Changing tunes

Nov 24th, 2008 | By | Category: Pop thinking

Pumping petrol at a country filling station on a summer’s day thirty years ago, the driver of the car stood leaning on the roof and looking towards me.

“I’m surprised someone like you isn’t off seeing Bob Dylan today; I would be”.

Dylan was playing at some great festival somewhere on the other side of the country; the chances of me being there were about as likely as the chances of winning the football pools.  Where, in Somerset in 1978, would you have bought tickets for a rock concert?  When your window on the world was BBC Radio 1, how would you even have found out where tickets were on sale?

The man drove off humming some tune.  Maybe he had been at the Isle of Wight in 1970, or whenever it was.

There was always that sense of being born just too late.

The Sixties, so our college lecturers told us, were where it was at.  One English teacher would reel off names of rock stars, most of them dead, who would never be matched; the other liked to recite lines from “Me and Bobby McGee” sung by Kris Kristofferson (though, as Kristofferson had become a film star instead of a rock star, this did not seem so cool, or whatever the word for ‘cool’ was in 1978).

There seemed merit in being dead – the works of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, etc were complete.  They would never attempt to sing for the changed world of the 1970s; neither Joplin nor Hendrix would ever be a day over 27.  Janis Joplin’s giggle about singing ‘Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz’ will remain forever that of a young woman.

By the time of going to university in 1979, the sense of having missed the train of history was complete.  Seasoned lecturers at the LSE would look at us and talk of the student riots a decade before; sometimes the odd one seemed almost to despise us for a lack of radicalism.  It was fine for him with his comfortably secure lifestyle; many of us were from working class homes and couldn’t afford the excesses of middle class hippydom.  College was about working hard to get a good job; it wasn’t about world revolution.

Maybe the lecturers were right in one way; there hasn’t been much music since.

“What stadium bands will there be in twenty years time?” I asked a thirty-something.

“I don’t know”, he said, “if they are still touring, even U2 will have been on the road fifty years by then”.

“I can’t see Daltrey singing when he is 85”, I said, “and even Bruce Springsteen would be 78”.

Maybe it is due to multi-channel television and digital technology and a fragmentation of culture, but the days of household names seem past.  Or maybe it is just a lull in culture, maybe history goes in peaks and troughs.  Perhaps Barack Obama’s election is not just a political event, but, like the election of John F Kennedy, the opening scene of a decade of fundamental change in world history; maybe the big bands will reappear.

All of which stems from it being three years ago that I finally got to see Bob Dylan, at The Point here in Dublin.  He didn’t speak once; he played keyboard instead of guitar.  It was a great disappointment!

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  1. Probably because there is no one at present who can compare with some of the groups of the past, even the Rolling Stones, nearly ready to draw their old age pension can still get a sell out when they put on a show.
    Ah Well! As they say distance lends enchantment.

  2. Agree there Peter and also they cant actually play the instruments, the sounds and voices come out of a computer!!!!that is why very very few will be around in 30 years time!!!

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