Watching Glastonbury on TV made me feel old. But weirdly, not because all the bands were younger than me. I felt old because I didn't understand why thousands of 18 year-olds would get so carried away by Bruce Springsteen. I watched him jumping around the stage with his bandana-wearing chums, and felt embarrassed (subtract the World Economic Forum from Bono then add Al Gore, and what would be the difference? Fiscal policy?). The massed kids seemed to think they were in the presence of something transcendent. What's going on?
I remember Taylor Parkes once writing in Melody Maker that the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy represented year zero for a trend that would come to dominate British indie music during the 1990s. This trend, admittedly a heavily Scottish one, was for bands to start making music about their record collections. If the J&MC started it, their drummer extended it with Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub made an art of it - and then there was Oasis. Although the sources were very different, you could even include the Manic Street Preachers and anything punky during the 1990s. Plus Britpop, obviously. True to their national character, this cultural principle has now been elevated to the level of commerce in the US by Interpol and The Killers.
The economic story of indie music was of a punk ethic being applied to startup businesses, beginning with Factory records in 1978, then concluding with the moment the Happy Mondays sat on and broke the company's £30,000 surf-board-style dangly boardroom table in 1992. Appropriately, as it happens: 1992 was also the year of Black Wednesday, when our nation began its transition from being a conflicted, 3rd rate nation of shopkeepers to a sanitised, 2nd rate nation of bankers. Thanks to My Bloody Valentine, Creation was also effectively bust at the time, which was the only honourable condition for any indie label to be in. It's not irrelevant that these businesses were financial disaster zones.
The cultural story would have to include something of the Psychocandy phenomenon. I suspect this is somehow explicable in terms of pop music's flawed aspiration to combine the timeless with the fleeting. You could say the same thing of modernism, but modernism rests on a more sophisticated recognition that the timeless is found in the fleeting. To walk a city in search of something timeless and transcendent requires a particular sensibility regarding the irreducible one-off-ness of events. Not easily done in fact.
Pop music doesn't manage this: it tends to have a 'fleeting' strand and a 'timeless' strand. Did anyone who actually saw the Velvet Underground in 1968 truly understand the significance of what they were seeing? No, of course not. This is why washed-up old hacks (such as I aspire to be) have spent years since extracting the sublime meaning from iconic photos of gigs they never actually attended. It's only a short step before bands themselves join in, pinning their music onto themes, icons and chords that seem timeless, but posing, shouting and playing in a way that is immediate and fleeting. (By persisting with this for over a decade, Oasis missed the point, making it seem like the immediate and fleeting had been going on for bloody ever, thereby turning modernism inside out).
In 2009, a new settlement has arisen. The 'fleeting' and the 'timeless' are now split by a generational division of labour. In the age of myspace, Urban Outfitters, Londonlite, 'illegal'-but-actually-sponsored squat parties, youtube, corporate folk festivals and ipods, the fleeting rush of youth is delivered by a rapid turnover of skinny-jeaned kids. This is the stuff which comes free with a mobile phone upgrade. The fleeting aspect of pop is elevated to new heights, by the fact that the bands themselves are gobbled up in an endless churn. I can tell you which Suede record accompanied my GCSEs and A-Levels; today's teenagers would tell you which band. Within the fleeting wing of indie music, less is permanent than ever before.
Meanwhile, the 'timeless' bit is delegated to anyone whose records we're still listening to years later. Authenticity, timelessness, talent and musical prowess are delivered by an entirely separate bunch, whose age is increasingly irrelevant. This is the stuff which comes free with a £50 ticket and a £10 'discretionary' booking fee. Frankly, the generational and cultural divide between Neil Young and Blur (the other two Glastonbury headliners) is now less culturally important than what they share, which is the ability to endure and to present music as intrinsically worthwhile. This is why the kids need Springsteen. Chris Anderson should write a follow-up to Free called Expensive: why most things being free leads us to over-value what remains.
The Jesus & Mary Chain stole the sounds of the Shangri-Las and the Velvet Underground, and dressed it up with swear words, riots and excitement. Today's kids would go and see the Shangri-Las and The Velvet Underground, then the next day go and watch their mate's band doing a poor impersonation of The Jesus & Mary Chain. The former tap into something timeless, albeit crudely and illegitimately; the latter pay homage to it, as a compensation for the lack of it being produced by their own generation.
I'm not making that much of a value judgement. Plundering the past for the present is not greatly more noble than paying homage to it. Out-sourcing the 'classic' dimension of indie music to the horse's mouth (or should that be the 'Boss's mouth'?) is in some ways more honest than pretending to recreate it afresh. But I have one warning for you, kids: Bruce Springsteen will die a long time before you, so at some point you're going to have to start growing your own 'authenticity'. Then again, maybe you have no intention of caring about any of this by my age.