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A man listens to music via an MP3 player
Illustration adapted by Teresa Tauchi (Source: iStock)

I am a member of Generation X. We followed the baby boomers and preceded the millennials. Our generation is usually categorized as being born between 1965 and 1980.

We were so full of ourselves then that we thought X stood for “xtreme.” Yet as I age, I’m starting to believe it now stands for “xtinct.” 

We were the rebels, the generation of big hair, parachute pants, sport coats over T-shirts with slacks and shoes with no socks (think Don Johnson in “Miami Vice”). And let’s not forget — though some may want to —  the hair bands and leg warmers.

Yet one day as I scrolled through my MP3 player, listening to Asia’s “Heat Of The Moment,” my music list started feeling stale. It was the line, “And now you find yourself in ’82,” that got me. 1982 was the year that song came out.

It made me realize just how antiquated my musical tastes had become. Could it be that the song was 40 years old? Turns out most of the songs I owned, with a few exceptions, were at least 30 years old.

Then it hit me: I was stuck in the lost generation with the music of my past, going culturally extinct. 

I’ve tried new music, with some success, both by accident and through intentional searches. But finding new, hip music works a little differently for me because I live in a federal prison in Colorado.

I purchase music via a federal prison system called the Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System, or TRULINCS. I try my best not to break the bank, with many songs costing $1.55 each.

In prison, music serves several purposes. 

First off, prison is loud and obnoxious, so pounding rhythms and vaulting vocals provide reprieve. And when you’re angry or frustrated, songs that make you headbang or dance (I don’t actually dance) are great ways to burn off excess emotions and idle energy.

Prison time is often spent sitting or lying on an uncomfortable mattress, staring at the walls, the ceiling or the bottom of your cellmate’s bunk, sorely in need of a good painting. If you’re not a musclehead who likes to work out constantly, music can fill voids, lift your spirits or provide an easy disconnect from annoying neighbors. 

My personal prison music library is approaching 1,700 songs, loaded on a SanDisk MP3 player. My earbuds do an excellent job filling my mind with grooves to soften the harsh realities of federal prison.

While I revere the music of my past, I’m coming around to some new artists that breathe life into this aging man. Generally, modern pop, or what I call bubblegum pop, is a turnoff for me, but not with Dua Lipa — a pop star from London.

I initially knew nothing about her until I saw her photo in a magazine and took a chance on her music. 

I downloaded her song “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” and listened. I was immediately hooked by her vocal ability. Her songs range from zippy to soulful. 

Fans of hard-driving electric guitars won’t love these tracks. Her songs use a minimalist approach to music, mostly limiting instrumentation to piano, drums or keyboards with a slight use of bass guitar. The song “Homesick” takes full advantage of Lipa’s vocal range.

The lyrics of “Homesick” make me sympathize with her missing the person she sings about. It’s a feeling myself and other inmates can connect with. We are missing the warmth and love of our loved ones.

Still, I’ve garnered some funny looks while listening to my music collection, with or without sunglasses to hide what may or may not be tears. If any pop artist can inspire deep emotions, it’s Lipa.

People might not understand someone like me — a middle-aged guy who rocks as hard as a 20- or 30-year-old. For me, music symbolizes my defiance to acting my own age.

My brief musical journey through the modern musical catalog in prison has taken me through Imagine Dragons, Lady Gaga, Lizzo and Robyn, but Dua Lipa stands out the most. She has shown me I shouldn’t casually discount new music or believe it is somehow inferior to my generation’s music. 

Yes, I allowed myself to become complacent in my tastes, the very thing I once railed against. But I now pledge to be much more accepting of new bands and artists. I know I won’t like everyone, but there’s good stuff out there. 

Maybe Gen X isn’t “xtinct” after all, only sleeping.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Daniel K. Talburt is a former journalist and has written two science fiction novels, “Destination Unknown” and “Dead In Space.” He is incarcerated in Colorado.