Should Rock and Roll be Meaningful for Old People?

If one even occasionally pays attention to their Twitter feed, they have no doubt seen how aging baby boomers throughout European cities are flocking to stadiums to hear the music of 73 year-old Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band. And of course, as he always does, Bruce is giving them their money’s worth, playing his usual three or four hours with a heartfelt passion that has very likely never been duplicated in the history of rock and roll. And of course, on the surface at least, that would appear to be entirely wonderful; that Bruce’s passion, and the passion of his fans can survive any number of complicated, difficult generations.

Except there may be one trouble, that which has really nothing to do with Springsteen, his fan base, or other high profile aging rockers who should be lauded for producing great music with the sort of heart and soul which they seemingly just can’t quit. It’s simply that rock and roll was never originally intended to be the province of old people. That is, it’s the one art form in our culture which is meant to celebrate the passion and energy of youth. Jazz, due to its improvisational nature, can be played by people of any age without it starting to seem silly, and the inherent beauty of great classical music transcends various time periods. But rock music, if it is to remain meaningful, may need to be necessarily anchored in the present moment.

Gracie Slick of Jefferson Airplane fame has been quoted in the past as saying that people who are fifty or sixty years old playing rock and roll on stage in front of other people tend to look ridiculous. And years ago, at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony Ray Davies of the Kinks, upon receiving his statue, commented, “Rock and Roll has finally become respectable. What a drag.” What both of these great artists spoke to, obviously, was the spirit of a genre which began to die years ago with the death of AM radio, when everything new, fresh, and important could be heard, more than anywhere else, coming out of the radio on the dashboard of the family car. Since then, for many of us who came of age during that time, nothing has ever really seemed to be the same.

The sad truth is that time inevitably takes its toll on everything, even great art. When Springsteen’s landmark album Born to Run came out in 1975, two now famous tracks which appeared on it were of course Born to Run and Thunder Road; iconic songs which so brilliantly explored the angst and restlessness of young love and exploration. Now, unfortunately, nearly fifty years later, those two titles might seem to suggest to someone who is unfamiliar with the songs an escaped aging convict from a state prison who is on the run from his captors, or a group of aging moonshiners who are selling liquor from the trunk of their car somewhere in the deep South.

The period of time in which we baby boomers came of age was of course an incredibly exciting one. In point of fact, everything seemed to be happening so fast that it was hard to even keep up with it. Yet it seems we don’t want to make the mistake that Jay Gatsby made when he looked at the green light shining from a dock on the other side of the bay in hopes of rekindling his love for Daisy Buchanan, believing that it was possible to relive the past. For not only is the past gone forever, In point of fact, it may be something that doesn’t really exist in the first place, except in the illusory world of our flawed imaginations.

It is still possible for older rockers to discover other outlets in which to display their creativity and their passion. This past year, Susanna Hoffs, former lead singer of the 1980s group The Bangles, released her highly successful novel This Bird Has Flown, an engaging, hilarious novel about an aging superstar who is given a second chance to explore the possibility of stardom, a book which has been drawing rave reviews; which is most likely a good thing. For one fears that if the Bangles were still on stage singing their famous 1988 hit In Your Room, about a scintillating hook-up between a boy and girl, they might have, with the passage of time, been tagged as aging Mrs. Robinsons from Mike Nichols film The Graduate.