October 2008

One of the hilarious aspects of gaining life experience is that you find yourself becoming a strange amalgam of your youthful rebelliousness, the personal glories and smack downs you’ve collected throughout the years, and the behavioral complexities of your parents. It can be a surprising evolution, but we all eventually follow the same path, so the journey is nothing to fear, loathe, or be ashamed of. The trick is not sounding like a curmudgeon, a nostalgia freak, or an arrogant know-itall who transported himself to the wrong dimension and is no help to anyone when discussing cultural history with someone younger than yourself. In the guitar community, for example, a conundrum of context occurs when you have lived through influences that forged your life, but those benchmarks have little or no meaning or significance to a musician who is charting his or her career today. Recently, I ran right smack into this “risky” scenario when a guitar player quite innocently ask
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“Why would I want to do that?” I answered in my most annoying snot-box tone.

“Well, I know you like the Who,” he countered.

“I love the Who. I saw them when they were f**king powerful.”

“So, um, that means you’ll never watch them again?” he asked with a few hints of suspicion and indignity in his voice.

For me, there were so many conceptual tendrils to the question that I froze for a few seconds as the following thoughts zinged across my brain:

[1] I don’t want my profound memories of the Who—the band that actually seduced me to pick up a guitar (the Beatles having instilled the desire, but not the guts to act)— sullied by some phony “event” concocted by VH-1 to sell advertising and reap fodder for its relentless “interview” shows.

[2] I’m disappointed that Pete Townshend— one of rock’s seminal thinkers and rebels—supported this overt promo-fest developed by one of the “new bosses” of the commercial music industry.

[3] I could care less about hearing Pearl Jam, the Flaming Lips, and the Foo Fighters “do” Who songs, because the original versions have thrilled me solid over the years, and I doubt any artist could bring something significantly deep and different to what Pete, Roger, John, and Keith delivered.

[4] I don’t mind seeing the Who of 2008 perform tributes to the band’s hits, but it’s not the same experience as being totally blissed out by clicking my iPod to Live at Leeds, Tommy, orQuadrophenia.

So, as my brain gymnastics prove, I’m not down with the current fashion of presenting classic rock music in the media. But what am I going to do—sacrifice the musical principles I’ve spent years absorbing into my psyche just to impress a younger player that I might still be hip? Screw that. I come from an era when rock music aspired to be much more than soundtracks for ads and reality TV episodes, and I can’t shake that belief out of my cultural DNA. So how should I finish this conversation with my friend? Give me some guidance at the GP Forum (guitarplayer.com), or e-mail me at mmolenda@musicplayer.com. Help!