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We really do dance like Elaine
on August 20, 2015
I picked up this book for a third time when someone who was reading it on my recommendation (at least partly) complained that it wasn't funny.
Some of the jokes are out of date (particularly about 'four equal tranches with the first two splices reverting to the underwriter' and such- there's a lot of 'Chinese paper' under the bridge since then), and as the Boomers have aged fifteen years, some of them have 'gotten off the stage,' (some of them), so that a passage like this is less biting than it originally was:
Get off the stage. One of the things that Baby Boomers hated about their parents’ generation was the refusal of moldy icons like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby to hit the showers. Our attitude back then was: You had your day in the sun; your day in the sun lasted a lot longer than it should have; now get thee hence. But Baby Boomers have done exactly the same thing. Keith refuses to go quietly. Cher still thinks she’s hot. John McEnroe has challenged the Williams sisters to a tennis match. Honestly, is this any way for impending retirees to behave?
What I still like about the book is that amid all the wisecracks, Queenan will deftly slip in some astute observations (I think of it as very Irish. One reason I like Joe Queenan is because he sounds like my friend Mike). Take this, for example, in a chapter about the 'negatively symbiotic' relationship Gen X-ers have with Boomers:
... Then, inevitably, Baby Boomers became mildly nostalgic for the detritus of their youth. Sensing an opening, Gen Xers moved in and embraced The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, ABBA, disco and polyester, smirking to one another that because pathetic Baby Boomers were oblivious to the ironic subtext underpinning this mass conversion, Gen X had thereby landed a body blow on the overlords who oppress them on a daily basis. Even though Baby Boomers were unaware of this deft subversive attack, because they were too busy with their own ironic endeavors, and therefore largely impervious to irony concocted by other generations. Meanwhile, the Greatest Generation looks at their watches and wonder how much longer the Grim Reaper’s going to be, because this whole damn society has gone to hell in an irony-suffused, deeply postmodern handbasket.
It's a throwaway line- "the overlords who oppress them on a daily basis," and I don't know if Queenan would stand up in court and defend it, but it does refer to a fairly sophisticated definition of irony, and it's more or less true that the Gen X-ers biggest gripe against Boomers is that they suck huge amounts of wealth away from them 'on a daily basis.'
Two particularly fine set pieces are the one on The Greatest Generation Any Society Has Ever Produced (Queenan is right that this belated kissing up to the Sansabelt generation is in fact more Boomer short-sightedness) and his tour of Seattle's Experience Music Project (Hey, a significant majority of adult white males have a de facto guitar museum in their bedrooms...)
For me, the only chapter which falls flat is the imaginary timeline of a Boomer generation turning out even worse than is has in fact (Jim Morrison survives to play a role in Lords of the Dance.?.. whatever.. didn't get it). So the book is not perfect; but there are very few books I have read three times with such enjoyment, so I won't begrudge the old fart his 'fifth' star (That's a little Joe Queenan rubbing off on me).