by John Strausbaugh
Boomers suck. Quite the overgeneralization, no? But a series of man-on- the-street interviews in response to that statement would not invite thoughtful replies. In fact, I'd lay good odds on 90-plus percent of the reactions being of either the "you're telling me" or "so's your mom" variety--a jumping-off point to express our already fully formed prejudices.
So it is with New York Press editor and boomer John Strausbaugh's Rock 'Til You Drop: The Decline from Rebellion to Nostalgia. Readers will either want to buy the guy a drink the next time he's in town or empty a glass of water on him. I'm in the drink's-on-me camp. Strausbaugh's book is an extended, at times disjointed argument about a premise and an implication. The premise is expressed early and pithily: "Rock is youth music." Therefore, it follows (or implies) that the old-timers should take their last bows, exit stage left, and not let the door hit them in the ass on the way out.
"When Journey's Steve Perry is having a hard time touring because of his arthritis, it's time for Journey to retire. When Eddie Van Halen needs to be careful how he moves onstage because of his hip replacement surgery, Eddie should sit down and become a strictly studio musician," says Strausbaugh in the first chapter. Strausbaugh does not think the old voices should be muzzled. He'd be happy to allow them to morph into blues or jazz musicians. But rock, he says, is different. As a medium, it's inherently anarchic; both in the raw energy necessary to make it work and in the fact that "rock is rebellion music." By the time most people hit 30, they begin to lack the energy to keep it up and begin to want to settle down. And part of that settling down, he says, should involve moving on to other things.
But then comes the filthy lucre. Often, the late 20s to early 30s is when groups begin coming into their own financially. And if they've managed to make it that far without busting apart at the seams, the money provides them with an excuse to tolerate each other. The problem is that with money rather than synergy as a rationale, bands usually cease to produce genuine rock and rather become, in effect, a pop cover band of their former selves. Exhibit A is a case study of the Stones, or Strausbaugh's preferred tag, "Rolling Stones, Inc." What started out as an energetic blues tribute band became, in Strausbaugh's own words, "the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world." From roughly 1965 to 1972, with songs like "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Gimme Shelter," they scaled musical heights that nobody could have predicted. And then they went into an extended slump, producing several misfires and their last good album, Some Girls, in 1978, and continuing to this day to revel in their former glory before packed stadiums of adoring, deluded fans.
Punk is here treated not so much as a reaction to rock as a slightly more charged music that goes back to rock's anarchic roots: What is the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" except a later, angrier, less self-consciously sold-out rendition of MC5's "Kick Out the Jams... Sisters and Brothers"? The reason for punk rock's popularity was that it ran counter to the dry rock scene of the late '70s. Many mainstream rock acts by this time had either quit or gone the Rolling Stones Inc. route. That is, they began recycling their old stuff and refused to take their music to the next level.
Some will be disappointed that Rock 'Til You Drop does not cover modern rock. The reason for this omission--and this is pissing people off from one coast to the other--is that Strausbaugh argues that rock 'n' roll is too tied up in a generation to allow them to "get" the next generation's rock. He says that aging rock critics should call it quits rather than poison the well with phony nostalgia for "the golden years." And that, ladies and gents, is my kind of anarchy.