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Hope I live before I get old

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In The Who’s 1965 hit My Generation, Roger Daltry sang what is possibly one of the most famous lyrics in the history of rock ‘n roll: “I hope I die before I get old.”

It turns out that The Who couldn’t have been further from the truth. 

Last year the Rolling Stones, Sir Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, The Who, Neil Young and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters performed at the Desert Trips Festival in California’s Coachella Valley.

You need an abacus to add up the collective ages of the headline acts. The two surviving members of the Who, Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend, are both over 70.  Sir Paul McCartney, who will be returning to Australia later this year for a national tour, was born in 1942.  Roger Waters arrived a year later, in 1943. Bob Dylan, born in May 1941, began his ‘Never Ending Tour’ in 1988 and there are no signs of it actually ending.

Fifty years ago it would have been inconceivable to picture these baby-boomers of World War II still creating the same level of interest.  Rock and roll is now intergenerational. It has broken through the glass ceiling of age.  Unlike film and TV, where “older” actors (and newsreaders for that matter) seem to be relegated to cameos or “serious” films, music fans disregard age.

It was Mick Jagger who famously told People magazine: “I would continue to write and sing, but I’d rather be dead than sing Satisfaction when I’m 45.”  Sir Michael Philip Jagger (AKA Mick, born 26 July 1943) is still singing Satisfaction.  He sang that song, released 52 years ago (May 1965), when the Rolling Stones last toured Australia. 

Rock and roll has not only grown more popular with age, it has aged with a style and authenticity few could have predicted back in the day. This was a music style that was supposed to be about youth and rebellion. It was born from conflict.  Your parents were never meant to understand the music you liked, let alone take you to gigs.

The children of the revolution, as T-Rex described them, had an attitude, energy and swagger – not to mention sex and drugs – that wasn’t supposed to last past the age of retirement.

In Hey Hey, My My Neil Young (born 1945) immortalised the phrase: “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”

It turns out he was wrong too – rock and rollers are neither burning out nor f-fading away; they’re playing into their 70s and 80s.  And what’s really perverse is that the older generation – mums and dads, grandparents, uncles and aunts – are sharing this love of rock with children and grandchildren.

When Black Sabbath toured here recently, I sat behind a middle aged couple and their teenage children, all bouncing about in their seats as if in competition.  The venue was a demographer’s fantasy: from fans in walking frames to kids who probably thought a seven inch single was someone very short and unattached.

When I was young, the thought of seeing Black Sabbath with my parents would have been laughable, and embarrassing.  (The first concert my dad took me to was the French violinist Stephane Grappelli.)  Yet at an AC/DC concert, I saw three generations of one family at the gig: grandad with his children and grandchildren, all wearing T-shirts from concerts they had attended over the past 30 years.  These are now commonplace sightings.

Madonna’s tour of Australia is another example.  The sensational Madge (born 1959), was living proof that age is not a factor in popular entertainment – nor is it an issue for fans.  Before Madonna started (several hours late, of course) I stood outside and watched the crowd: older blokes like me, women wearing giant conical breasts, drag queens in leather and chaps, a bloke in his rugby top, an ageing frail grey haired women, young hipsters,  and the usual assortment of whips, studs, satin, suits and singlets.

Before Madonna, I was fortunate to see Prince (born 1958) deliver a truly sensational performance at the Sydney Opera House to a mostly younger audience.  There are plenty of others who have toured Australia that are worth mentioning: Fleetwood Mac (Mick Fleetwood born 1942, Lindsey Buckingham 1947, and the youngster Stevie Nicks, born 1948), Brian Wilson (1942) of Beach Boys fame, Leonard Cohen (who died last year but was born in 1934 and toured here a few years ago to overwhelming acclaim while in his late 70s), Rod Stewart (1945) and of course Bruce Springsteen (1949), still one of the greatest entertainers of the modern era.

A barrier has been broken: older artists attract an indefinable fan-base.  Once, a band’s audience would be literally uniform, be it mods, rockers, hippies, metal, disco, middle-of the-road, and so on. 

It turns out that we got it all wrong – rock and roll isn’t any one’s generation.