And Then Generation X Met The Mother Of Earth
"I tried my best but I could not........."
Songs are known to define, characterize, stereotype, and/or stigmatize an entire generation. To list all the songs that have a "Generation X" feel to them would be next to impossible to compile. A massive amount of music was produced during the lifespan of the average Generation X'er. Some of the best music received only cult status and was denied radio (or MTV) airplay. The Gun Clubs' outstanding song "Mother of Earth" truly is a brilliant work. A lot of Generation X angst is found in the lyrics. If you are a Gen X'er and you never heard this early 1980's timepiece from the southern California scene, listening to the song right now is recommended.
Both younger and older readers might not be familiar with what Generation X even refers to. Members of the generation that preceded Millennials and Generation Y, themselves, might even be saying "Generation X? I remember 'them' using 'that' term 20 years ago...." Maybe its time for a slight return.
The Lost Generation...Before and After the Other Lost Generation And Its Strange Embrace of Gratuitous Pop Culture
To say that Generation X encompasses all people born somewhere in between 1966 and 1983 or so would not be a completely accurate assessment. True Gen X'ers are those who truly absorb certain aspects of popular and social culture. This leads to the nefarious and accurate assessment of those who carry the banner of Generation X: Everyone watched Scooby Doo. The true, revered members Generation X have a profound reverence for the classic cartoon and program was more than a half-hour of television watched as a child and forgotten.
Yes, there is more to the culture of Generation X than a mere affinity for Saturday Morning Cartoons, being a slacker, experiencing rave culture, and the like all add up for a unique sociological profile.
The people who grew up embracing the Generation X moniker come in all varieties, but their unique tastes in entertainment and popular culture does set them apart. One avenue the pop culture generation turned towards in the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's was towards those things dark and depressing. No, they did not go "all tragic, all the time", but there was an embrace of pain and alienation in entertainment, particular in the world of music. This brings us back to the outstanding gothic surfer punk song "Mother of Earth".
"Mother of Earth" was the final song on the LP "Miami" by The Gun Club, a band from the 1980's legendary Los Angeles punk rock scene. Jeffrey Lee Pierce founded The Gun Club in 1979 when punk rock was sweeping southern California and elsewhere. What made this band so unique was it combined different genres of music into the over-arching punk genre.
The Gun Club mixed punk rock with country and rockabilly. Even a little surf music influence is found in some chords. "Mother of Earth", in fact, was covered by the Langhorns as an instrumental surf medley. Upon hearing the lyrics to the song, a dark Johnny Cash influence is felt as well.
When Alienation and Darkness Creeps Into Country/Surf Music
With its dark, sad, lonely lyrics, "Mother of Earth" is the perfect song for those Generation X'er who desire to feel a little tragic. The song slowly and ominously features the lead singer intoning about reflections on a sad and lonely life. The song is equal parts Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" and Social Distortion's "Ball and Chain".
The song does carve out a unique feel. There is just something to the sound of the instruments and the inflections of the singer that really allow the song to gran the listener and leave a visceral impact. Some say people never really stop to listen to the actual lyrics of popular songs. This is true with many listeners and many songs. With "Mother of Earth", the lyrics are impossible to ignore. No one can allow them to pass through the senses without reflecting upon them. Upon reflecting on those lyrics, the words and sounds really to reverberate in the minds of a Generation X'er.
The opening guitar chords sound like the beginning of a old "cowboy television show" and then shift to a surfer-rock sound. The lead singer then takes things into a totally new direction and intones "I've gone down the river of sadness, I've gone down the river of pain" and notes someone, likely a paramour, has received keys to a motel room. All of this happens in a few seconds and the shock to the emotional senses is stirring. There is surrealism in the work, surrealism in the truest sense of the art movement term. A host of images, concerning images, run through the mind of the person listening to the song. The cynical may call this cluttered, but everything flows so smoothly together. The Generation X mind is one that mixing a host of different influences to create an identity. Moral lessons from old western television shows fuse into the psyche and exists seamlessly with other influences that shape identity. The strange mix of themes, sounds, and influences in "Mother Earth" are appropriately inappropriate.
One thing that does not change throughout the song is the overarching melancholy. All the different musical influences really are not so different. They all achieve the desired unilateral effect.
Words, Windows to the Soul, and the Fair-or-Not Dubbed Slacker Generation
The lyrics of "Mother of Earth" begin with appropriately tragic words about "rivers of sadness" and "rivers of pain". These words do capture attention and set the tone for the songs themes. The words that are most impacting, and the ones that would send a inwardly turned Generation X member, are "I tried my best but I could not...." Are not those words reflective of the drifting, directionless generation that was unfairly labeled slackers? A generation required to navigate hostile employment conditions that made it very difficult for an educated 20-something to launch a career. (The same song sings again today)
Slackers in the 1990's never really embraced the term. "Slackers" is a label and the label is an unfair one since seemingly painless term infers "lazy". Outright calling someone lazy is going to lead to a defensive response. Calling someone a slacker is a P.C. way of dubbing someone slothful and throwing all the perceived-deserved burdens of failure on the shoulders of a young person. Blame the 20-something for having a hard time navigating life even though he/she is without the necessary compass of life's experience as a guide. The Generation X'er, born of pop culture, is not going to become indignant (well, surely to some degree), but is more likely to respond in a manner that captures sentiments of the troubled pop culture hero who tried, but did not succeed. Accept one's lot in life and look for a little sympathy while acting as if the way others feel towards him/her is unimportant.
"Would it not hurt to give someone credit for giving a good effort?" he said.
No one gives anyone credit for effort. Not real credit. Without that level of dark cynicism and distrust in a response, it really wouldn't be the X Generation talking. "I tried my best but I could not...." - in very few words - is a line that really does capture a particular generational angst.
"Mother of Earth" is not a song about Generation X. The song was written over a decade before the term gained any popularity. The lyrics focus, seemingly, on the laments of the member of a band traveling a very lonely touring road. The lonely touring road could be a metaphor for something more ethereal. The sentiments in the lyrics do travel far beyond their context in the song. "I'm tired of leaving and leaving" has more imagery than the visuals of a singer tired of leaving a motel room to head to a concert only to repeat the lonely scene the next day.
Could not any action of drudgery embody that exact same sentiment? Is there much of a difference between a brilliant artist having to play in front of an unfairly small stage and a college graduate having to toil at a job below his/her skill level due to circumstance? Both end up with a feeling of not wanting to carry on. And who could live this type of uncertain life without feeling an enveloping sense of sadness? Something tragic is occurring here. Turned inward and facing internalized sadness, the blame falls on the "Mother of Earth", the power of nature.
With "Oh, Mother of Earth, Blind they call" there is a sense of hopeless present. A beckoning to the natural world is made and there is an understanding that nature - and circumstance - is outside the control of humans. Humans have to react to their circumstances. Humans have to accept their place in the lost Generation of X.
Whether this is truth or perceived truth is a matter of opinion intertwined with conjecture. Listen to the very somber musings of the song. Experience it as you would experience Mother Earth. Intellectualizing the song through the lens of cultural sociology is a interesting endeavor but, in the end as in the beginning, the song is meant to be listened to. Absorbed as well.
And the guitar work really is outstanding.