“Naive is the new cynical,” a somewhat incredulous and impossibly cool friend of mine recently said, as we observed a gaggle of young folk rock hipster types. The posture of American counterculture has migrated since the two of us came to maturity in the ’80s and ’90s. That’s what counterculture does. It’s a shape-shifter. A time traveler.
In my youth I caught the very tail end of the Dead Heads, lived with the punks, the skate rats, the hip hop kids, the metalheads. I experienced the indie revolution and watched as my friends and associates became hipsters. In Brooklyn no less. Long have they reigned—an intellectual, artistic, anti-career mob with refined tastes and the real desire to do no harm, except maybe passively to their parents and exes. The edge in my friend’s voice, though, was part of a larger realization. For the first time, maybe since Joan Baez, the manifestation of resistance to commercial mainstream youth culture is employing earnestness as its weapon of choice.
I feel like I’m caught between two mini-generations. It took only one year of the bohemian life in New York, just out of college, for me to feel bored and lonely, prompting me to strike out for the inner reaches of the American continent in search of an authentic experience. Earnest as could be. So, in theory, I like the notion that young kids are hitting the gypsy highways, growing their beards long, and listening to field recordings like no one ever did it before—searching out the soul of America.
As a Cold War baby, though, I mistrust the notion of resistance in our well-lubricated world. Sooner or later, everyone wants a taste of the good life. I guess that’s the understated requiem for American counterculture composed by our Boomer forefathers and -mothers. This week’s feature by Preston Long is about tattoo artists, the people who ink the permanent stamp of the American middle finger. These days they do a lot of cover-ups and fixes, but they’ve also got a generation of new clients who have cottoned to the original Polynesian notion of gradually unveiling a life story on their skin. A sincere question: Can you wear your heart on your sleeve with your tongue in your cheek?