Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Is rock & roll the sole province of the young?

Recently I've become sensitive to the use of the term "dad rock." In part this is because I realize that I've reached the point where a good deal of the music I like is, well, "dad rock." It's not my fault, see - I just got older! Honest injun! That's the scary part: when you realize that those same groups you remember discovering back in the day after their first single or LP have been part of the musical establishment for long enough to be . . . well, part of the musical establishment. If you bought Girls Can Tell off the rack when it dropped (to say nothing about Series of Sneaks, no one bought Series of Sneaks, that was the point), do you have to give up on them when you see they're getting write-ups in The New Yorker? Transference was an odd album, not entirely satisfying in many respects but hardly a failure. If i still listen to them now am I just sucking on the the dirty scrotum of familiar predictability? Should I be scanning the blogs for the latest razorwave nuhop group out of Staten Island? Is the time I spend listening and re-listening to Transference in order to fully "dig" it just a waste when I could be scanning YouTube for clips from all the strange groups on Impose's perpetually inscrutable singles lists? Have I become "the enemy"?

Or is it more to the point that at some point in the not-recent-enough-for-comfort past I actually became older than my dad was when he had me? Keep in mind that my dad wasn't particularly young when he had me, so by any stretch of the imagination I'm "old" in rock years.

And more than anything else, I guess, that's what it always comes back to: rock & roll is a young man's game. We're told this from the very first. Ringo was the oldest Beatle and he was only 30 when the Beatles ended - only 30!. We accept the presence of folks like the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Neil Young as éminences grises in the rock world with the full understanding that there is something absurd in the very idea. They know it's absurd too, which is why after a certain point it is expected that many rockers will fade gently into that good night - if not into complete silence, then to the high remunerative afterlife of standards albums sold at Starbucks and lucrative greatest hits tours. Besides, you say, Dylan and Young are the exceptions that prove the rule - how many other CSNY alumni are doing anything worth hearing?

All of which is so much in the way of broad generalizations and shadowboxing against straw men - but so be it! If you, as a rock critic, are no longer a young man, you have to at least pretend you are or - gasp - you might end up working for Rolling Stone and giving the automatic five-star pass to whatever feces Beck flings through the window. You want to talk about dad rock? Now there's someone who took a whole ten years to complete the circuit from grungy slacker outsider artist to complacent Hollywood music scenester. Hey, Beck, you remember when you'd just rap nonsense over Jon Spencer Blues Explosion cuts and it was awesome? And people really thought you were some kind of "rapper"? And you had the good sense to hide your affiliation with the Scientology cult in the basement like the abject embarrassment it is? And before the Gorillaz basically ate your po-mo cut-and-paste breakfast, and in the process revealed that the breakfast had always kind of tasted like cardboard, it just needed to be packaged in an actual McDonalds wrapper before we could realize it?

See, if you are old enough to actually remember Beck - and I mean, at least old enough to remember seeing the video for "Loser" while it was still in rotation on MTV (no one's expecting you to have actually heard his K-Records stuff first, we're not inhuman) - well, you're old enough to have procreated by now without being some sort of unambitious carnival roustabout. And if you're that old - well, you are old enough to be, you very well could actually be a dad, in which case it would be best just to take your Wilco CDs and your Yo La Tengo rarities and go sit in the corner while you wait for your ride. I'm sure your kids will remember to get you the new Hendrix box set for Christmas so you have something to listen to on the morning drive. Crosstown Traffic! Do do do do do do do do do do do do!

Now, put this in your pipe and smoke it: there are kids today driving around behind the wheels of cars who were not yet born when Kurt Cobain killed himself. (Most with learner's permits, but still.) Kids who think that rock & roll was born when Win Butler laced up his first cummerbund - or, heh, think that the Arcade Fire is their older brother's music. Do you remember when REM had four members? You're old. Do you remember when REM was mostly played on 120 minutes? You're even older. (Also, if you remember what 120 Minutes is, you're old.) Do you remember when REM were the gold standard in indie credibility? Jeez, why don't you just truck yourself down to the junkyard right now, Bob Mould will be happy to see you.

Ultimately, we're left with a rather unsettling conclusion: rock & roll is a young man's game, because only a young man (and I say it is usually a young man because we're talking about fetid testosterone here) can carry the kind of insane self-assurance necessary to legitimize something as "cool." And if the older folks point out that, you know, it's not bad but it sounds very similar to X and Y and Z, and you have to take it with some kind of perspective, well, mannn rock & roll isn't about being an old fart. And then after a few years have passed and you've heard a few things and can actually, finally appreciate music in some kind of historical context, as part of a continuum of disparate artists stretching back decades and even - gasp! - centuries, filled with slowly evolving stylistic modes thrown into periodic upheaval by punctuated bursts of creative energy, well, shit, you're officially too old.

The moment you're old enough to hear whatever influences the hot new thing wears broadly on its sleeve, you're officially too old, and your moment has passed. It doesn't even really take anything away from appreciating new music, you finally understand, to be able to point out where certain artists are derivative of other artists, or how certain motifs evolved from other familiar motifs - but it doesn't matter whether or not you can "enjoy" the music, if you have to think about it, you're already too late. Because unless you're young enough to feel it, you're too old to matter. Unless you're a tastemaker, in which case you better pray the online music source for which you write reviews is still new enough that it isn't yet considered unbelievably stodgy.

No comments :