Friday, July 24, 2009

Rock and Roll Ghosts

Jerry Lee Lewis--"As Long As I Live" (mp3)
Carl Perkins--"Look At That Moon" (mp3)


Last Wednesday, Jeff and I attended one of the rockingest shows that I, at least, have seen in a long, long time. High, high energy from start to finish. Great, classic songs. Skilled musicianship. An audience that was totally into it.

The only problem: I felt like I was on a cruise ship.

From the light of the stage, there was a grayish glow on the heads of the audience. Ghosts, I thought. Not me.

Million Dollar Quartet, the long-running show at the Apollo Theater in Chicago, is the fictional retelling of the legendary night when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis all got together at Sam Phillip's Sun Studios in Memphis for an impromptu jam session. In addition to sharing many of the incredible songs from those performers and that session, the show develops several subplots: 1) how and why Presley, Cash, and Perkins left Sun for larger record labels, 2) the tension between up-and-coming whippersnapper Lewis and the three established artists, and 3) the first hints of how Presley's career was being mismanaged by a Colonel Tom Parker who did not believe that rock and roll would last, and so was steering Presley into bad movies and Las Vegas venues. As played in this performance, Elvis is the least charismatic of the four, as if the life is already being sucked out of him.

As far as I could tell, Jeff was probably the youngest person in the audience. There's a good chance I was the second youngest (at 52). Jeff's mom had warned him that these matinees were packed with people "coming off of buses from the assisted-living centers." And, while she was undoubtedly right, I also think she is wrong. It's not just the matinees; people in their sixties, seventies, and eighties are the ones who are most likely making up the bulk of the audience for all of the shows.

See, here's my problem. Music, for me, exists in a kind of continual present. Except for occasional conversations with students, I don't often reflect on the fact that it's been 36 years since I saw Led Zeppelin or 46 years since my brother and I and some friends snuck under the Music Tent in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and saw the Dave Clark Five. I have cd's that I still think of as new, but when I look at their booklets, I realize that they came out 8 or 1o years ago. When I went to put together my "Best of" list at the end of 2008, many of the songs I had in mind had come out one or two years earlier.

And so, it did not dawn on me, until I was sitting in that darkened theater that, wait a second, the year this story is taking place is the year I was born. And, wait a second, the reason all of these old(er) people are sitting in this audience is because they were teenagers when this music first came out. I think of my dad and his love of Glenn Miller, and I think that the elderly still want to swing, that World War II is the reference point, but, no, that generation has about moved on.

So the blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll. And rock and roll became just rock. And maybe now rock is beginning to wear out or fall by the wayside. Either I can't tell or maybe I'm just hoping against hope. I don't know, but give me about 20 years and maybe I'll be sitting in the audience of a delicious musical about how David Bowie, Lou Reed and other glitter rockers made the decision to promote their careers with androgyny. Walk On The Wild Side, they'll call it.

After it's over, maybe one of you will load me on a bus and let them take me to the land of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and peas. "That David Bowie," I'll say to my neighbor, "He sure was a corker!"

My apologies to those of you who are looking for the great Replacements song that inspired the title of this post. I'm in Chicago, and the cd is in Tennessee.

4 comments:

troutking said...

Bob, I know what you mean about the tricky nature of time in the field of music. I think about that I really started listening to music in 7th grade in 1983, which is about as far in the past from today as that date in 1956 was from 1983. That seems odd. And yet now, almost all the music I listen to comes from that first half of rock and roll's lifetime rather than the disappointing 2nd half. Maybe those golden oldies at the musical were just killing time until their early bird special at Denny's, an episode of Matlock and 9 o'clock bedtime. Maybe we're all just, in the words of Jethro Tull that you like so much, "Too old to rock, too young to die."

jed said...

Bob, the cd being in Tennessee is no excuse. It's ok, though, because, believe it or not, I have it here. Have fun.

Billy said...

What's a "CD"? -- teenager circa 2016

troutking said...

What's a "teenager"?---cockroach still living in 2090 after global warming.