Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Vintage Rock Ts & Kids These Days, Take II

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.

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?


DarkoV said...

Mr. WP,
Soon I'll be reading NYT thought pieces along the lines of:
Guns 'n Roses: Builiding a better Home Life

Jeez, I may have to start buying my kids their R&R t-shirts.

A sad day, indeed. I believe I have an old Jethro Tull T somewhere. Or maybe I could write to Ian Anderson to see if he'll send me a T from his multi-million salmon-farming venture in Scotland?

ジョエル said...

When I was in high school (92-96) I was a huge closet classic rock fan. Until somewhere along the line I discovered most of my classmates were classic rock fans as well, and then I came out of the closet....To this day I have a hard time explaining why I like classic rock, just as most people I think have a hard time rationally explaining their guilty pleasures. But I think a big part of it was that stuff old and from the past carried with it a bit of mystery and legend with it current music didn't yet have. Plus if it sounds half decent (and bands like Led Zepplin still carry an edge even today) it makes you wonder how something so vibrant and energetic could have come out of your parent's generation, and thus increasing the mystery of the band.

There was probably a bit of music snobbery with it as well. At a certain age the last thing you want to be doing is listening to the top 40 count down.

Whisky Prajer said...

DV -- funny, but I'm not seeing any shirts with Ian in his one-legged flute-whiffling stance. It's probably just a matter of time. I'm told that even prog rock has been making a comeback among the kids, a scenario I never once entertained with any seriousness.

JS -- I wondered about the "mystery" angle myself. When I listen to newbies like The Mars Volta or Wolfmother, my lapse into condescension -- "I appreciate you trying, guys" -- usually happens by the third or fourth song. Revolver-hype would have me believe these guys are carrying the Led Zep torch, but their music doesn't quite evoke the "wow" that Zep's musty chestnuts still do. I suspect the mystery/legend is a significant part of what's keeping Zep's music a mainstay.

Scott said...

I think the old music still works because young men are, have been and always will be drawn to power.

As with dreams of comic-book superpowers, the teens gravitate to the sound of world-conquering. Let their mopey, black-clad friends listen to the whining of Death Cab for Cutie, Fall Out Boy or Mars Volta -- most kids still believe that Axl Rose and Slash were everything they claimed to be and most kids still know that Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" is the sound of Norse gods striking down upon the earth.

Who can top that? U2? Please! :D

Whisky Prajer said...

Just before I read your comment, Scott, I was reading a history of rock stars in comic books. It was chiefly a "Hall of Shame" exercise (though the chronicler was quick to point out that Alice Cooper did alright by Neil Gaiman). I think in the main most rock stars from the 60s, 70s and 80s were their own comic book characters, and that putting Gene Simmons alongside Dr. Strange only served to make both characters look a little smaller. I'm not sure why that should be, but history does bear it out.