For me, the Afghan Whigs were always that band. They’re one of the few that I have consistently listened to since 1994. I bet I haven’t gone more than three months during that time without playing one of their albums.
I not only loved their music, but I loved the essence they evoked and that essence was a big part of the identity that my young self tried to fashion. I first discovered the Whigs with the Gentlemen album in the mid-90s (for a great contextualization, check out this piece on Entertainment Weekly). Being a 20 year old and feeling average 20 year old feelings, the album scratched a very particular itch. For one, who couldn’t find the sheer bad-assery of the Whigs intoxicating? But that swagger was also tempered by pain, torture and resentment that resonated with my rampant 20 year old insecurities. (Once after a haircut, a friend said I looked like Greg Dulli. I must have lit up because my friend followed up with the embarrassing, “you liked that”)
In my college social circle, I also felt like I was able to take ownership of the Whigs. Folks either gravitated to the more commercial (see Pearl Jam, etc.) or the more obscure (see all artists on Touch and Go Records). The Whigs (and by extension, me) occupied that middle ground. Enough said, they were formative.
Last fall, I got a chance to again see the Whigs at one of their NYC shows. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but once I walked into the theater, I could see that I was not alone. Wow, it was a narrow demographic spread--white, males between 39-45. I would be astounded if more than 20% of the audience fell outside of that description.
The concert was a surreal experience; a disconcerting juxtaposition of my young and old selves. For one, I’m hearing the soundtrack to what I wanted my young self to be at blistering volume. But at the same moment, I’m now much older and have all of the social and cultural trappings of a successful American adulthood. At the show, I was just a few days past 40, had (and still have) a really good job (read steady and reliable), three kids (I know, three, it’s ridiculous) and significant debt. So while I felt compelled to gesticulate wildly, my thoughts kept returning to, “I’m somebody’s dad, I can’t act like that.” My solution: sitting in my seat, leaning forward, nodding head.
Must be my form of mid-life crisis...reflecting more and more on the passage of time and the different versions of me and how those versions make the present me.