I don’t usually feel like an old guy — with two notable exceptions. The first is when I’ve been sitting too long and it takes me seven minutes to get out of the chair. The second is when my bones crack so loudly that I wouldn’t hear it if my front lawn were being carpet-bombed.
For the most part, I still look and think young, which I ascribe in large part to the fact that I keep up with and write about new rock ’n’ roll. This passion keeps me feeling rebellious, a little wild and possessed of an almost religious fervor, like I’m a composite all four Baldwin brothers.
Recently, however, I had a rock crisis of faith that nearly caused me to abandon the whole genre. But I was saved by, of all people, Pete Townshend — which made me appreciate my age, my experience and even the cracking of my bones when I got up to leave the arena.
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The Oldest Guy at the Concert
The evening began normally enough. I found myself at a concert by indie rock darlin’ Iron and Wine. But “old guy panic” set in when I realized I couldn’t read my ticket. My anxiety intensified as two ushers shined so many lights on me I felt like I was being caught in a jailbreak.
Once I managed to find my seat, I started checking out the crowd. I’ve been going to rock shows for decades, but tonight felt different. Squinting at the audience, I began to understand why. I usually cover classic rock concerts, where I have lots in common with most of the patrons. We wear band T-shirts and jeans and talk about acid reflux and which foods have the highest fiber content.
But with this youthful crowd, I didn’t feel those topics, though pressing, would be appropriate. I didn’t think this audience knew much about lower-back pain or whether gum was a serious threat to your dental work. They made me feel so old I was afraid someone was going to call me Pops or ask when Doc Martens started making orthopedic shoes.
My feelings of having instantly aged a quarter-century weren’t assuaged by the conversations taking place around me. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about new bands, but I didn’t recognize any of the names people were mentioning. Listening to them rave about Jandek, Wormbag and Gunga Galunga, I wondered whether I was at a concert or had accidentally crashed a secret meeting of Romulans.
That’s when it all came crashing down on me. My failing eyesight, my rock memories dating back to the Fillmore East, this gathering of short-haired youths confirmed it: I was officially a relic, a dude from another era, possibly the Pleistocene. Depressed and unable to decipher the kids’ newspeak, while waiting for the show to start, I absentmindedly started whistling “Substitute” by the Who.
Then something unexpectedly sweet happened. “That’s a great song,” the teenager next to me said. “I love the Who. I wish I could’ve seen them in their prime.”
So I told him how I was one of the fortunate ones who had seen the Who at their most raucous and frenetic. (And I had the tinnitus to prove it.) The kid broadcasted this news flash to his friends. The next thing I knew, several of them were excitedly asking me who else I’d seen back in the Ice Age. Emboldened, I recited some names: Sly, Jimi, Bob Marley and the Rolling Stones before they became a tribute band.
The young people — who up until then probably assumed I’d wandered in accidentally — suddenly seemed enraptured. And envious. There were whispers among them about how lucky I was and how bummed they were that they’d missed “the greats.”
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The transformation was amazing. Within minutes, without name-checking any current bands or having a haircut so angular it looked like it was designed by Frank Gehry, I’d earned street cred. Mostly because I’d seen Dylan when he still cared and still sang in English, not something that sounds like Esperanto.
Middle age clearly has its rewards. And simply by catching some key concerts, I was now reaping a biggie. I had gone from alienated outsider to classic rocker in, uh, record time. And the most astonishing thing? It happened because I told the truth about my age and experience.
It’s pretty cool stuff, but I’m not crazy enough to think this tactic will necessarily work with dating or getting a job. But hey, you never know.
Peter Gerstenzang writes about rock, pop culture and humor for Esquire, Spin, MSN and Next Avenue.