Eventually, and sadly, all of us find, or will find, ourselves losing our grip on what’s current and contemporary. We’ll accept Bono for his humanitarian work, we’ll listen to James Blunt because of his computer cracks and the forgiving fitting of Marks & Spencer will slowly engorge our filled-out figures. It happened to Homer Simpson, and even though that episode aired twenty years ago, while the bands and cultures it parodied are no longer current, the underlying message still remains incredibly potent – cool doesn’t stay.
Abe Simpson produces the most telling, and accurate, line in Homerpalooza, an episode that captures a specific moment of pop culture before it rapidly transcended. “I used to be with ‘it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was,” he scoffs. “It’ll happen to you.” He’s pointing his despondent digit at a young Homer, but really that finger can be placed upon any one of us – down the line, we all become Grandpa and, eventually, Homer; I envision in ten years’ time, when I’m driving my kids to school, I’ll be babbling boisterously about the “good old-fashioned sludge of Peace and Superfood, which paved the way for Catfish & the Bottlemen, which I believe was a kind of hovercraft.”
Homerpalooza serves as a time capsule, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it slice of a part of the ‘90s that seems laughable now. The show recognises this, too, and instead of casting a heartfelt haze over a carefree culture, they instead satirise and gleefully acknowledge that this specific timeframe will be left in a bargain bin, along with copies of Reality Bites and Come On Feel the Lemonheads. In short, the show’s creators had to parody the “it” Abe lambasts, for that “it” was changing far too frequently to accurately homage. By 1996, the real Lollapalooza festival was being headlined by Metallica; by the turn of the millennium, it had died. The fickle aura of youth had breezed by.
“They changed what it was” is the episode’s motif, and becomes more prevalent now as the bands the show spotlights – Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins and Cypress Hill, to be precise – are no longer the key cultural forces they were (although their influence has had more longevity). Heck, Billy Corgan’s most prominent recent promo work involved an article in a cat fancy magazine and Corgan looking petrified on some sort of children’s fairground ride.
The episode has occasionally been criticised for being too gimmicky and of-its-time, but in truth the show has a strong core before the festival comes in. Homer’s new-found role as the school runner (or driver) throws into sharp focus how his rock and roll beliefs are now dated and formulaic, casting a low thrum over our central character. His bedside confessions to Marge about his superannuated state feel true and troubled, the kind of self-admittance that many people would have had to have faced when they saw vinyl records on sale in Tesco. The Dazed and Confused skit, where Homer tries to board the ‘second-base mobile’, also provides a comical glimpse of a self-anointed cool Homer.
When the show introduces Homer to a young festival crowd, his hearty but ham-fisted attempts at appearing relevant hit him almost as hard as Peter Frampton’s inflatable pig. However, the episode later provides us with an interesting theory – does Homer actually want to be cool? Or is he just on a frivolous chase of critical clout? For when Homer finally does get acclaim for being the festival’s human cannonball, he soon realises maybe he was content enough being with his family and eating a club sandwich. There have been times where I myself have longed for the acclaim, no matter how fair the weather, for my music or even these blogs. But when I sometimes get that, I realise I’d much rather be a wallflower. The grass isn’t always greener, especially when roadies are gobbing on it.
While newer episodes of The Simpsons would see flat readings delivered completely straight, here such wooden words embellish the so-so nature of alternative rock (Kim Gordon isn’t likely to be winning an Emmy any time soon, put it that way). Elsewhere, I like how Homer forms a believable friendship with The Smashing Pumpkins (Billy Corgan serving as a credible comic foil), Cypress Hill’s surprisingly tuneful classical rendition of ‘Insane in the Brain’ and Sonic Youth’s theme tune. However, the surprising star turn here has to be Frampton, who’s obviously a really good sport to play such a curmudegonly, crusty version of himself.
Homerpalooza’s longevity stems from, ironically, representing such a disposable, transitory period of cultural history in a satirical way that’ll confuse and irritate future generations, while bewildering the ones that lived through it. They may have changed what ‘it’ was, but they never changed what ‘it’ meant.