Still, when I look back on this music, there’s something about Grossman’s analysis that rings true. It’s not joy at the end of history, exactly, that defines the Hootie-DMB-Counting Crows aesthetic, but maybe it’s what you might call a sense that ordinary life suffices (a key stabilizing sentiment for a liberal society). That you can have a rich human experience, full of joys and sorrows, without the extreme premodern or 20th-century stuff, war and God and utopia and all the rest. (And without racial division, too: The multiracial makeup of the Dave Matthews Band and Hootie and the Blowfish is also important here.) That you can be a fulfilled human person just through the highs and lows of normal-seeming suburban American life. That tropes of early-adult male heterosexual experience like “the yearning to be famous” or “the awesome girl who lets you down” or just “hanging out with your friends and feeling a little sorry for yourself” are all sufficient as grist for the strong feelings that make up an interesting life. And that when those feelings get you down, you can be depressed in a way that’s personal rather than existential, that’s just about you rather than about everything that’s wrong with life under late capitalism or whatever.
I never listened to any of those bands, but I agree that the “ordinary life suffices” perspective was prevalent in the 1990s, and not just because I was young and the world was new, and bliss it was in that decade to be alive and all that. I only realized how much that apparent common sense had made up the background of my young adulthood, and what an anomaly that was, once the Great Awokening began, and I began to wonder what was wrong with all these weirdos who insisted on making everything about politics, one of the least rewarding aspects of the human condition. At this point, it almost seems like a radical statement to say that an ordinary life of simple pleasures is good enough. It’s true, though, and will still be true long after this spasm of political puritanism has burned itself out.
(For anyone encountering the paywall, look, you didn’t hear this from me, but…)