“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” is one of the boundary markers I’ve used to differentiate the “low Eighties” from the “high Eighties” — the era of grimy futurist dread versus the era of pastel plastic poptimism. I can’t make it past the first “JITTERBUG” without flashing back to eighth grade homeroom, with all the weird anxieties associated with that nadir of my middle school experience.
I don’t particularly care for the song, but I don’t hate it, either. It’s not as insufferably irritating as a Howard Jones jam or as disappointing as Duran Duran’s post-Rio output, both of which I’ve also cited as indicators of that transitional period. Wham! was just sorta….there, ubiquitous but decidedly not for me and not worth dwelling upon. The same applies to George Michael’s solo career, which chugged along while my interests were occupied elsewhere.
That said, the man’s passing still affected me, the same way all of this year’s deaths of iconic figures have affected me.
Yes, I’m that statistical clusters happen and that death eventually comes for all of us, but there’s a bigger dimension to 2016 feeling like ill-omened meme fodder. I suspect the sentiment is especially acute among folks in my rough generational bracket.
I don’t want to get into Boomers versus X’ers versus Millennials here. That’s beside the point I’m trying to make. What’s happening is a bit more subtle and personal than that contrived trope, and involves a fair bit of inter-generational crossover on the lower end.
When it comes to the notion of “adulthood,” X’ers and Millennials have lived with a fair degree of impostor syndrome. The degree of it may vary from individual, and doesn’t necessarily signify a lack of maturity. It’s that economic uncertainty, cultural trends, and the large shadow cast by the Baby Boomers have muddied what exactly adulthood entails while placing its most traditional trappings out of reach for so many of us.
It’s the reason why “adulting” gained traction as a concept, describing activities and chores distinct from the default perception of muddling along like some perpetually slacking undergrad. Milestones — marriages, births, career changes — still happened, but spaced enough to maintain a sense of temporal stasis reinforced by a realm of media on demand and evergreen IP.
As sure as the sun will rise, Toy R Us will stock Star Wars merch and some band you liked in high school is going to announce a reunion tour shortly.
This notion of a universe of eternally fixed stars was always an illusion. Most of us knew it was, too. The passing of a loved one, the thinning or graying of one’s hair, the eradication of familiar landmarks — all capable of injecting a sobering does of reality, but rarely enough to pull back the curtain entirely. After all, shit happens and I don’t feel particularly different.
2016′s atypical cluster of tragedies, however, has managed to dispel the wishful thinking…or at least shine the harsh light of reality upon it. It’s not 1988 or 1993 or 2000 or whatever place the hands of your internal clock happened to cease motion. That pain in my knee is real and isn’t going to be slept or walked off. My father is wasting away to nothing and my mother-in-law is not going to regain her clarity of thought. My critters are growing older, and some are getting sickly. My sideburns are never going to grow back ash-blonde again after I shave them.
Bowie and Prince and George Michael and Carrie Fisher aren’t out there shining their unique lights, as they’d been doing since my childhood. Each one a depressing loss, but also a generational reminder that this is how things are going to be from here on out.