‘Hope I die before I get old’, sang The Who in the late 1960s. Or was it the 70s? Or the 1980s? Maybe it was last year. I can’t be sure.
Whatever, it was a clarion call for a generation. An emphatic statement that pop or rock was for the young. Didn’t older people have their own music to listen to?
Except in 2017, probably for most of this century, popular music hasn’t just been for, or even exclusively made by, the young. Go to virtually any festival this summer and there will be a fair number of grey-haired men and women singing their heads off and having a good time. And that’s just the headliners on the main stage.
Any band worth its salt, it appears, expects to reform at least once, probably more, in its lifetime. And there is no end of promoters willing to pay good money for them to blow the dust off their guitars and sing hits from 20 or 30 years ago.
Help the aged
True, it’s better than paying to see a tribute band. But do we really want to constantly wallow in nostalgia or shouldn’t music be about moving on? About discovering something new?
When The Specials reformed about eight years ago, it felt like somebody had stuck a dagger in my past. Sorry guys. Nobody loved you more than I did in 1979. But I want to remember The Specials as the quintessential multi-cultural band that spoke out against the Thatcher government, not topped up their pensions in the era of Cameron and May.
As for other bands from that era such as The Buzzcocks and Stiff Little Fingers? Well, at least they have summoned up new music, but you were meant to be angst-ridden young men for teenagers, not old men making memories for old men.
I admit there is an element of hypocrisy here. If an African musician in their 60s or 70s has to be helped onto stage to perform songs from 40 years ago, we feel privileged to say that we saw a giant out of musical history. Can the same be true of watching a reformed Bananarama?
Thank you for the music
Nobody is suggesting bands should never reform. The King Blues are back, and sound as good as ever. Not a bad comeback album either. Mind you, they only split up three years ago.
Similarly, it can still feel good watching bands whose best days were in the 1990s. I may well try to catch Arab Strap at Field Day in a few weeks’ time and it’s annoying that Saint Etienne are playing such a limited tour to support their new album.
But if music is dominated by nostalgia and older bands never make way for a younger generation, the industry will not just stagnate but fail to have any relevance to contemporary culture.
Yes, it’s great for under 30s to catch up on music they missed and maybe heard about through their parents. But there has to be something more to make music vital in the early 21st century.
When we look back on 2017, do we want to remember it because we bought Blondie’s comeback album or we saw a live performance by Arca, Stormzy, Ray BLK or Forest Swords? I guess only time will tell.