An Alternative View Of The 90's


Like a lot of people who grew up in the 80's and 90's, I enjoy watching stuff from that era on YouTube. It always amuses me but is also sad to read the endless comments from people longing for those days to return in every video from that period. Last night I was watching a few old TFI Friday videos. Every few comments was somebody describing their Friday night routine back then, which involved coming home from work, watching TFI Friday, then heading out to pubs and clubs. The irony of a bunch of people all robotically repeating the same routine and believing this was the "good old days" seemed lost on them. Many regret not recognising back then where we were heading.

It's easy to say "I told you so" in hindsight but I was somebody who DID recognise we had a problem and were going in the wrong direction back at that time. My situation - pushed out of work just as I was starting out in the adult world due to what was thought to be an illness but was in fact a spiritual phenomenon - gave me a very unique vantage point to see what most of my peers missed, because they were too busy partying.

My experience of the 90's was different to most of my generation. Yes, I enjoyed the music and the Britpop culture up to a point but it wasn't a particularly great time for me personally. I was a little too young to fully immerse myself in the scene. I came to it a little late and by the time I had turned 18 it was coming to an end, then due to what I mentioned above, I was out of the game for a year or two. From this slightly detached position I could clearly see humanity was heading for trouble.

Unlike most of my generation, I felt very alone during the mid to late 90's. I didn't experience the camaraderie some speak of, it seemed to me people were becoming more cold, more cut-off, more judgemental, less friendly and less social. I used to long for connection and one of my favourite times of year was during the Edinburgh Festival in July and August when tourists would come from all over the world to Edinburgh. It gave me the feeling of togetherness but that wasn't the reality. I liked the idea of friendships forming with people from different parts of the world but the actual chances of a meaningful encounter were rare. Part of why those months carried a buzz was because the rest of the year I could sense Scots were becoming more isolated from each other. Since it didn't feel easy to connect with your own nationality, perhaps it could happen with foreigners. I can remember lots of nights in pubs and clubs with high expectations of a fun night out, meeting new people, and then going home with a pizza and the same bunch of people feeling disappointed. I remember on many occasions I'd come back in at 4am, stick on 'Temple Of Low Men' by Crowded House on the headphones and feel a sense of dread at what was coming. "Time will keep me warm, feel my face... Fear will take the place of desire" sang Neil Finn on the closing track "In The Lowlands".

The truth is the signs of the loneliness everybody recognises now were there in the 90's but most people didn't notice because they were caught up in a haze of alcohol. Everything revolved around alcohol in the 90's. What the nostalgic commenters on social media are longing for is a return to getting off their face without consequences so they don't have to face the reality. Now there is nowhere to hide, we can't pretend things are fine, and people still wish to bury their heads in the sand. There seems to be two modes today - those who long for the past, wanting everything back to how it was then and those who think this new technocracy we live in is wonderful and progressive and want to go head first into this dystopian futuristic sci-fi world.

I am in neither mode, although I probably sympathise with those longing for the past a little more because I can understand it to some degree. The reason I gravitated towards the internet in the first place was because I wasn't finding that human connection in real life. I first got access to the internet during Christmas 1998. That year, for whatever reason, I never went out on Hogmanay as I had done the previous couple of years. My first Edinburgh street party was in 1996, the biggest one ever with close to 400,000 people crammed into Princes Street. That was a great experience. The next year must have been a disappointment because in 1998 I stayed in. I remember exploring internet chat rooms and being amazed you could wish people from Brazil or Australia Happy New Year in real time! That blew my mind! Suddenly it seemed like if you couldn't connect with people in your hometown surely there was the possibility of finding a like-minded soul somewhere on this Earth! But for me the greatness of the internet was in the potential to meet someone online and then meet them in real life. It never occurred to me then that people would seek online-only relationships.

The 90's were too limiting in the sense you really had to buy into lad and ladette culture to get the most out of it. Best summed up by this exchange in the comments section of a TFI Friday clip - "(Chris) Evans should always be applauded, he captured the mood of the nation perfectly with this show" to which someone replied "Drink, drugs, narcissism and ultimately emptiness."

It certainly looks better than these times on the surface but dig a little deeper and there wasn't much else there and lurking below the surface were all the problems we now face. It occurred to me watching this stuff last night that it now looks as if the 90's was humanity having one last unconscious party before everything changed. A closing send-off to the old analogue world making way for this new digital age. I may have been up-to-date in terms of computers, having been in my life since the late 80's, but as we entered the 2000's I resisted mobile phones and found myself increasingly pulling away from the new technological advances. As if something in me sensed "stop here, that's enough" because I could feel we were losing the humanity in ourselves.

Although they see it in a very limited way, I understand what it is people are missing. Beyond the pub, the alcohol, the drugs, the hedonistic behaviour is a longing for human connection. The days when people actually did stuff in person. When you actually went out, went round to somebody's house, hung around in person with people and just enjoyed each other's company. The problem was the content wasn't meaningful enough. There was a hollowness to it and I remember feeling that. No matter what you did with people you were always left with this feeling "is that it?". It never truly satisfied you. As I said, you had to buy into a particular scene and if you didn't, you were automatically an outsider. Although I liked some Britpop bands I never bought into the whole scene. I liked the main players - Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene, Cast, etc - but not because they were part of this Britpop thing. I just liked guitar music. So I could go from listening to that lot to listening to Crowded House. My friends at that time were much more scene-oriented. Some of them were fully into Britpop and all the obscure bands from it while others were getting into the dance music Ibiza scene, which I couldn't stand. They would mock and laugh at me for being into Neil Finn. To me it was just good music. I'd be called Retro Guy because I'd be exploring T. Rex, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, etc...

What would've made the 90's great for me is if I could have found people to hang out with, listening to that stuff and who wanted to be in a band with me making that kind of music. Most musicians I ever met were into modern rock - Eddie Vedder, The Foo Fighters and so on. In the 2000's new music to me was looking forward to Travis' next album or Neil Finn. The Strokes, The Libertines and all those new early 2000's guitar bands didn't do anything for me because they lacked one thing - the songs. From the 50's and 60's until the 90's there were always classic artists with classic, memorable songs. This dried up as the 90's ended. I was always waiting on the next big band like Oasis to come along but it never happened.

What's funny is back in the 90's everyone was embarrassed by the 80's. No-one referenced it. Now, given the choice, I'd choose the 80's over the 90's. Maybe it's because I was younger in the 80's so life felt more carefree but I just have warmer memories of that decade. It seemed more fun and more colourful.

I have been saying ever since noticing this wave of nostalgia amongst humanity in general, which seemed to start within the last ten years, that it's not necessary. We live in an era that COULD be amazing. Potentially, it's all there for us and we should be having better times than previous decades but ironically, most people are so entrenched in their longing for the past that they miss what we could do now. Trying to get people enthusiastic for creating new, beautiful things and forming close human bonds in these times has been almost impossible because so many are clouded by sadness, depression and loneliness. They have shut themselves off to any possibility of something new and great emerging in these times. I see now it's one of the reasons SoulJahm didn't take off.

I can't be that way. Yes, I miss lots of things from the past but I also try to integrate those things I love from the past in what I do now. There is no reason it has to be this way. We have allowed it to become like this and all we need to do is say "no" to it, withdraw our energy and resources from where the System wants to take us, and start reconnecting with each other at a more roots level in everything we do.