Mr. 20 Prospect sells out

They say a man drinks beer in his 20’s, wine in his 30’s and whiskey in his 40’s. Apparently, “they” didn’t grow up in Western New York, where we pretty much drank everything we could get our hands on from about age 16. Or, maybe the point that they are making, is that tastes change as we grow and mature. What has meaning for us at 20, looks downright silly by age 40. Such it is with music too.

As a devotee of college rock in the 1980’s there could be no worse fate than “Selling Out”. Going mainstream, in a transparent effort to make a living, was the kiss of death for any of the bands we followed. How could any self respecting “artist” forfeit their credibility to sign for a major label, and rise above the poverty line? I mean, c’mon, it’s not like us college kids would ever give up our Rock ‘n Roll lifestyle to go sit in a cubicle somewhere and collect our allowance from some faceless corporation? (yes, self awareness, and irony were not required courses at Clarkson)

So part 3 of our musical history tour picks up at the difficult transition, where our over educated, and under prepared, boys and girls try to get up enough speed so that when they hit the end of the 4 year long college run way, they suddenly take flight, instead of plowing into the trees in a ball of flames. Some made it, and some didn’t. And some, like Mr. 20 prospect, veer out of control at the last moment, skid sideways, catch themselves, and somehow manage to clear the trees with only minor damage to the landing gear. (I’d explain that story, but it’s the subject of The Great American Novel – henceforth to be known as TGAN)

My graduation from Clarkson in 1990 coincided with the entrance of college music into the mainstream, under it’s new catchy brand name “Alternative Music”. This is the point at which Kurt Cobain, and a whole bunch of flannel wearing guys from the Pacific Northwest, took everything that guys like Paul Westerberg, Mike Watt, and Bob Mould had been doing for 10+ years, copied it verbatim, and made millions of dollars. As a recent grad, fresh faced and ready to embrace Corporate America, I admired how my punk rock hero’s never “sold out” the way that the “Grunge Scene” had. Not that they had a chance too. Some, such as REM, did find fame and Rawk Stardom to their liking, and hit the jackpot of Grammy Awards, Gold Records, and benefit concerts to raise “awareness” of Homeless, One legged, AIDS patients from Bosnia, but for the bulk of the bands we knew and loved in the 80’s, the 90’s just brought disappointment, breakups, resentment, and treatment for various addictions.

With my new found wealth, mobility, and ample free time, I spent the first 4 years of life after college, taking in shows by these hard luck bands, in some of the great little venues of this nation. The Boulder Theater, the Bottleneck in Lawrence, the 40 Watt in Athens, and many other places that my work travels took me. When I did settle down, it was in the Twin Cities, home of  First Avenue & The 7th Street Entry. Now I wouldn’t have to travel to see these bands, they would come right to my doorstep.


But a funny thing was happening. I was growing up. The experience of hanging out in smoke filled bars until 2 am on a work night, to listen to a band began to hold less and less appeal. And looking around the bar, I started feeling old. Yeah, there were still plenty of hipsters in their late 20’s and early 30’s, looking too cool for words in the back of First Ave., but I was still the J.C. Penney wearing square. I didn’t resent the hipsters so much as wonder how they could still be content living like 19 year old’s. Surely there was more to life than irony, and self loathing. The music began to seem less relevant to my life too. Believe it or not, but there just aren’t many opportunities to live a punk rock lifestyle in a 9-5 job. The IT group tends to get upset when you smash your laptop on the conference room table after finishing a presentation.

So I went out less and less, and when I did I found my tastes changing too. My last turn in the mosh pit came in 94-95 during an Arcwelder show at  First Ave. It was a hot evening in early autumn, and by the time I left for home I wasn’t sure how much of the sweat soaking my t-shirt was my own, or those of the other bodies around me. By that time I had already found Alt-country, and Americana, and began listening to the twangy branches of the college music tree. Uncle Tupelo led into Wilco and Son Volt, which introduced me to The Jayhawks, and Lucinda Williams. Which meant I had to go back into history, and listen to Gram Parsons, The Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, Johnny Cash, Hank Sr. and Buck Owens, which in turn led to BR5-49, and the Reverend Horton Heat. Maybe it was living in the Midwest, or my time working in the South, but real country didn’t seem so bad. In fact, I kinda liked it.


So, do you remember when music mattered? Does it matter still? I’d have to admit that it matters less to me now than it ever has before. I am as square as I have ever been, but some days, when the mood is right, and Mrs. 20 Prospect is off with the kids, I dust off one of my old CD’s, throw off the yoke of my dark corporate overlords, put aside the irony, and self loathing, and rock out. And do you know what? It still feels good.

So I leave you with The Replacements, who are currently back in heavy rotation in the 20 Prospect commuter mobile. It’s a song that seems to have become an anthem for 40 something sell outs like us. Peace.

Left of the Dial

Read about your band in some local page
Didn’t mention your name, didn’t mention your name
Sweet Georgia breezes, safe, cool and warm
I headed up north, you headed north

On and on and on and on
What side are you on?
On and on and on and on
What side are you on?

Weary voice that’s laughin’, on the radio once
We sounded drunk, never made it on
Passin’ through and it’s late, the station started to fade
Picked another one up in the very next state

On and on and on and on
What side are you on?
On and on and on and on and…

Pretty girl keep growin’ up, playin’ make-up, wearin’ guitar
Growin’ old in a bar, ya grow old in a bar
Headed out to San Francisco, definitely not L.A.
Didn’t mention your name, didn’t mention your name

And if I don’t see ya, in a long, long while
I’ll try to find you
Left of the dial


9 thoughts on “Mr. 20 Prospect sells out

  1. Who did you see at the 40 Watt? If it was 1990 – 1994 you probably stood next to my husband at some point.
    I’ve watched Robyn Hitchcock and REM (under a fake name playing a mental health benefit) as well as an impromptu set by Sugar there. Amazing venue!

    • It was September of 1990 I think. I can’t remember who was playing that night. I just drove up from Atlanta for the weekend to see some shows. I did see Pete Buck standing at the bar. So that alone made it worth the trip. Other than that I don’t remember much, except this one red haired guy with a beard that was drowning his sorrows at the bar, talking about some girl he was madly in love with, who was hooking up with some sadistic Dentist dude.

  2. It’s an interesting situation, getting older, I’m finding myself reverting back to my 20’s. Started playing drums again and writing songs. Not sure if it’s nostalgia or some unfinished business. I guess we shall see. Cheers!

  3. Interestingly, in the last year or so, I have started digging new music, but I always hated going to shows (something about lots of people and closed in spaces). And while I had my blues phase, and my old country phase, and my mainstream phase, I love the weirdo indy rock crap that is creeping into the world right now. It reminds me of disco, but meaner.

    I also discovered what beer is supposed to taste like in my 30’s, and started making it. I hate wine.

    This leads me to believe that either A) I am at least 15 years behind the curve or B) I really am just immature.

    I am OK with either.

    • That’s OK. You’re a female, so you get a pass on the beer/wine/whiskey things. Also, your lack of a Y-chromosome ensure you are already more mature than I will ever be.

  4. What’s a CD?


    I have to agree with Leauxra, I was never into going to shows much as a “kid”…but I have never been a music buff either…My husband has always been deeply disappointed in my lack of music prowess…

    I’m ashamed of myself.

    • Yeah, I married someone with vastly different tastes in music. That, more than anything, is why I stopped going to see bands.

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