held jobs, while in 1998, 67 percent were both employed. The percentage of households in which women worked while husbands stayed at home increased from 2 to 4 percent during the period.

–       In the 21st century, parents are spending 10 percent of their annual income helping their adult children.

–       25% of men aged 25 to 29 in the UK now live with their parents. This is almost double the proportion of women in their late 20s (13%) who still live at home.

Music has always reflected world narratives, pop culture relaying the story of history throughout time. Songs document current events, moods, and opinions, and recount the zeitgeist. Accordingly, the millennial jams of today steer a greatly divergent path than those of decades past, accommodating the more cynical outlook on the advent of adulthood, and a wholehearted embrace of dissonant work ethic.

To compare, look at Bruce Springsteen’s epic album, Born to Run, released in 1975, with a promising vision for the blue-collar worker. He was a man’s man who may not have gone to college, but was out of the house, in the grind, hoping to court a woman and have a baby. Springsteen’s lyrics so poignantly transcended his era by defining an interminable pursuit of the American Dream. Interpretations vary, and while some consider it a love letter, Springsteen has deemed it his ode to fleeing the security of home (in his case, Asbury Park), and taking life on its heels.

Notes writer Louis P. Masur in his examination for Slate, “The notes of alienation, loneliness, and violence yielded to love, companionship, and redemption.”

Thus, the ‘70s forged into the ‘80s with fervor and romance, along with a desire to breakaway from the neighborhood, and there were countless records with similar thematic structures. Some idealized the dawn of relationship like Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” and John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane;” others the novelty of craftsmanship and a promising life, or the ritual of having a job—think Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open,” and ” Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” There was something alluring about doing it on a grand scale, embracing the conventional tale of success. Manhattan Transfer sang about it with “Boy from New York City” and Foreigner discussed heightening pace in “Urgent.” And there was little doubt who wore the pants, as Sheena Easton described in “Morning Train (Nine till Five).”

So where does that leave us now in the age of promiscuity, delayed obligation, and perpetual bachelorhood? The more popular artists dwell on flashy, instant gratification and desire for something ripe. Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” tantalizes us with the freshness of youth, and nearly all Lady Gaga’s lyrics attest to analogous motifs, “Bad Romance,” among them. Women have it all, and it’s charming, according to Ne-Yo in “Miss Independent” (likely because women now commonly support their lovers). Furthermore, MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” suggests the young, detached lifestyle has become opus of the hipster world.

Perhaps the most perceptive testament to these changing times is Arcade Fire’s Grammy-winning album, The Suburbs. It’s a chronicle of youth scared to grow up; scared to leave the comforts of a home with a yard, where their parents car keys are within a hand’s reach and the burdens of a life where dreams don’t always come true are evaded. The song “Ready To Start” begins with a haunting phrase, “If the businessmen drink my blood,” and questions the value of real friendship in a grown-up world. In this place, dog eat dog is far scarier than living within the confines of childish existence. Nearly every song on the album calls to mind the state of affairs in the 21st century, even the titles indicating a push and pull with loneliness, free-living, and permanent wandering—“Suburban Wars,” “We Used To Wait,” “Culture Wars,” and “City With No Children.”

That’s not to say the contemporary period is for the worst. Maybe now we’re more willing to resist the pressures of nuclear life to be truer to ourselves. Minus the burden of marrying young to raise a family and buy a house, we meet more people, try out a variety of careers, travel and explore. In the end, such push for fewer limitations could enable us to live a more fruitful life.

As it goes, we will soon find out. Then, of course, everything will change again.