Yesterday was haircut day for yours truly. I pulled out of my driveway and threw on the radio, ignoring sports talk, the wife’s pop stations, and the local college’s radio offering in favor of some nice rock radio channel-surfing. I tuned into what I thought was the local classic rock station out of Boston and settled in for some Boston or Bob Seger or Led Zeppelin. Maybe some Gimme Shelter, Feel Like Makin’ Love, or Somebody To Love (the Queen version, as Jefferson Airplane would be on the oldies channel). But I had clearly made a mistake of preset, because instead of the sweet riffs of Hendrix or the octopus-style drumming of Ginger Baker or Michael Anthony’s ignorable bass lines, I got an earful of…Slash.
She’s got a smile it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything was as fresh as the bright blue skies
Well that couldn’t be right. My wife must’ve changed up the presets, right? Obviously I was too busy driving safely out of my street to pay attention to which station I hit, right? Clearly I had stumbled on the rock station out of Providence, RI, right? Classic rock wouldn’t be playing Guns ‘n’ Roses, right? Right? RIGHT???
But it could, and it did, and it had. And as I listened to the song that extended hair metal’s life by about five years, a few things occurred to me:
1) Guns ‘n’ Roses’ classic debut, Appetite For Destruction, is 25 years old this year.
2) The music that I listened to growing up and considered “classic rock” was between 15 and 25 years old at the time.
3) Which means, goddamn it, I am getting older…
* * *
Believe me, I don’t fear it, or try to fight against it. I’m quite comfortable with my age. On my 30th birthday, as I discovered strands of grey in my hair while getting ready for the day, I found myself smiling with pride and relief – grey hair on your head isn’t brown hair in the sink, and I’d rather be grey than bald any day of the week. I am exactly 20 years older than my niece, and 24 years older than my nephew, and I have had the joy and privilege of watching them grow and mature into people that I not only love as family but truly like as people on their own terms. The horror flicks I could only dream of renting as a wee lad are now part of my permanent DVD collection, to be savored any time I want. And I wouldn’t want to be a teenager again for anything – I’m not so far removed from those years that nostalgia colors the reality of those awkward, sometimes terrifying, rites of passage into adulthood.
But I will not lie to you. Hearing Guns ‘n’ Roses (a band that not only has its roots in the 80s, but in the late 80s, which makes it older than a college’s Class of 2012) on classic rock radio (which traditionally featured music from the late 60s through the 70s) was a cold slap of reality. The only 80s music that classic rock would play was (should be?) the later albums of bands with their roots in the earlier decades (Aeromsmith’s Permanent Vacation and Pump…The Police…Van Halen…AC/DC with Brian Johnson on vocals…you get the idea). Now I have to realistically expect music from my teenage years to feature prominently, though I pray it’ll only be true rock bands like Guns ‘n’ Roses, Def Leppard (up to Pyromania, please, as I was sick of the Hysteria album after the 3rd listen), Scorpions, Motley Crue…and not the pretty-boy “glam metal” of Poison, Warrant, Enuff Z’Nuff, Trixter, and what a female friend from my distant past referred to as “White bands” (White Lion, Whitesnake, Great White…). I don’t think my heart can take those slow-dancing pop standards (“Love Of A Lifetime,” “When The Children Cry,” “Fly High Michelle,” “Heaven,” and so on ad nauseum) being lumped in as “classic rock” alongside “More Than A Feeling,” “Seasons Of Wither,” “Unchained,” “Night Moves,” and so many just-plain-great tunes.
Which may be music snobbery on my part. I like those songs for the most part, but I don’t think they belong with the giants of my own youth. Put it this way: whether you love or hate Bruce Springsteen, Ozzy Osbourne (with Black Sabbath or solo), or the Rolling Stones, do you REALLY think Poison’s Open Up And Say Ahhh! album belongs alongside Born To Run, Paranoid, or Sticky Fingers? Can you name a single hair band that belongs in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame? That music speaks to a time in our pop culture history, true, but so do the exploitation films of the 70s. And while I love Coffey, Foxy Brown, the Blind Dead series, The Devil’s Nightmare, School Of The Holy Beast, and the slasher flicks of the 80s, I have no illusions that those movies are not classics in the traditional sense. I’m not kidding myself by putting them at the same level of the first two Godfather films, Glengarry Glen Ross, or the majority of Hitchcock’s filmography. The exploitation genre, and glam metal, is junk food. And while I like junk food, I’m not eating it for dinner.
But the truth is the truth. Time passes whether you like it or not. The “latest” of our parents becomes our “classic.” The music that I remember as new and revolutionary is oftentimes dismissed as “old people’s music.” And so, in the end, I have to make my peace with the fact that I am…shudder…an adult. To be referred to as “Mr. Scheckland” by the kids in my neighborhood. To remember where I was and how I reacted to my first time seeing Guns ‘n’ Roses and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video on MTV. To chuckle at the memories of slow dancing with girlfriends to those wonderfully, awfully cheesy hair ballads. To grit my teeth and get used to hearing “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and “Rock Of Ages” and maybe “I Wanna Rock” on the same radio channel as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “We Will Rock You.” To accept my pop culture age with the same grace that I accepted my biological age. Hey, at least I have my iPod to help me ease into that particular tar pit with “Peace Of Mind,” right?
But I swear, the first time I hear “Wish You Were Here” segue-way into “Give It To Me Good” or “Talk Dirty To Me” or – God help me – “The Final Countdown,” I will tear my car stereo out with my bare hands and toss it out of my car…
And John Adams? I wouldn’t laugh. You’re less than five years away from Smashing Pumpkins being tossed in with the rest of us dinosaurs…