Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ageless Rock

I watch bad television late at night and so I am victim to all the bad shows and infomercials. I am the man riding herd on the late night charlatans and collections of the Greatest Music of All Time--The Sixties! So of course I had to watch the reunions of the British Invasion. They dug up bands from the sixties who were still around and put them on a stage. I watched these rebellious souls in senior tennis shoes and floppy flowered shirts sit on stools singing their anthems of rebellion forty some years after the fact. They sounded amazingly the same, but of course the lyrics didn't really match up. "Baby we got out of this place, if its the last thing we ever do...baby you are so young and pretty..." A bit like almost sixty Bruce Springsteen shouting, "tramps like us, baby we were born to run!" Enjoyable, but the truth is the art form doesn't really work anymore. Rock and Roll born from youthful rebellion does not work in the same way after fifty...maybe even after forty. The reason is that Rock was never meant to be an art form that could stand the test of time. Yes, the old songs are around and we can spin them and listen and travel back to that time, but watching the old rockers perform them is something of an embarrassment. It is not that they cant' perform them, it is just that rock and roll is fundamentally adolescent in it's sentiments. I know, I was an adolescent for many many years. It would be as if F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote This Side of Paradise when he was forty. Why would he do that? His first novel was a coming of age and written when he was twenty two. Style and substance came together to form the nexus of his voice. Now why would he write something extremely young adult when he is middle age? He wouldn't, it simply wouldn't t fit unless it was a retrospective of his youth which he did with the Basil and Josephine stories. But he could not write This Side of Paradise because his intellect is not the same. Could he read the novel when he is forty? Absolutely, but he does not become Amory Blaine in the reading. In that way, rockers are imprisoned. Sixty year old rockers must hop around singing I cant get no satisfaction or My Generation because the form does not lend itself to much beyond the youth culture. It is the reason Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane retired, declaring that performing as a fifty year old is ridiculous. We have seen the transmogrification of these older rockers and it is not pretty. Lets look at U2. The last super band. Five nights on Letterman and mega saturation. Why? Because for all their vaunted individuality and not wanting to become a "shitty band" as Bono puts it, they have become corporate marketers. Why? Because they have become older and the men who wrote Boy or New Years Day are now cognizant of market share of the shrinking musical dollar. And the fact is their relevancy will not depend on their music but on their marketing and in that way they are doomed. The will bust out at number one, but like the old champ who makes a comeback they know their days are limited. The core form of rock and roll is still one of rebellion and youthful questioning of the status quo. That is a hard thing to do when you are the status quo. So, it doesn't matter so much that I won't stay up and watch the remaining members of the Byrds or Hermans Hermits, because it is entertainment. But the short shelf life of an art form started by a truck driver from Tennessee was never meant to speak for the ages. Really, just one age.

Books by William Hazelgrove