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Fading to gray

Jeff Lynne (left) and members of ELO(Rex Features via AP)

Fading to gray

As its fans age, rock 'n' roll may not be here to stay

Call it the graying of rock 'n' roll—not the hair of its most-famous practitioners (although there’s plenty of that, at least among those who’ve refused to live and let dye) but that of its audience.  

Until now, talk of rock 'n' roll’s survival has focused on whether anyone will want to hear cover bands perform the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, etc. once the original performers have been prevented by decrepitude or death from going on with the show.  

But maybe the real question is whether a tree that falls with no one to hear it really makes a sound. In other words, even if the cover bands are good (Cheap Trick has made a pretty fair Beatles), will the music mean enough to Generations Y and Z for them to supply the kind of demand that has kept Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart in heavy rotation?

Consider the June 24, 2017, show by Jeff Lynne’s ELO at London’s Wembley Stadium. Recently released as Wembley or Bust (Columbia) in package containing two CDs and a DVD (or Blu-Ray), it is on one hand a triumph. Backed by a magnificent 12-member band capable of reproducing every ELO hit down to the last instrumental and vocal filigree, Lynne gets to preside over his cornucopia of hooks with a sophistication that he never could in the technically primitive 1970s. This much one can discern from the CDs.

The video disc, however, is the real revelation, immersing the viewer in the concert’s spectacular array of visual effects from an inexhaustible array of perspectives: Front row, on stage, the cheap seats, bird’s eye—never was “You had to be there” less true.  

But many people were there, 60,000 according to one count. And they’re shown frequently throughout the film, cheering and dancing and singing along. Alas, here’s the rub: The vast majority of them have clearly reached the stage at which one enjoys hearing that he’s “looking good” as much as he once enjoyed hearing that he was “good looking.”  

That Lynne himself (shown above) is 69 makes the advanced age of his fans inevitable. Still, there’s something odd at seeing so many oldsters acting like teenagers and at seeing no actual teenagers at all. If, as the cliché goes, the children are our future, Jeff Lynne’s ELO’s could be dim.

Rex Features via AP

The Moody Blues: Justin Hayward and John Lodge (Rex Features via AP)

A similar phenomenon was apparent at the summer shows of the Moody Blues, who were touring the U.S. at the same time that Lynne was touring England. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of their landmark LP Days of Future Passed, which they played in its entirety during the second half of each show, accompanied by prerecorded orchestral passages and scenic rear projection that included Jeremy Irons reciting the poetry (“Cold-hearted orb that rules the night …”).      

All three of the band’s original members are septuagenarians, and the drummer Graeme Edge is now more of an auxiliary percussionist. But the frontmen, Justin Hayward and John Lodge (both of whom, incidentally, have described themselves as Christians) looked fine. And they sang and played even better.   

But of the 2,000 fans who packed the Moodies’ July performance at Northfield, Ohio’s Hard Rock Rocksino, for instance, most looked 60 and up. (Lodge thanked them for “keeping the faith.”)  

Polydor has just released the 50th-anniversary edition of Days of Future Passed. It contains three mixes of the album plus contemporaneous bonus material and has never sounded clearer. It’s a shame to think that with the passing of the last Moody Blues fan its title might also become its epitaph.

Comments

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Fri, 12/22/2017 03:53 am

    I have a friend who often goes to see these "geezer bands" when they show up at the casinos south of here.  It's a little sad and a little funny (forgive me) as if the only real life was back when we were stoned and crazy and had no purpose.  I don't miss those days.  

  • ALAN ORME
    Posted: Fri, 12/22/2017 05:57 am

    I must admit, the only time I listen to the "Classic Rock" I grew up with is when I'm on a long drive and feel I need something to help keep me awake.  Outside of such moments I'm sure I've heard those songs enough.  With age I've come to the conclusion that I don't need to be perpetually entertained.  It's actually nice to have some time to think quietly in the moment, even while driving, as opposed to continually keeping myself distracted or otherwise living in the past.

  • CJ
    Posted: Fri, 12/22/2017 03:32 pm

    Our 15-year-old granddaughter loves classic rock, knows the bands and knows the lyrics, but none of her friends do.

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Fri, 12/29/2017 12:54 pm

    I believe that this phenomenon is an expression of nostalgia for the "good old days."  I came of age during the 1980's, and love the music from that era.  There are some songs from the 1990's and 2000's that I like; but on the whole, I feel more attached to the 1980's.

    But high-quality music is timeless.  That is why classical composers are still popular today.  But I would bet that these had many contemporaries who did not reach a high enough level to remain popular.  We will probably see the same phenomenon in contemporary artists, too.