Featured Music: Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Dazed and Enlightened

Our music critic steps out of the classic-rock closet.


I never have to look any further than the sun-washed silver dome of the Fort Worth Convention Center to conjure a hundred memories of my youth, back 20-plus years ago. Damn, all the great concerts I saw at that beautifully run-down, under-financed, glorified airplane hangar. The first time I ever got high happened there, though I can’t remember if it was at Pink Floyd in 1977 or Ted Nugent in ’79. (Knowing me and how my life runs in contradictions, I probably smoked out at the Nuge, not at the obvious choice, Floyd.) My first concert ever, KISS, was at the TCCC (anyone under 30, don’t ask) as a blond-Afro’ed 9-year-old. How’d I get there? Simple. My folks had dropped me off.
Now let that marinate. I’m 72 months old, and my parents just drop me off in downtown Fort Worth to see a rock show by one of the most maniacal (at the time) bands in the world. I was only a bruised upper lip and a cigarette away from looking like a runaway. But nope, the parentals knew that as a member of the fraternity of rock ’n’ roll, I would be safe. And I have been ever since.
The problem is that my taste in rock is still kind of trapped in that era. I try and try to embrace contemporary rock in all its forms — and I even like some of it — but I can’t shake the feeling that the rock of my youth was better, stronger, more original than what I hear today (and I hear a lot).
Maybe I cling to classic rock because it reminds me of simpler times — mowing the neighbors’ lawns to pay for Bad Company’s Burnin’ Sky, cruising up Camp Bowie with my older brother in his
Chevelle SS listening to Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner,” or, of course, staring blankly at the cover of ZZ Top’s Fandango in Lisa’s bedroom when she said yes. Emotional blankies? Sure, but there’s nothing warmer.
Maybe classic rock affects me more deeply than any rock made in my adulthood because, as a thirtysomething, I am simply out of touch with the sturm und drang of younger generations. Everything appears to them to be about instant gratification. Compressed files? What the hell’s a compressed file? When I was growing up, we trafficked primarily in vinyl. We actually had to leave our bedrooms, walk all the way downstairs and then all the way down the avenue to the record store, then actually retrieve our wallets from our back pockets, pay, and then hike all the way back home and up the stairs to our bedrooms to then spin our platters beneath often-temperamental needles. Whew! No wonder my attention span, unlike those of some of my much younger friends, is longer than a gnat’s.
Pop culture has always been fascinated with youth, but the pop-cult mags and tv shows and hang-outs have never been more disdainful of us plus-thirtysomethings than now. Because we don’t spend money? Hardly. Tours from bands such as The Eagles, Elton John, and Mötley Crüe aren’t top-grossers every year because they’re packed with teen-agers. No, pop-cult media ignore us oldies because we’re not as easily hoodwinked by fads and fashion. We know timeless quality when we see — and hear — it.
All of this is not to say that some young’uns aren’t receptive to the type of classic rock I’m talking about. I mean, how could anyone hear “Back in Black” on the radio and not crank up the volume? And tell me that when “Aqualung” appears on the airwaves, you’re not playing air flute along with Ian Anderson? You know you are. Admit it.
The closest thing the kids have to rock is rap (at least rap circa 1986-1990). Today’s rock just isn’t ... fun. The guys in Staind are complaining about being mistreated by their parents, while Bon Scott and AC/DC were rocking on about girls and their backseat rhythms. The perfect metaphor: David Lee Roth was all about sex. Sammy Hagar is all about luvvvvvv. What a sissy, I know.
Or, to make a huge generalization, maybe today’s rock just isn’t as good as the classic stuff. The playing on most golden oldies is, to me, more sure, the lyrics deeper and more touching, and the songs simply more original. The contemporary rock that I moderately enjoy, such as Velvet Revolver and The Darkness, probably only matters to me because it’s essentially repackaged classic rock. Yeah, political correctness is partly to blame for the dearth of good contemporary rock; some things that the old heads got away with would not fly today. (“Christine Sixteen,” anyone?) But you also got to hold us — all of us — accountable. To me, most old-timey musicians got involved with music to say artistically what they wanted to say. Today, most younger musicians get into music to avoid working real jobs. Hence, contemporary rock’s watered-down quality. Still, we blindly eat it up. Maybe if we didn’t devour every little trivial thing fed to us by the mega-corporations and instead sought out off-the-radar, underground music, then maybe — just maybe — we’d be able to demand better art from our artists. Then maybe — just maybe — I could join the 21st century with pride.

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