Friday, 1 October 2010

Generation | Music | Generation Xzibit

Generation Game’s a no-go, then, because my only experience of it, being 22, was of J ‘go back to Kenya’ D doing a reasonable impression of a nice bloke, rather than Forsythe’s extraordinarily hairy ears – which would, I daresay, justify any quantity of critical comment. I say impression, because here’s Jim’s own account of his fourth marriage to one Tracy Hilton, which I guess represented the real-life personal backdrop to his salt-of-the-earth affableness on the telly (they were married between 1990 and 2000):

We’re like a couple of boxers. On the first occasion, I poked her in the eye by accident. I actually went for the mouth. Thank heaven I missed, I’d have fallen in. I just took a playful punch. Unfortunately I caught her completely wrong. The second time I gave her a shiner. I threw a bunch of keys which whacked her in the eye. Just for a giggle she kept blackening it up to make it look worse. (Jim Davidson, The Full Monty, 1993).

The man was once called upon as a character witness for a guy who eventually got put away for 30 years. Oh Auntie Beeb, giving a platform to chaps like this, you’re so leftwing.

Anyway, I’m actually going to use this week’s theme as an entry-point into a wee discussion of the letter X. It’s not that I have any interest in Generation X as a concept. Indeed, it’s a remarkably meaningless coinage, having been used to describe the generation born immediately after WW2, the atheistic yoof of the sixties, post-Vietnam Americans, seventies British punks (a punk band actually called themselves Generation X – thereby labelling themselves, to the minds of those familiar with the work of the photographer Robert Capa anyway, as acolytes of precisely the Baby Boomer Man they were supposed to be freaking out) the children of Reagan and Bush Snr, 90s grunge kids and so on. And is so loosely associated with the vaguest of vague notions of postmodernism, anti-authoritarianism, sexual liberation, moral relativity and so on that it might actually be considered THE ULTIMATE BOURGEOIS CHIMERA or something.

Rather, I’m interested in the fact that all-important X was considered a reasonable typographic barometer of the unknown, of (yes, rather suspect) radicalism for four or five decades.
For though I believe we’re now well out the other end of Generation Y and might even be reaching the twilight days of Generation Z (but readers, what happens next?) X is still the one letter in the English alphabet that functions as a symbol way more than it does as a letter. In a world in which .xxx websites might imminently help structure an entire porn wing of t’internet (when X-rated became XXX I don’t know I’m afraid; what can’t be denied is X’s general porno credentials) X still matters. The same can be said for a musical world what has just awarded a Mercury Prize to an album called xx by a band called the XX, a musical world in which a five-piece called Xerox Teens, when taken to court by the same-named US office equipment giant, chose to change their name to XX Teens rather than, I don’t know, Photocopier Teens or summat funny like that.

Before exploring X’s relationship with music a little further, though, here are three question-observations on the X phenomenon:

  1. (Hat-tip to a GQ article I read ages ago that I can’t, unfortunately, now find) If Xtina is Christina’s burlesquey slut-side, does that make Xmas the porno Christmas?
  2. Based on the fact Rob Cohen’s blockbusting trainwreck of a film has the title XXX (or possibly xXx, although we’re not going to enter into the whole case debate here, beyond making the following point: bell hooks is an idiot), but that this title is apparently pronounced ‘Triple X’ (and it seems .xxx names are pronounced similarly) does that mean X’s impact is a largely visual, rather than aural one? Because of the way three Xs is a row form a pretty pattern? I guess a spoken X sounds too much like ‘ex’, which has a rather passive meaning by comparison.
  3. Is the reduction of ‘Christian’ to ‘Xtian’ the first recorded example of a single letter playing the part of both text-style phonetic shorthand and illustrative image? Isn’t that therefore incredibly important? (I love little typographic images: there’s this massively underrated singer-songwriter, Talons’, that’s an inverted comma representing an actual talon rather than denoting possession y’see, how cool is that?)
This is the thing about X, you can go on about different manifestations of it for many minutes. X and music though: it’s a weird one. For one associates X or XXX with pornography or moonshine or hazardousness or the unknown, whereas both the XX and XX Teens are none of those things, the former rather quiet and the latter rather silly and that being that. And for every record making the most of XXX’s more traditional connotations (stand up ZZ Top and Peaches; now sit down) there’s invariably also something much more complicated in music, like the fact the Minor Threat-inspired straight-edge movement attempted (still attempts) to redefine XXX by taking it on as an ironic symbol of ethical restraint.

Indeed, music often challenges assumptions about X. Why is that? Elsewhere, in the form of, say, !!! or ¡Forward, Russia! other fragments of symbolically potent typography are used to conventional effect, so why not where X is concerned?
It’s a question Xzibit addresses in the rather superb ‘X’, a track which also features Snoop making sense of the quite extraordinary poetic potential inherent within the Xistence of X:

So there you have it; A-B-C, D-P-G-C
X to the motherfuckin Z,
Mr Xuberant, Xtravagant, Xtrordinary, Xciting, X-a-lotta
X-O with a little bit of Xtasy
X-ing your bitch-ass out if you tryin to test the G
And what’s the recipe? Xcalibur weaponry
And we shoot Xceptionally
That there is hot – X marks the spot?
Fuck naw, X spots the marks
Xclamation point, niggaz!

What’s even more interesting, though, is Xzibit’s own chorus (is chorus the right word?):

(X) Rearrange the whole game with my rugged sound
(X) Won’t even say your own name when I come around
(X) Stay on top but remain from the underground
(X) to the Z and we all in the family

‘X: Rearrange the whole game with my rugged sound’: in X, Xzibit argues, resides a veritable microcosm of the way music and language interact – for music, sound, rearranges the rules of language, the whole linguistic game. Within a musical framework, one has an obligation to think about the function of language differently, its purpose, what makes it beautiful and resonant and so on. It’s a basic principle when it comes to lyrics: a good lyricist does not a good poet make. Xzibit’s particular genius was to realise that this concept had the almost mythological connotations of X, possibly stemming from the ubiquitously pointless branding of plural Generation Xs, at its heart. Hell, he even made X the defining aspect of his name.

Have a look at that Davidson video that I linked to in my first paragraph: in it, he rather inevitably derides ‘rap’, for reasons that he limits to a rather curious impression of a squinting crab accompanied by a mumbled ‘hey motherfucker motherfucker hey motherfucker’ or something.

Xzibit the linguistic theorist: just one more reason to regard JD as the most ignorant fuck still sweating on a stage.

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor

1 comment:

  1. We think Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallace and writers of that general generation have been described as 'Generation X' too. We'll have to hunt that quote down.