“The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it,” early PayPal investor and Gen-Xer Bruce Gibney writes in dramatic fashion in his 2015 book A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America. Throughout the sprawling narrative, he accuses the baby boomer generation (those born approximately between 1946 and 1964) as the root cause of today’s plaguing problems faced by millennials, an inheritance of a struggling job market, decreased overall earnings, mounting student loan debt ⎯⎯ and pumpkin spice lattes.
In a 2016 US Census Bureau study, 31 percent of adults aged 18-34 lived at home, representing the most common living situation. Additionally, rates of living with parents differs greatly across state lines and economic boundaries, from 16.6 percent in Washington, DC to 32.9 percent in West Virginia, 36 percent in New Mexico and 38.1 percent in California. Those statistics are staggering, yes, but they don’t tell the whole picture.
Digging below the numbers, into the burdened lives of struggling, tired-eyed millennials, you see a much grimmer picture. Sam Doniger, frontman of pop-rock outfit Calamity the Kid, barely comes out of the rubble alive. “The world isn’t what it was in the sixties, all peace and love,” he sings with the group’s debut single “American Muscle,” a polished, punk-ish teardown of the American dream. In under three minutes, Doniger doesn’t mince words, curating his frustrations over police brutality, racial tensions and being spoonfed a lie. “I’m living at home, and I have friends who’ve moved out or tried to move out and inevitably end up back at their parents’ house for an assortment of reasons. I don’t think, frankly, society is in a place right now, certainly not economically, where it makes it any easier for anyone to live on their own. It just seems like a particularly rough time for young adults,” he tells B-Sides & Badlands over a recent phone call.
“Camping out in the wild of my parents backyard / Smoking paper cigarettes cause we thought we were hard / And I was a cowboy from the start with my cap gun and my hat / Making all the neighborhood girls retreat from our attack,” he opens the song’s first verse, playing narrator and decorating the stage with observations from his childhood. It would be a rather delightful nostalgic timepiece if it weren’t for the bitterness and anger coiling around his words. And rightfully so.
In the accompanying visual, directed by Nathan Rocky, he packs on more potent layers. Over a 10-day cross-country trip, the two hopped in his car and hit the open road, weaving their way from Los Angeles to New York and then down to New Orleans, as a way of “just trying to depict America in all of its dynamism,” he says. “We live in an incredibly dynamic country in many different ways, in terms of the people who live here, the jobs, the geography. I don’t think this country gets enough credit in that way. In many other ways, it isn’t quite as dynamic.”
There is one especially striking but chilling moment in the video. At the 1:10 minute mark, a young boy finds sheer glee in playing with a toy machine gun, serving as a terrifying metaphor for life in 2018. “Data shows gun violence is disproportionately a male problem,” observes USA Today in an extensive investigative story last year. And that problem is rooted in childhood during the transformative years, as young boys are coming of age and seeking out popular culture to guide them and to teach them. “The point of masculinity and guns was something of a subconscious thing that happened in this video. It’s very interesting that it did happen, because it’s telling of the undercurrent. You don’t even notice it but it ends up there. That says something,” reflects Doniger of the music video.
A clip of Columbine immediately follows, a rather chilling editing choice, but one which is appropriately crucial and moving. “In some ways, that is the most powerful part of the video, because…that clip a very excellent metaphor. That wraps it all up in many ways,” he says.
“American Muscle” is only scratching the surface of the band’s brazen lyricism and sonic touch points, drawing upon Nirvana, Green Day and Good Charlotte. Their debut EP, Late Bloomer (out now), which sees its name from Doniger’s propensity of being “late to everything,” he says, with a laugh. “I hit puberty really late. I was late to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, not that I’ve entirely figured that out. There are always those people around you who always seem they have it all together.”
As a whole, the EP, containing titles like “Fuckboys” and “Die Young,” which is a staunch, soul-tearing rallying cry, is directly connected to “these generational feelings of apathy or disconnected in other ways,” he explains. “[It] sums up what I know a lot of my friends are feeling, just ‘fuck, I thought I was going to be way ahead at this point.’ You can riot to this. They’re definitely pop songs, but they feel untamed and a little at the seams.”
Below, Doniger talks violence, gun control, being outspoken and the moment he realized America was less than perfect.
With your lyric “get fucking murdered if you don’t act white,” was there a specific act of violence which inspired it?
There was a period of time last year when it just seemed like it was every fucking week. There was this fevered pitch of “you gotta be kidding me that this keeps happening.” There was a general feeling of that occurring over and over and over again.
Any reservations of having such a powerful message in your debut single?
Not really. Other people had reservations about it. I didn’t. It just seems unarguable to me. There isn’t an opinion in this song. It’s just…this is the way it is. These are facts. Just watch the news. There’s nothing to argue about here.
Have you always been outspoken about what you think or believe?
I don’t think I’m particularly outspoken or loud person. I tend to keep to myself more than anything else. But I do tend to have a feeling of how things should be or how people should act. I don’t have any problem acting in that manner, despite most people not.
Tragedy after tragedy, the conversation is on focused on gun control. Can or will anything change?
There’s a lot of other topics in addition to gun ownership that need to be addressed. The way society deals with mental health issues and the mentally ill, that is something that needs to be discussed. Something else that needs discussed is the divide among political parties in this moment. Neither side really have any interest in solving the problem in an appropriate way. It’s just a shouting contest. If we can solve those two issues, the gun issue will solve itself. Generally, there is a lack of humanity today. That encourages drastic events. There needs to be new laws, but what those laws should be, I’m not entirely certain.
In an interview with Music of the Future, you discussed how America doesn’t actually hold the ideals we advertise. When did you have a moment(s) of realization?
It has happened in stages. The first one was around the time of the Occupy Movement. A lot of people tend to see that as a failed attempt, and it gets a lot of shit. I understand why they feel that way. I think what that really did was introduce an entire generation to the truth of how divided our economic ladder really is. For that reason, that event is particularly important. That was maybe the first time when I started to really pay attention to these things and view a lot of the governmental policies in that kind of light.
More generally, the past few years, it’s hard not to know somebody who isn’t being impacted or let down in some way or that the opportunity they thought they were gonna have isn’t there. A couple years ago, I remember being fairly embarrassed about the fact I was still living at home. Then, the more time that goes by, the more you realize that certainly at least half or more of the people I know still live at home. They’re not necessarily in jobs they’re happy with or feel like they can move up. That was the second moment.
This is a much broader conversation, but I think history is going to perceive this moment in time and the generation that came of age in it in a unique light. I’m really interested to see in 40, 50 years from now how we perceive this generation. We’re coming of age at a very particular time in the coming of age of society, in terms of technology. We’re the first generation that had a certain amount of years without the internet and then was introduced to the internet but is still capable of using it very well. Every generation after ours doesn’t know life without the internet. The generation before ours, the internet wasn’t as integral part of their emotional development. It’s no surprise that we are struggling.
Later, in that same interview, you briefly mentioned getting Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction album as a gift from your mother. How has that record ultimately influenced you?
To be a 12-year-old boy and hear that record, it was a powerful event. Touching on that masculinity you brought up previously, there’s a lot of things happening in a kid that age. That just touched on it. It was so exciting. I remember hearing that and thinking, “Geez. I wanna do that.” That record came out at a time in music when it was high-polish pop, hair-metal, synthesizers. It’s the ‘80s. Everything is clean and perfect. All the singers sound amazing.
In some ways, we’re back at that, in terms of popular music. Now, I’m not going to go anywhere near comparing our EP to that record. [laughs] That’s one of the greatest records of all time. But I do think some of that spirit is there. It was also the record that got me to play guitar. I had been playing piano and had this really strict Russian piano teacher. I just hated it. I don’t know why my mom got me that record either. I hadn’t thought about that until now. Before that record, I was listening to “Get Rich or Die Tryin” by 50 Cent and “Thong Song” by Cisco.
What do you want this year?
I want what I’ve always wanted. I would just love to be content. I got really lucky to begin with. I got born with two parents that care a lot about me. There are a lot of parents who don’t even get that.
Society tells us what we should be focused on. Those things are not in line with living a content or happy life. Society doesn’t make it any easier for us to be happy with ourselves. In fact, it does the opposite. If society told us to focus on being nice to each other or finding genuine love in our lives, imagine what this world would be?
Look around, especially in this country, we live in heaven. If heaven exists, it fucking looks like this. If we could all just realize that and that our existence on this earth is not even a second in the scheme of things ⎯⎯ we’re all here for so little time. We can’t take any of this shit with us. We would all be so much happier.