Something Happened in 1999…

I’m sorry, but I have to start with it: I’m going to party like it’s 1999. I’ve got my hair gelled to hell and I’ve frosted my tips. I’m rocking these stupidly baggy Jnco jeans and I’m pulling serious ollies with my fingerboard. I’m good to go.

I have to say, 1999 was kind of stupid in a lot of ways, can we agree on that? I don’t know what I was thinking, but then again, my frontal lobe hadn’t fully developed yet and my sense of self was far, far too based on what happened on TRL that afternoon. Carson Daly had influence on me. Ridiculous.

Ten years later though, with at least a partially developed frontal lobe and moderate critical thinking skills, I’ve realized that there is a strange permanence to 1999 that makes it unique from the others, save for 1969. These are years which are the centerpieces to periods that appear to have sustainable cultural permanence. Permanence…what does that mean? Are these years just permanent for me, whose parents were hippies and who began to come of age in 1999? Or is it more widespread than that?

1969 has long been established as an essential part of the American mythology for the entirety of our lives. The “we” I am referring to is anyone who either lived through it or came out of someone who else who did. It seems that as though it has been forever regarded as some kind of apex of American experience and identity. Woodstock presented the unfolding of a colorful generation in their prime. NASA put American feet on the moon. The country was standing up against a bloody war. Changes were happening.

Our history can be described as having peaks and valleys, or perhaps cycles. I don’t believe it is beneficial to our understanding of this history to perceive it as simply a movement between times of prosperity and times of struggle. Perhaps it is more a matter of how rich these times are with experiences and memories. Pleasure and pain are known to have a tantalizing relationship on a very personal level, why not on a larger, social level? Isn’t experience the bread and butter of life? Aren’t memories the only thing we can hold on to to track our progress?

In the case of 1969 and its neighboring years, we see a culture and a youthful generation whose ideas and art are still celebrated to this day. Could this be the case for the period of 1999 as well? Or did everything just suck?

I must have died and gone to heaven/cause it was quarter past eleven on a Saturday in 1999 – Jamiroquai

Something happened in 1999. In actuality, 1999 is the centerpiece of something bigger. When you really get down to the nitty gritty, the time span I’m referring to includes the years 1998-2001, but for simplicity, let’s keep it to one year. Here is a quick rundown of just 1999:

1. The advent of Napster ushers in the era of p2p file-sharing causing an almost immediate paradigm shift in both music and porn industries.

2. President Clinton announces the greatest surplus in American history at “no-less than 76 billion dollars”.

3. George W. Bush announces his candidacy for President of the United States of America.

4. Apple Inc. implements their re-envisioned line of products starting with the release of their iMac (’98) computer and iBook marking the beginning of an new era of unheralded success.

5. Google moves to Palo Alto, CA to officially launch it’s public search engine and begins to see a dramatic rise in popularity.

6. SEGA releases the Dreamcast, the first of next generation game systems to usher in an endless string of the local nightly news talking about how good Madden looks every year.

7. Exxon and Mobil merge to form the largest corporation in history.

8. The Dow closes above 10,000 for the first time in the history of the market.

9. According to UN estimates, the world population reaches 6 billion people on October 12th, 1999.

10. Lance Armstrong wins his first Tour de France and Tiger Woods receives the Associated Press “Athlete of the Year” Award for his nearly unheard of eight tournament wins. Both of these men dominate their respective sports for the next decade. Oh, and Bill Belichick replaces Pete Carroll as head coach of the New England Patriots and begins to form one of the most dominant franchises in sports history. (I had to sneak that in there…had to).

11. The U.S. Women’s soccer team wins the FIFA World Cup.

12. The Euro is introduced as the standard currency for all of the European Union.

12. A mass of youths 100,000 strong swarms Seattle, Washington to protest the revisions of the World Trade Organization.

13. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold go on a shooting rampage at their high school in Columbine, CO killing 12 students and one teacher bringing a real fear of violence into American schools.

14. A record setting 66 tornadoes touch down in one day including the largest tornado ever recorded, an F5 in Amber, Oklahoma. Only one of us have seen an F5 in person…(cheers, Dio)

15. Woodstock ‘99 burns to the ground amidst rioting and violence.

1999, the year before the start of the millennium, was some kind of cultural genesis or rebirth or something. Great changes were most certainly taking place. The year was rich with beginnings and experiences that set the tone for at least the decade to follow. This year was a peak.

So now the question, what happens when you’re an artist visible on the world stage during one of these peaks? How does that affect or even determine your permanence?

Let’s take a look at another “peak”, this one 30 years earlier.

1969 brought us debut albums by Led Zeppelin (self-titled 1 & II), Crosby, Stills & Nash (self-titled), and landmark albums by The Beatles (Abbey Road), The Who (Tommy), Velvet Underground (self-titled) and plenty more. These are all names and titles held in the highest regard in contemporary music. They broke the rules and set the stage.

So who did we have in 1999?

Once again, let’s look at this in “no particular order list” style.

Debut Albums:

Eminem – The Slim Shady LP

The White Stripes – self-titled

Slipknot – self-titled

Britney Spears – …Baby One More Time

John Mayer – Inside Wants Out

Christina Aguilera – self-titled

CKY – CKY Vol. 1

Mos Def – Black on Both Sides

Landmark Albums:

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

Santana – Supernatural

Incubus – Make Yourself

Blink 182 – Enema of the State (debut with new line-up/Travis Barker)

Backstreet Boys – Millennium

Moby – Play

Silverchair – Neon Ballroom

Destiny’s Child – The Writing’s On The Wall

Rage Against the Machine – The Battle of Los Angeles

Dr. Dre – 2001

Faith Hill – Breathe

Beck – Midnite Vultures

Six of the albums on that list went platinum 7-10 times. Admittedly, this is a moot point given that the economy was churning and file-sharing was only just beginning. The artistic significance of all of these albums is nothing but arbitrary and many music fans hate them. That is precisely the point. Ultimately, the same must be said about Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. Quality of music is decided by taste. It is opinion. It is subjective. It is arbitrary. I am only measuring success here by permanence and pervasiveness.

So then the question, why does it matter what happened in 1999? Couldn’t significance be drawn from the events of every year? Certainly. Perhaps the entire notion of this article comes from my own inner psyche, which began to come really self-aware in 1999, when I graduated Jr. High School. Maybe the rest of the world has as much contempt for the artists on that list as I might for Miley Cyrus or Fall Out Boy or Lady Gaga. Artists who represent cultural phenomena that occurred after I forged my own identity don’t seem to matter to me. For many readers, the artists of 1999 occurred well after they found themselves too. Maybe none of this matters to them… This happens over and over again as each generation folds over the next.

Forget about the opinions though! Artists existing on the world stage are each a part of the fabric of our common culture at any given moment. Like it or not, they are representatives of us.

My question is, does the condition of the world at the time of these cultural phenomena impact their permanence?

What I see that makes the music and art of the periods of time surrounding 1999 and 1969 seem more resonant than the rest, is that they occurred when tremendous changes were occurring in our collective identity. The buzz phrase is paradigm shift.

The time period around 1969, perhaps beginning with JFK’s assassination and ending with the close of the Vietnam War, was one of awakening that forever altered the American identity. A new wave of ideals centered on personal freedoms and self-exploration clashed against the old empowered ideals of service and dignity. When the waves crashed and the generation who asked, “why can’t I just be me?” gained their understanding of self, they blended the ideologies in front of them and began to set the stage for the future.

The time period around 1999, perhaps beginning with the advent of Napster and ending with 9/11, was host to a clash of ideologies once again; out of which came an enormous explosion of information. This time, a new wave of the skeptical and the knowledge hungry asked “why can’t information be available and free?”. They clashed against the old empowered systems of monetization and big media and the waters are still yet to settle today. However, as more and more members of the new generation that once again asked “why?” gain their sense of self and integrate the ideologies in front of them, the stage will once again be set for resistance and progress.

As time moves on and we try to remember the way we felt during the key moments of our own lives or our collective history, what will we turn to? Will it matter how much contempt we held for the artists making music in 1999? Or will we just be pleased to be brought back to the time that birthed the landscape of our future?


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