I called my old pal Ben yesterday evening while driving home during the rush hour commute. Sometimes the car ride between my house and work is the only time I have to catch up with my family and friends, so I try to make good use of it. Ben and I will usually talk about wrestling right off the bat because it's something we grew up together watching. Most of the time we express our disappointment with the current state of the industry before getting nostalgic about the glorious matches of the past. We're definitely not connecting with the WWE the way we once did and Ben is as sarcastic about it as anyone.
"Did you watch the Antonio Cesaro match against Kane a few weeks back?" I asked.
"Yeah, it was good, but then the WWE had him lose his next three matches, so what was the point? They buried him and all that momentum was for nothing," he replied. "I don't have any faith in their ability to build new stars anymore."
As we get older, and pop culture continues to change, it seems like most people I know follow a similar pattern concerning their feelings for modernity – namely, that nothing's as good as it used to be. Look at music, for example. I remember one of my high school teachers, who was in his thirties at that time, talking about how all great music died in the 1980s. The music of the 1990s did nothing for him; neither the grunge revolution of rock and roll, nor the fertile years of LA gangster rap could capture his heart. Meanwhile, Ben and I look back on the 1990s with a longing nostalgia.
"The 1990s are coming back," I said to him. "The guy who served me my coffee the other morning looked just like Kurt Cobain and he must have been 19 years old."
"I wish there was at least one new band that sounded 90s-ish," he added. "I can't think of one album that I've bought over the last year that I really enjoyed."
I had to agree with Ben on this point. I, too, have been entirely disappointed with much of the new music I've purchased this year. Many of my favorite bands have released new material (The Flaming Lips, Depeche Mode, Deerhunter), but they just didn't do it for me.
"Here's my question though for you, Ben:" I stated, "Is it really the case that pop music isn't good anymore, or are we just getting old and out of touch?"
I honestly believe that the current state of popular music is in a terrible place, but I'm not sure if I feel that way because it actually is, or if it's because I no longer have any connection to the youth movement of the modern age. Music in general just isn't as important to me as it used to be. The same goes for wrestling. I've always told myself this is because the quality of both has declined and that I would re-engage when something new and innovative came along, but this day has never come unfortunately. Now I just sound like another boring, stale adult who says things like, "What the hell are those kids listening to today? It's all crap if you ask me!"
"I try not to buy new albums anymore because I only listen to them once or twice before moving on," Ben added.
"Yes! This is a serious problem for me too!" I exclaimed. "I see this with whiskey right now as well. No one's ever satisfied with their one bottle for very long. We've got an attention span of a few days before we're over it and on to the next new thing." I answered.
Much like with my views on pop culture, I've struggled with whether my lack of lasting interest in new music is due to adult-onset ADHD or simply the fact that I don't have time to care anymore. I bought the latest Vampire Weekend album when it came out on iTunes, listened to it about four times while running, and then went right back to the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine. I remember when I would listen to a new album non-stop for months! How else would it be that I can still sing every word from Pavement's Wowee Zowee or Dr. Dre's The Chronic? Now I've got about a week's worth of attention span before I'm done caring about whatever I've purchased. I'm constantly in need of new input to find some sort of happiness these days.
Again, I drew a parallel to whiskey.
"So maybe it's the case that we've just reached an age where nothing satisfies us anymore?" I asked. "Maybe we just see everything from the past as a 'golden age' and everything from here on is doomed to disappoint? So we keep searching, trying to recreate that same high, but ultimately we're just junkies who will never get back to that one magical feeling?"
"I honestly don't know," Ben replied. "I've never actually thought about it that way."
Has anyone else noticed a similar pattern with their whiskey drinking? Namely, that nothing new is ever as good as it once was? There's something magical about our formitive years, be it the discovery of rock and roll, punk, or rap music, that triggers a level of excitement in our brains – a high that we'll never be able to replicate later in life. For many of us with music, this time is during high school, a period when we're looking for anyway to connect with others and define ourselves by our interests and passions. Music, movies, books, and fashion have so much more meaning during those years, to the point that some people never progress beyond them. That's why you'll still see guys with teased bangs, mullets, earrings, and skin tight jeans in their 50s. To them, the Sunset Strip never died.
With alcohol, however, this moment arrives later in life – for myself, along with many of my peers and colleagues, it occured sometime between 2005 and 2009. Yet, now that we're in 2013, you'll hear the same type of disappointment with the current state of whiskey affairs: the quality of whiskey has gone down, the prices have gone up, nothing's as good as it used to be, etc. These criticisms may be entirely true (much like my criticisms with the current state of wresting and pop music are true to me), yet they might also be emblematic of the fact that our tastes are no longer representative of the mainstream market. Namely: you might simply be out of touch.
"No, no, no, David, that's not the case. I still love whiskey, but I'm not going to pay these prices: 12 year old whiskey going for what an 18 year old used to cost. It's ridiculous! Back in 2005 you could still get Macallan 18 for $70!!!" you might be saying as you read this. Yet, isn't that what old people say about every new generation's culture? That things aren't as good as they used to be? That when they were young soda used to cost a nickel? That no one appreciates quality anymore?
"With music," Ben said, "I don't know if I even want innovation or if I want my favorite bands from the 1990s to just make records that sound like they used to. Of course, if they did that, I'd probably just compare it against their old music and say it isn't as good as it used to be!"
"So true!" I exclaimed.
You can't win for trying with many whiskey drinkers today. Look at Ardbeg, for example. They tried something new with last year's Galileo release by aging it in marsala casks. Many people weren't thrilled with the new flavor profile. "Why can't they just make something that tastes like old-fashioned Ardbeg?" they asked. So Ardbeg listened and created this year's Ardbog, a more traditional expression in a classic package. "This isn't as good as the Alligator," people immediately said. Maybe the Ardbog wasn't as good as past distillery releases. Or maybe the people who didn't like it weren't going to like it no matter what it tasted like. I'm not sure we'll ever know for certain.
"This isn't as good as it used to be." I said that about the new Depeche Mode record. I said that about the new Flaming Lips record. I say that about hip-hop music practically every day. Nothing is as good as it used to be.
Is it possible that some whiskey drinkers have reached this evolutionary stage with their own passion for the aged spirit?
Is whiskey really not as good as it used to be, or are we simply losing the luster of our formitive years?