The other night I attended a school drama my daughters were performing in. I sat with a bunch of other parents and followed the chatter wherever it went. As more and more kids came into the auditorium, the topic of conversation became solely focused on their clothes. It was a very rare and unique kid who wasn't wearing a "vintage" rock t-shirt. Led Zep, AC/DC, Rolling Stones, RUSH, Bob Marley, The Ramones ... all present and accounted for -- even KISS.
We all scratched our graying noggins trying to puzzle this phenomenon out. We covered most of the comments in this post. And it's worth repeating that these bands (most of whom are in stasis, if not dead) all have items available at Wal-Mart for a fraction of what they cost at concerts back in the day. If a Cheap Trick concert T cost $15 back in 1979, the inflation calculator works that out to a value of $44 in 2008. That's not far off what today's concert Ts actually sell for (with the few remaining big acts, at least). But drive to Wal-Mart, and you can buy a "vintage" Cheap Trick T for less than $10. If you run the calculator backwards, the original in 1979 would have had to sell for $3.50 to compete.
My friend beside me piped up. "Surely it's not the music. I mean, there's no shortage of new music."
"You wouldn't think that if you spent a day with my boy," said a mother. "Nothing but Led Zeppelin for him. The newest he'll go is Guns 'N' Roses."
"But that's over 25 years old!" I blurted. "What's this all about?"
The mother shrugged. "He can play it on his guitar."
"With a little practice, a kid can play Jack White on his guitar," I said.
"It's not the same thing," she said. "I kind of wonder if the new stuff doesn't make kids feel like they're stupid or something. The old stuff doesn't talk down to them."
There were a few more thoughts, but that was the one that hit me between the eyes. When did rock 'n' roll become so supercilious? I mean, nearly every rock band has demonstrated some contempt toward its fans (given the conditions, who could possibly resist?), but that almost seems to be the starting point for most acts these days. "Just try to figure this out!" as opposed to realizing where the kids are (their parents' basements, playing video games and/or texting their friends) and speaking directly to them. Now everything has been "elevated" to "college rock."
I have some other guesses as to why the new music isn't catching on with the kids. What scrawny kid hoping to make out with the girl two rows down, even as he wonders if he isn't really gay, is going to wear a T-shirt that says (to take two examples from eMusic's front page today) "Breathe Owl Breathe" or "Plants & Animals"? And tell me which intro will generate the most triumph when a 14-year-old finally masters it on his Strat clone: "Sweet Child Of Mine" by GnR, or "Aberinkula" by The Mars Volta?
What really surprised me was the concern of the parents. It actually bothered most of us that our kids were listening to this old stuff, and not something they could properly call "their own." So much for the idea of human progress! (in rock 'n' roll? Just what is that supposed to look -- or sound -- like?) I wonder what, exactly, our anxiety signifies? I suppose "No, it's okay dad: keep it on this radio station. I like your music!" could probably translate to, "But, dad: why do I have to move out .... ever?" Or perhaps we now face a world where our concepts of progress have become threadbare and too porous to hold much value. How are our kids going to "advance" if it doesn't get any better than watching free movies on a hi-def plasma screen? Who wants to go out, if nothing looks as good as blu-ray ... or sounds as good as Slash did in his 20s?