If you grew up in the 60s and 70s like I did, you were fortunate to have grown up in the heyday of rock ‘n’ roll. Of course if you grew up in the 80s era of hair bands or the 90s of grunge, you would think those were the days, but of course you would be wrong (I would put a smiley face here, but hopefully sarcasm isn’t lost in the age of emoji). I thought about this when I read a piece about Bruce Springsteen recently closing out the LA Sports Arena with one of its final concerts before the relic (can you believe it’s over 50 years old? Now that’s old!) is torn down to make way for of all things a soccer stadium. (Don’t get me started on that un-American sport that is corrupting America’s youth with boredom and zero-zero ties.) About rock ‘n’ roll the author asks the salient question for we boomer rockers:
But at a moment when new rock music is the least visible it’s ever been — thoroughly overshadowed in the mainstream by pop, country, hip-hop and dance music — is nostalgia the only viable path forward?
Apparently so. Arena rock today is music for the geriatric set. Classic rock the staple of FM music stations around the country. Obviously because my generation refuses to die before it gets old.
If you are one of those, you might remember something referred to as “garage bands” back in the day, as they say. The garage was the minor leagues of future rockers who one day might be “called up to the big show.” It’s where they paid their dues so they could play at “keg parties” to get the word out that they were going to be the next Zeppelin or The Who or Deep Purple or The Doors, and so on and on. Those were heady days for aspiring rockers like me. I’d go to those parties and learn from the lead guitarist how to play all kinds of songs, and dream of the day I’d be playing in arenas in front of multitudes. I grew up in southern California and remember Van Halen playing keg parties before they became Van Halen. I was blown away one day as a freshman in college (1978) when I turned on the radio in my car and heard “Runnin’ with the Devil.” No way! They made it!
Alas, garage bands and keg parties are a thing of the past. There are no more rock bands of inspired youth who will take up the torch and pass the music to the next generation. Garages are just things where cars are parked and junk stored. They no longer inspire dreams and possibilities of arena rock glory. My 14-year-old-obsessed-with-music-son is exhibit A (take a bow, Dominic). He’s been taking piano lessons for several years now. We have an electric, acoustic and recently purchased classical guitar (and no kidding, he’s fired up now about learning Classical Gas, circa 1968!), as well as a keyboard that he got for Christmas that can pretty much make any sound under heaven. But guess what music inspires him. It’s all 40 or so years old! The exception is neo-progressive rock like Spock’s Beard, mainly because my brother was in the band for 15 years, and Neal Morse is a musical genius. But those guys are all old farts now too!
Maybe rock is inherently limiting, all three chords of it, but I don’t buy it. The musical genres mentioned in the Times’ piece quoted above are all just as limited in their raw material. The stories we watch on TV or at the movies take from the same basic narratives we read in the Bible, ancient Greek literature or Shakespeare. There is nothing new under the sun, but there are ways to make fresh what is given to us in creation provided the proper inspiration. Unfortunately it seems garages, arenas and rock are destined to go the way of big bands and swing, crooners and the Rat Pack, or the quintessential extinct species, the dodo bird. One can always dream, but Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and U2 don’t give us much hope.