Ian Hunter will be eighty on 3rd June. Weeks short of his eightieth birthday, the lead singer of Mott the Hoople and his band are out on tour. Having played a series of concerts in the United States, they are now on a UK tour. What level of energy is required for a group of musicians to go out on tour and play live concerts? What level of energy is required when every member of that group is over seventy years of age?
The enthusiasm and the commitment demanded by such an undertaking points to a cohort of people who have grown up in the post-war era who are less and less content to be “old.” There are residents of nursing homes who are younger than Ian Hunter, and many more who would regard eighty as an age when to be sedentary and unadventurous are quite acceptable lifestyle choices. Perhaps Ian Hunter, and those of his cohort, are simply defying social convention, or perhaps they are stretching the bounds of youth.
It is said that a recognisable youth culture only emerged with the affluence of the 1950s. Look at photographs from the 1930s, particularly those of groups of men, and there is little discernible difference in the way they dress. Style, tastes, interests and activities didn’t vary much between the generations. The 1950s brought a generation of young people who actively sought to be different; their clothes, their music, their attitudes, were removed from those of preceding generation.
Born in 1939, Ian Hunter and his contemporaries were the teenagers of the 1950s, those who brought the beginning of the social revolution that culminated in the outright rejection of established ways in the 1960s. Noticeable now is the reluctance of many members of that generation to be absorbed into what has been the conventional lifestyle of older people.
Mott the Hoople on tour is a declaration of an intention on the part of, at least some, older people to remain the people they were forty or fifty years ago, to refuse to accept the constraints of age.
What will be interesting to watch is how the propensity of older people to continue to play rock music, to continue to go to gigs, to continue to dress in a particular way, will affect youth culture. Will jeans-wearing, guitar-playing septuagenarians our on the road prompt a swing back to young people in suits and ties, or will there be a new revolution that redefines what it means to be young?