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Gen X Was Right About Everything. Here’s Proof

Album anniversary tours are just our generation’s cultural victory lap

Jawbreaker's 25th anniversary tour
Chona Kasinger

The last time I saw Wilco in concert was a few years ago, at the Palace Theater in St. Paul, where I live. As I sat there before the show, IPA in hand, I looked around at the crowd and then whispered to my wife, “I’m all over the place here. I’m hundreds of these guys.”

And it was true. Receding hairlines, beards, flannels that have been in rotation since the last millennium — I was everywhere. Generation X, which has long embraced alienation as a fundamental tenet, found fellowship. 

The concert was lovely, and my doppelgangers and I were reassured that our Wilco fandom was wise and correct. I’m not sure how much we were right about in the grand scheme of the world, but when it comes to music? Our music? Generation X nailed it. 

And the nailing of it is presently being condensed into crystalline form because right now, as you read this, Wilco is on a short tour playing their defining album: 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The album is a Gen X Hall of Famer given that it is universally recognized as brilliant, it contains intense rumination and resignation, and, crucially, it was rejected by the band’s former label as being too eccentric and impossible for release. 

YHF is founded on being bewildering and then being right all along. I mean, listen to how Jeff Tweedy sings: hesitant, self-deprecating, cracking on the high notes, all like he’s in on some deeper, more basic truth. He makes us listeners feel like we’re in on it, too. 

The “entire album” concert or tour is not exclusive to Wilco or even new. Grandaddy, Deicide, The Cure and Jawbreaker are touring on album anniversaries this year. The list of artists who have already done it is a Gen X Hall of Fame: Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., The Cure, Lemonheads, Liz Phair. Even the Fugees almost pulled off a 25th-anniversary tour of The Score, until COVID ruined the plan

But — and here’s the twist — as a Gen X person, shouldn’t I automatically see this phenomenon as stupid and sucky? A case can be made that we’re just living in the past. But it’s more likely that we return to these iconic albums because they’re our trophies for getting everything right. Seeing them played live is a photo album, a trophy case and a quiet, shambling victory lap through history.

It wasn’t that we were anti-authority. We fundamentally distrusted societal norms, but we weren’t fundamentally negative. We had quiet faith in our tastes and beliefs.

Many, many things turned out to have been sucky and stupid, other things ended up being big and important and good, and we called both. We were right to believe Russia was trouble and the internet would become a big deal, we just didn’t realize they’d be a combo platter. We mistrusted the construct of wearing business suits and working in an office, and now, boom, we work from home in sweatpants. 

Gas-guzzling cars? Bad idea! Recycling? Good idea! Shorts worn over long underwear like Pearl Jam did? Okay, fine, we missed on that one.

So when it comes to music, we were never going to have noisy revivals of flower power like the boomers did. We just want to quietly enjoy the echo of having been correct.

I really don’t see it as nostalgia or cheap commercialism to travel with a favorite artist to the albums where we met. It feels like a healthy reconnection to a significant and transcendent self. We just want to sit down, have a better beer than we could afford back then, and listen to Vitalogy or Whatever and Ever Amen, top to bottom. And high-five ourselves.

Also, R.E.M., if you’re reading this: How about a Fables of the Reconstruction tour? Please. Palace Theater. I’ll be there with all my selves.