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A FEW MONTHS back I was with a couple friends from high school at a bar when for some reason we got to arguing about which band was our generation’s version of the Rolling Stones. Lord knows why these things happen.

For clarification, I graduated high school in 2000 and consider myself a product of the 90s, pop-culturally speaking, so in this case “our generation” probably starts around Nirvana’s Nevermind and ends ingloriously around the emergence of Korn and Limp Bizkit.

My friends were sure that the equivalent of our generation’s Stones could really only be one of two bands - Pearl Jam or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Both made sense on some level. Like the Stones, both of these bands have found a way to remain relevant in the music world long after their best albums came out, mostly by embarking on regular, large-scale worldwide tours that include plenty of songs from their earlier albums.

Much like anyone going to a Stones concert in 2014 would rather hear them play a song they wrote in 1968 than 1998, it’s fair to say many people would rather hear a song from albums like Ten or BloodSugarSexMagic than something Pearl Jam or the Chili Peppers did recently.

But despite some similarities, it was my opinion that ultimately my generation doesn’t have an equivalent to the Stones. It’s not that we didn’t have bands that are and will continue to be enjoyed by subsequent generations. It’s just that few music critics 20 years from now will cite the Chili Peppers as one of the greatest bands of all time, which is typically what the Stones are considered. Simply put, our generation’s versions of the Rolling Stones weren’t as good as the actual Stones.

In my teen years I spent many an hour listening to bands like Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers. It was also around this time I began wading into the back catalogues of 60s greats like the Stones, Beatles, Velvet Underground, Hendrix, Dylan, etc. - music I have been exploring ever since.

About 20 years removed from this time, I still like Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers, but I can say with great certainty that Ten and Californication aren’t remotely as good as Exile on Main St., Blonde on Blonde, or Abbey Road. Pearl Jam and RCHP have plenty of classics from their era, but in terms of the “all time” argument, it’s just not a contest.

The irony is that my whole argument directly contradicts the findings of a few recent studies that looks at music and nostalgia. The main gist that these studies found is that most adults are and will forever be drawn to the music they listened to in their teens and early 20s.

Mark Joseph Stern writes about this phenomenon in an article for Slate, “Neural Nostalgia”. He quotes Petr Janata, a psychologist at University of California–Davis, as saying our favorite music “gets consolidated into the especially emotional memories from our formative years”.

Stern says “between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development - and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good. When we make neural connections to a song, we also create a strong memory trace that becomes laden with heightened emotion, thanks partly to a surfeit of pubertal growth hormones”.

Janata also discusses something called a “reminiscence bump”, the name for the “phenomenon that we remember so much of our younger adult lives more vividly than other years.” On this, Stern writes:

“The period between 12 and 22 is the time when you become you. It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image - an integral part of your sense of self.”

Since I spent a large chunk of these ages listening to bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the Chili Peppers, the research suggests I should still be drawn to these bands today as a 32-year-old.

But in my case, it’s not reality. I still like all these bands, but there is no doubt I don’t get the same rush from them as I did when I was 13. Close to 20 years removed from my junior high years, I find many of the grunge albums I loved a bit too “angsty” for my current taste, for lack of a better term. Similarly, I listened to the Chili Peppers’ BloodSugarSexMagic album about 346 times throughout junior high, but if I’m being totally honest, a lot of the lyrics seem pretty juvenile to me now.

Apparently, the theory of “neural nostalgia” doesn’t apply as advertised for me. I can look back and understand why I loved what I loved then, but I’m not so romantically inclined that I still hold onto those tastes out of some stubborn “glory years” kind of sentiment.

Even though I wasn’t alive, it is often the music of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, I am drawn to - everything from early R&B and blues to classic rock, Motown, punk, funk, New Wave, soul and back again. I don’t know if that means I was born at the wrong time. More likely it means that - in my humble opinion - the music from this era maybe actually was better than what has come since.

For children of Baby Boomers (like myself), this notion is a bit of a nightmare. Our whole lives we grew up listening to our parents waxing on about how the music was so much better in their day. As a teenager I just felt they were out of touch, but now as an adult, I must admit they were actually right. The evidence is on the turntable.



Marc Ingber is a communications specialist and writer for a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, MN. He was born and raised in the Twin Cities and attended journalism school at the University of Kansas. His primary interests include rock n' roll, movies, food and drink, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins - probably in that order.

Read this article in Issue 16

Read other articles by Marc Ingber

Is It Just Fond Memories?

Separating ‘Neural Nostalgia’ from Reality


Marc Ingber


Vhcle Magazine Issue 16, Music