[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Leonard Pitts Jr. on Pete

LEONARD PITTS JR.: Even rude rockers age with grace 

January 28, 2004


"Hope I die before I get old." 

The quote, of course, is from Pete Townshend of the Who. It's a lyric 
from "My Generation," a song that came out in 1965, the year Townshend 
turned 20. He was, at that age, a long-haired rock star famous for 
smashing his guitars. 

Nearly 40 years later, the hair is mostly gone. The rock star has sad 
poet's eyes, a trim gray beard and the settled-in look of an English
professor. The song notwithstanding, one imagines that Townshend is 
not unhappy to find himself, a year and some months before his 60th 
birthday, among the not dead. 

I offer these observations as a reminder: The things we believe at 20 
are seldom the things we believe at 60. Everything that grows changes. 

You probably knew all this. But if recent news reports are any indica-
tion, there are some folks who don't. 

One is Keith Richards, who was mortified last month by news that his 
Rolling Stones bandmate Mick Jagger was being knighted by the queen of
England. The two aging sybarites have spent a lifetime mocking the
establishment; now Jagger was accepting the ultimate establishment 

Then there's John Lydon, better known as Johnny Rotten, who came to 
fame with the Sex Pistols during Britain's nihilistic and violently
antisocial punk rock movement of the 1970s. Last week, it was revealed 
that he has agreed to appear on a TV reality show, "I'm a Celebrity 
...Get Me Out of Here." 

I have no comment on Jagger and Lydon's career moves, but I am amused 
by the responses to them. There is something faintly credulous in all 
that disappointment. Something that expects more from music than it 
ever had to give. 

But then, music is never just music, is it? No, when you're young, 
music is a way of framing the world, a brand of truth. The connection 
is deeper than the fact that a song has a good beat and you can dance 
to it. You get this sense that you have found something here that ex-
presses you. And you want to stay in that moment of discovery forever. 

"People have this obsession," Jagger once said. "They want you to be 
like you were in 1969 . . . because otherwise their youth goes with you." 

There is, in other words, always this sense of loss when change comes 
to music or musicians. Not just loss of the moment of discovery but also 
loss of who you were in that moment, loss of that which made you vital 
and impulsive and a threat to the status quo. 

You look up and suddenly, you are the status quo, a soccer mom or 
hockey dad behind the wheel of a minivan. Suddenly, Johnny Rotten's 
doing game shows and Mick Jagger has been knighted and nothing is the 
same as it was. 

Change is not fun. But you consider a guy like Richards, still clinging 
to what he was at 19, and you realize that in the long run, refusing 
change is worse. Refusing change is refusing growth. 

So, fine. Tunes that used to scare the old folks play in the elevator 
of the office building downtown. And the young people of a new gener-
ation speed past, vital, impulsive, a threat to the status quo, alive 
in the moment of discovery. Believing it will ever be so. 

There is something in it both bitter and sweet. Something that makes 
you hope they enjoy their illusions while they can. Because if you re-
member what Townshend said before he went and got old, you understand 
the surprise that's coming around for them.

LEONARD PITTS JR. appears most Wednesdays and Fridays in the Free Press.
Reach him at the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132; toll free 
at 888-251-4407 or at lpitts@xxxxxxxxxxx

- SCHRADE in Akron (via Jo in L.A.)

The Council For Secular Humanism