The speed of change is very impressive but also disorienting for some boomers. Friends have told me they feel completely lost when they step into a music store and are confronted by the names of hundreds of unknown bands. They also feel that young people may not welcome their presence (since each new generation tends to use its rock music as a marker of difference).
Many boomers have never come to terms with electronic music or hiphop (genres regarded as particularly alien). They may or may not have lived through grunge, techno, alt country, freak folk, dubstep, or the many other trends of the past 20 years. Their record collections are like time capsules – frozen in the period when they were young adults and music was particularly vital for them. Once they embarked on a family or a career they ceased to go to gigs and had less time to devote to music, though they still enjoy blasting out their favourite records at a party.
Helping to provide a bridge to earlier waves of music is the fact that each generation re-discovers some of the classics. In recent years there has been a huge return of interest in late ‘70s and early ‘80s music. Fans of ‘60s-style long guitar solos have not been so fortunate since Punk succeeded in discouraging this aspect of hippie culture, and even today, bands which emulate this aspect of the ‘60s are likely to be dismissed by young listeners as ‘pretentious prog rock’. However, there are some signs of a return to those styles in free-form alternative rock (the jam session approach heard in groups like Comets on Fire, Sunno, or Mars Volta, which is not to say their sound directly resembles the ‘60s).
Meanwhile super-groups like the Beatles have never gone out of fashion, and the Rolling Stones has made it perfectly normal to see musicians in their 50s and 60s playing rock for an audience of similar age. And to satisfy the obvious demand, almost every famous group whose members are still alive is now re-forming. The only downside is the demand from fans that they re-create all their old hits - the ‘time capsule’ effect.
Comparing notes with one’s kids is another big topic. I think boomers tend to be a lot more understanding of what their kids listen to than their own parents were; but with a few exceptions, most parents do not delve deeply into teenage music and have difficulty relating to what they hear.
The ‘60s and early ‘70s was clearly a golden age for rock music. But since experiment and innovation were important parts of that period’s aesthetic, there is a potential contradiction in not looking to see what’s new today – particularly outside the mainstream in alternative areas.
But with so much music coming out each year, is it simply too difficult to keep up? And too uncomfortable to try to share that space with young people? I think this is a tension most of us will feel. (Kiwiboomers invites you to add your own views and experiences.)