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A Boomer's Story

January 11, 2011
Twist and Shout
As Boomers we know growing old gracefully is difficult. We still feel pretty good and when we pass milestone birthdays, we shrug and move on pretending that we don't really care. Most of us engage in professions where experience trumps advancing age.

 

Entertainers, specifically musicians face an entirely different crisis. How do you maintain your relevance, integrity and influence, a.k.a your cool, when your best years are behind you and what’s left of your audience is wintering in Arizona? In this space previously we mentioned the Boomer music crisis. That includes those of us who tend to fixate on moments in time rather than follow our favorites into their twilight years.

 

When the Beatles impersonators calling themselves the Fab Four came to Fort Dodge several years ago, we partied like it was 1967, because these musical actors created a familiar scene. When John Mueller morphs into Buddy Holly and hits the Winter Dance Party tour each year, we happily turn back the clock to 1959.

 

I have sometimes wondered what Buddy Holly would be doing today had that plane not crashed by Clear Lake? Would he, for instance, been as revered in life as he is in death? Would he have continued to amaze the world with his rockabilly rhythms, until the Beatles swept him under in 1963 like they did everybody else in pop music at that time? How would his music have changed? How would his audience have changed? How would he have maintained his hipness into his 30s, 40s, and 50s? Would he have dumped the crew cut for a pony tail and beat Willie Nelson to the outlaw punch? (Note: Willie, now 77, recently cut his hair and is now sans the signature pony tail).

 

Maybe Buddy would have hooked up again with his old Crickets bandmate Waylon Jennings and formed some kind of super country rock act in the 70s. Fun to speculate. But the point is Buddy Holly is frozen in time, and despite what Don McLean’s American Pie would have us believe, the music did not die in 1959, and maybe shines brighter since Holly didn't live long enough for his star to fade. Mueller's act, and others like the Fab Four, provide some measure of proof, that the music is bigger than the musicians.

 

We know Mueller isn't Buddy Holly. But if he looks like Buddy Holly, sounds like Buddy Holly, sings Buddy's songs, and stays 22 years old, we can accept that and like it. It's the memories we conjure and connect to the soundtrack of our lives that leaves the lasting impression. If the Fab Four, dressed like the Sgt. Pepper Beatles, stand in front of us and sing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, we're okay with that. It's fun, it takes us back in time. Heck the real Beatles couldn't have done that. They couldn't go out in public as a band after 1966.

 

Could Joplin, Hendrix or Morrison have maintained their larger than life trendiness past 1970? We'll never know. What would that trio be doing today? Would Morrison stoop to touring with a Doors reunion band? Would Hendrix have ventured into senior citizen hip hop? Would Joplin be doing a Vegas act like Marie Osmond? Doubtful, but the trio remains a huge merchandising element, as famous and influential now as they were in 1970 and probably because none of them lived past 1970 (Morrison 1971, actually).

 

Not many musicians, whose cool was evident in the golden age we've defined as 1963-1975 have been able to maintain their relevance, integrity and influence 40 to 50 years later. Dylan, Neil Young, Simon and Garfunkel, the Rolling Stones, to some extent perhaps. Johnny Cash was an interesting case. Cash saw the value of relating to a younger generation after he had been kicked to the curb by his country crowd in the 70s. By aligning himself with a fresh generation of rockers from Springsteen to U2 he reinvented himself again and again and was still an American music icon at the time of his death in 2002. Cash was a hip old guy.  



Somehow exempted from this group, for those of you keeping score, are practitioners of a singular sound like the blues or bluegrass music, two kinds for which I have great respect. B.B. King, for instance, has no problem getting old. His sound at age 80 is as good as it was at 30, and his audience hasn't changed either. Same goes for bluegrass musicians, whose look and sound hasn't changed significantly since Bill Monroe invented it 70 years ago.

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