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If there's any evidence that the Age of Irony is beginning to show serious cracks, it's in the sudden outbreak of Neil Diamond mania among hipsters far and wide. KXLU's resident genius Chris Checkman told us, not too long ago, that there should never be anything in our record collection that we're ashamed of, nor vice-versa; that in fact, there are no "guilty pleasures" allowed anymore. Devin of "Demolisten" took this to its logical conclusion and began preaching the gospel of Neil Diamond to his faithful.
In truth, it took the prodding of these people, whose taste in music we respect immensely, for us to finally have our long-delayed reunion with one of old Neil's tapes. It was satisfying; it was liberating; and within a week of this happening, to our complete astonishment, we found ourselves walking into one place after another where Neil Diamond was playing on the jukebox. And not just dive bars by the racetrack, either. Just last week we heard "Cracklin' Rose" in the back room at Spaceland, half the assembled singing along under their breath.
Now: We grew up with Neil Diamond. Our dad, whose whole hip life froze like a caveman in a glacier sometime around 1972, played "Stones" incessantly, even daily, throughout our childhood. He also played plenty of things we're still a bit ashamed of our nostalgia for, like Anne Murray, or Bread. He had a tape carousel that held twenty albums, and those tapes are still in that thing, slowly turning into dust. And it was sometime around the fourth grade (when we got laughed at for not knowing who Guns 'N' Roses were) that we decided our dad's AM Gold collection was critically uncool, to the point of being dangerous to our social life.
It's funny how easily we slip into conformity. Even when teenage rebellion reached its contradictory extreme; even when, in protest of the general idiocy, we popped a Bread tape in the deck and blasted "Mother Freedom" through the high school parking lot, there was no escaping the feeling that we were just a nineties kid retreating into a past that didn't even belong to us, only because it was something other than the unbearably smarmy present. And it was always a choice: Our friends' music? Or our dad's? One, to paraphrase Neil, wasn't home; the other was, but it wasn't ours anymore.
But now that the thirty-year cultural recycle has finally hit the baseline of the MTV generation's childhood, could it be that we're finally giving up ironic nostalgia for the real, unadulterated form? We don't mean to imply that the hipster listening to Neil Diamond is akin to the middle-aged dentist humming along to a Muzak version of "Earth Angel," while he scrubs your teeth and distractedly waits to die. But then again, isn't it? For all the originality that's sprung up in the last thirty years, this is what we've come back to -- finally, and without any strength left for sustained irony.
Dad used to say that the music he listened to was timeless. He said it snidely; it was meant to be an indictment of everything put to tape from the date his life stopped until the end of time. And the terrible thing is, no matter what we listen to now, we're either still rebelling against him, or admitting, horribly, that he was right all along. But where's the shame in that, anyway? As entities creeping en masse down the Harbor Freeway at rush hour we all stand naked, judged and judging one another by our cars and the music pouring out of them. What's the sense in hiding our nostalgia, our rebellion, whatever guilty pleasure we choose? Irony's dead; thank God. And most of us just want to feel something pure, any kind of innocence, just one more time. It hardly matters anymore how we get there.