The siren songs of yesterday

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2014 - 5:23 AM

To boomers, the Beatles are like comfort food. But some artists of that generation still challenge themselves.

“Oh, I believe in yes-ter-day,” Paul McCartney sang.

It may be the Beatles lyric heard most often. It might also be the mantra of baby boomers when it comes to their musical choices.

How many boomers were thrilled to see Paul and Ringo together on the Grammys last month? How many traveled to see the Rolling Stones in concert last year? Or bought tickets to see Billy Joel in his once-a-month gig at Madison Square Garden, or the Eagles on their recent sold-out tours?

On the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the question is: Why aren’t boomers — and I’m one — more open to the music of today instead of being so obsessed with the sounds of yesterday?

“New music is the province of the studiously indolent,” noted Lin Brehmer, 59, former program director for Cities 97 (97.1 FM) and now a DJ for Chicago’s WXRT. “There is lots of great new music whether you have time to listen to it or not.”

Boomers are too busy paying their kids’ college tuition or baby-sitting their grandkids or taking care of their aging parents. Who has time to putz around with Pandora or Spotify to find new artists? Who wants to sit through lame skits on “Saturday Night Live” just to see the cool new band your children are talking about?

Instead, many boomers take the easy route and shell out big bucks to go to the museum-like concerts of Fleetwood Mac, Elton John and the Who, or delve into the latest boxed set by the Beatles, Bob Dylan or Sly Stone. Too many AARP members want the familiar, the comfortable, the easy.

Beatles: Forever young

Paying attention to the Beatles is somehow reassuring to boomers.

“They uplift us and we can say ‘We’re not that old’ — as long as you avoid the mirror,” said New Jersey writer Penelope Rowlands, 62, who was at the airport when the Beatles arrived in New York City in 1964. “We totally identified with them. They’re still cool. So maybe we’re OK, too, in the eyes of the younger people.”

Yes, we get insecure as we grow older, don’t we? Maybe we can see the end rather than the future. Maybe we don’t rule the world anymore. So we find comfort in our prideful past.

McCartney and Starr sure looked great on the Grammys, didn’t they? They’re older than me and don’t have one shade of grey.

“We want our heroes to be forever young,” said Barry Faulk, 52, author of “British Rock Modernism, 1967-1977.”

Don’t we all wish.

“You hope your heroes and yourself age gracefully,” said Brehmer.

“As long as Keith Richards is alive, he imparts immortality for baby boomers. And he’s still chain smoking.”

Rowlands, author of the new “The Beatles Are Here! 50 Years After the Band’s Arrival in America,” thinks boomers viewed the Beatles “as mythic figures, gods striding across the stage.” But she no longer worships the Fab Four. After all, she said, “Paul just married a Jersey girl.”

She now sees the Beatles as old friends whom we’ve welcomed into the intimacy of our living rooms for 50 years. For many boomers, their music — or that of any other golden oldie — is like comfort food.

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