The old story: time goes by

We approach the end of a decade. Stuff from the previous decade grows remote, even quaint: Power Rangers, the Contract With America, boy bands, "Friends," Windows '95, Y2K.

I have lunch with an old college pal passing through town. We haven't seen each other much in years but stayed in touch. We laugh listing things that weren't around back in the day: the Internet, the Cartoon Network, cell phones, iPods, waterboarding, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

The '90s are the new '80s. The span from the early years of one decade to the later years of the next is the time it takes, more or less, for a new human to grow into a young person with a distinct, necessarily short, frame of reference. If you were born in the '90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back in history with Vietnam and the Edsel.

The next day the mail brings a review copy of "It's Bigger Than Hip Hop: The Rise of the Post-Hip Hop Generation," by a young professor named M.K. Asante, Jr. You mean kids with baggy pants and cockeyed baseball caps are not cutting edge?

Well, scratching on vinyl records started in 1977, and rap radio was big by the early '80s. Hip hop is OLD, people. Grandmaster Flash and Run-DMC are from back there with leg warmers, Reaganomics, the mullet, the Apple II, holes in your jeans, the Iran-Contra scandal. Asante says greedheads have long since taken over the rap biz, and youngsters are now looking outside the "corporate hip hop monopoly."

Tempus fugit, baby. By Woodstock, held in 1969 (and wall-to-wall all last week), the band Sha Na Na was understood as a goofball sendup act, even though the pop zeitgeist it targeted had occupied that youthful edge a mere dozen years earlier.

A slightly later generation — they don't really come in neat, 20-year cohorts — had a different take. If you grew up on "Happy Days" and "Animal House" and "American Graffiti" (1962 was still the '50s), the '50s were not a real time but a world of hot rods and Fonzie and toga parties, never mind the H-bomb, the Rosenbergs and Jim Crow.

By "Happy Days," the actual '70s were bringing us the first Arab oil crisis, Watergate, "Rambo," disco, bomb Iran, punk, polyester, "Saturday Night Live," Ms., Jimmy Carter. So that as the re-imagined '60s were still becoming the new '50s with funny caricatures of hippies, protests and the counterculture (if you can remember the '60s you weren't there, ha ha), the '70s were already lining up to get the treatment in the '80s.

The '80s got their turn in the '90s with MTV, hair bands, "The Breakfast Club," cocaine cowboys, the Grenada invasion, the Challenger disaster, "Walk Like an Egyptian," Michael Jackson, the arms-for-hostages deal.

Now it's the '90s' turn. Imagine a world in which Magic Johnson is a basketball player, the international Communist conspiracy is real, and Monica doesn't mean Sista.

The aughts will soon be fading in the rearview mirror, with their corporate criminals, iPhone, 9/11, invading the wrong country, CGI, bank meltdowns, the White Sox and Red Sox winning the World Series back to back.

The TV suits figured correctly, by the two-decade rule, that Americans of the '60s were ready for a sitcom about World War II and Nazis. Maybe we'll see a "Hogan's Heroes" for the '20s with a ragtag band of American soldiers held by bumbling Al-Qaida operatives Col. Kamil and Sgt. Sharaf. The nanotech phone in your hydrogen car will render it as a holographic volumetric display. By the '30s that will seem quaint.

Call Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail

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