In one of the last interviews he gave before his death, John Lennon was asked what he was listening to at that time. He admitted rather bashfully that he was listening to the same rock music--the Everly Brothers and the like--that he listened to in the Beatles' early days. He explained that he thought the people's taste rock music solidified around the age of 20 and never really changed after that.
It turns out Lennon was right, and that's probably not good news for the long-term health of rock music. Yesterday's New York Times looked at the AARP's attempt to market rock music to the over 50 set. The irony is lost on no one. Baby Boomers regard the pesky membership drive letters from the venerable organization for senior citizens like Death itself knocking on the door. Except for the people who worked for the AARP, no one in Jeff Leeds's article would admit to being a member, insisting, as one woman puts it, "we’re kind of footloose and fancy free." But if shelling out $750 dollars for a Barbra Streisand isn't a sign of early decrepitude, I don't know what is.
The problem isn't that senior citizens are listening to rock 'n roll, the music of youthful rebellion. Nobody should be worried that Grandma is jamming to the Strokes. Rather, the problem is that Grandma isn't jamming to the Strokes or any music made since she was 20. (Teacher's pet acts like Norah Jones don't count.) Jeff Leeds' article ends with a remark from Gary Borman, Elton John's manager, about the Baby Boomers' enfeebled listening skills. “Our generation, as much as we were once intuitive discoverers of music, we have lost that intuition. And now we need to be spoon fed.”
In any other popular culture form, this would be a very troubling statement. I can think of no other cultural form that is so dependent on such exactly repeatable experiences, as regressive and narrow as Freud's fort-da game. It's like someone unable to watch any television shows made after All in the Family went off the air. Older classical music fans may struggle with new composers, and season ticket holders may still long for the lush embraces of the Late Romantics, but at least the entire classical music audience is involved in the debate about contemporary music. The Brahms dowagers are trying out new music. Some people have predicted that rock will become more like jazz, with older musicians retaining their creative powers, and their performative dignity, well into AARP territory. But rock is more likely to become like blues, locked into three or four subgenres and pretending that the Muddy Waters wail still means something. The Jimmy Page slouch can already be seen in any number of indy rock guitarists. It shouldn't be long before R.E.M. cuts a deal with the AARP, just as the AARP letters start appearing in the mailboxes of Reagan-era college students.