“When we were young the future was so bright
The old neighborhood was so alive
And every kid on the whole damn street
Was gonna make it big and not be beat
Now the neighborhood is cracked and torn
The kids are grown up but their lives are worn
How can one little street swallow so many lives?”
The No Seatbelt Blog is getting serious this week on Growing Up 90’s with a song that has always been powerful but hits much closer to home these days. The Offspring has been one of my favorite bands since I heard their breakthrough album Smash in 1994. Album after album, the blindingly fast guitar riffs from the six-string maestro known as Noodles, the always-shouted vocals from lead singer Brian “Dexter” Holland, and the band’s ability to master both the hilarious and the heart-wrenching with their music have been an easy sell for me.
Longing for what used to be
Still it’s hard, hard to see
Fragile lives, shattered dreams”
The band’s song “The Kids Aren’t Alright” is a tragic realization of wasted potential and forgone dreams characteristic of America’s youth, as futures loaded with promise and opportunity are thrown away in exchange for drug addiction, teen pregnancy, and dropping out of school. Despite the fact that The Offspring will be remembered by many for only their riotously inappropriate novelty songs, don’t take Dexter Holland’s lyrics and delivery with a grain of salt here.
“Jamie had a chance
Well, she really did
Instead she dropped out
And had a couple of kids
Mark still lives at home
‘Cause he’s got no job
Just plays guitar and smokes a lot of pot
Jay committed suicide
Brandon OD’d and died
What the hell is going on?
Cruelest dream, reality”
The heroin epidemic that has swallowed my home county of Ocean in New Jersey over the past handful of years has caused this song to hit like a ton of bricks when I hear it now. More often than I care to speak about, local news headlines serve up the death of another teenager who decided to put a needle in their arm one day. Too many, with roofs over their heads, loving and attentive parents, and college scholarships, blessed with intelligence, athleticism and often good looks have fallen to this killer. Looking to fill some hidden void in their lives, or maybe just falling prey to peer pressure, one kid after another becomes a drug addict, and are too often able to hide it from their parents and friends.
While “The Kids Aren’t Alright” doesn’t squarely address heroin use, the song conveys the horror felt by someone who watches a loved one or friend – especially the young, who have all ahead – throw their life away by making such terrible choices. The song’s tempo is upbeat and fast, the chorus is catchy, and the tune is rife with the band’s signature “woah-ohs,” but the lyrics are deadly serious. From the large and illustrious catalog put forth by The Offspring, this is a song with a message.
Stay tuned for another edition of Growing Up 90’s next week, and perhaps that piece will not be perched atop a soapbox. We shall see.