Once upon a time I took great pride in being able to predict what new rock & roll band was going to make it big. Starting in the late ’70s, I thought I had a finger on the pulse of all things musically cool. I started a collection of debut 45s and albums by groups like Van Halen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey, Boston and U2. I would save up my money and make a pilgrimage to Tower Records, then play them for my friends, before they even knew their names. I seemed to be right every time. I fancied myself a rock critic, a hitmaker.
I couldn't answer the musical question, "What is hip?" In other words, I got old.
In the 80’s, I “discovered” Tears for Fears, R.E.M., The Police, Madonna, Huey Lewis and Dire Straits. Somehow I figured out who was built to last and who was a flash in the pan. I talked like I invented MTV just because I had a video camera and could lip synch while playing air guitar.
But in the 90s, I didn’t see Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pearl Jam coming. Something happened. I couldn’t answer the musical question, “What is hip?” In other words, I got old.
I had tied my self image to my ability to stay current with popular music. You know, the stuff we now call “classic rock.” So it seemed to mean I had to cut my hair, get rid of the ’67 Le Mans and get a Honda. Lose the t-shirt, buy some suits and ties, and think about life insurance and, well, having a family.
Now my 19-year-old points out the latest thing in music to me, and is quite articulate about why they’re hits. And why others will fail because they are “over-produced.” So I realized I could learn something from the next generation, and fulfill the promise of Graham Nash to “Teach Your Children Well.” Meanwhile, my 14-year-old has his own rock band, and guess what they play? Yup, classic rock. Wonder where he got that?
I love it: aging as encapsulated in musical taste. I think every generation imprints on the music of their youth and grumbles when tastes evolve or change. No doubt at the beginning of the Romantic era, when Chopin and Schubert were all the rage, the fuddy-duddies were grousing about how this “new music” was indistinguishable from noise. “Why can’t they sound like Mozart and Haydn? Now that’s MUSIC.”