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Bjorn Peterson at work at Twin Town Guitars in Minneapolis. Peterson said his Gen-X parents like Genesis and Phil Collins but he favors the sounds of the Beatles, Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Stacey Combs shows off some of her collection of vintage vinyl at her North Minneapolis apartment. She wears her loyalty to the Beatles on her sleeve - a tattoo of the "Yellow Submarine" album cover artwork.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

New generation, but the song remains the same

  • Article by: KEVYN BURGER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • December 30, 2012 - 6:27 PM

Whenever she had money to spare, Stacey Combs went back for more work on an elaborate, multi-colored tattoo that stretches from her elbow to her shoulder. It took four years, but it's finally finished: a cartoon version of the "Yellow Submarine"-era Beatles, circa 1968.

Why would the 26-year-old want a permanent homage to a band that broke up almost 20 years before she was born?

"The Beatles will never make a bad album," the Minneapolis hairstylist said as she gestured to a speaker overhead pumping contemporary music into the salon where she works. "Robots singing. Auto-Tuned," she said dismissively. "The Beatles were real."

Spend some time in any campus coffeehouse or bar, and you might find yourself wondering what year it is.

The music playing in these millennial hangouts often is from the late 1960s through the mid '70s and includes bands with long-dead members: the Doors, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead.

Young adults have been picking their own playlists most of their lives. And while they have a deep interest in new music, many also are taking ownership of the iconic music of their parents and, in some cases, their grandparents.

But the same soundtrack that annoyed the moms and dads of baby boomers is a bonding factor between them and their offspring.

"If you look at the phenomenon, it speaks to millennials and their parents being best friends," said Mary Meehan, founder and CEO of Panoramix Global, a Minneapolis-based consumer research firm. "Authenticity is such an important value for this generation, and they can hear it in the old music. They are very sensitive about what brands stand for, and this still feels real."

All about artistry

Mike Molina, who began listening to classic rock in the back seat of the family car, still has the T-shirt from his first arena rock show: His parents took him to see AC/DC when he was a middle-schooler.

Now 25, Molina, said he listens to the music every day.

"What my peers listen to doesn't compare," he said. "Musicians today, it's about sex appeal, can they dance. Not about their artistry."

Since last summer, the University of Minnesota senior has worked 20 hours a week as an unpaid intern at KQRS. He hopes to have a career in radio.

KQRS, which fired up the classic-rock format more than 20 years ago, is still playing from the same library -- and gaining new listeners.

"We're seeing another bump with 18- to 34-year-olds," said Dave Hamilton, retiring program director. "We're second [in ratings] in that demo."

Hamilton credits the station's popularity, in part, to video games such as "Guitar Hero," which debuted in 2005. "That introduced the next generation to the artists," he said. "With remasters, the music sounds better than ever."

Musician Bjorn Peterson, 23, said his Gen X parents listened to Phil Collins and Genesis. He prefers the Beatles, the Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

"I listen to music from now, but there's so much more to sift through," he said. "This is music that has stood its ground."

Peterson works at Twin Town, a south Minneapolis guitar shop. Owner Andrew Bell, 44, requires all of his counter help to be musicians who have professional stage and studio experience. He finds that most of them have a strong interest in recordings that burst on the scene more than four decades ago.

"If you're a teenage boy, a young man, you've got a lot of angst to work out. That music is all about that," Bell said. "These are the quintessential anthems of youth."

Cole Benson, 19, is a Twin Town clerk. While he performs in two bands he describes as punk, the music he favors is clearly classic.

"Zeppelin is huge. Jimmy Page is my favorite guitarist," said Cole, who often wears a shirt carrying the band's logo.

It's the skill of the musicians that keeps him listening to the old stuff.

"Now, anyone can make a crappy song on a laptop," he said. "Classic rock, those musicians were absolutely talented. They had to play every song correctly all the way through. Sometimes they made a mistake and you can hear it. Now, with Auto-Tune, people don't make mistakes. But it's fake."

Comforting, familiar

At the Dunn Bros on University Avenue, less than a mile from the University of Minnesota campus, students sit at tables with their notes and their laptops. The music is set at an unobtrusively low volume. The Who ("I Can See for Miles," 1967) segues into T. Rex ("Bang a Gong," 1971), which eases into the Monkees ("The Last Train to Clarksville," 1966).

Barista Auden O'Connell, 28, selected the background music from Pandora. She said the shop's soundtrack is always from rock's glory days, beginning around the time of the British Invasion, carrying through to Motown, and coming to a stop at the dawn of disco.

"People study here, and this works as background music. It's upbeat. Everyone likes it. It's familiar," she said. "The current music feels like what you hear at a shopping mall. It should not sound like Abercrombie [& Fitch] in here."

The Rolling Stones, the Who and Fleetwood Mac are back on tour, AC/DC has a new album and Led Zeppelin is releasing Celebration Day, a reunion concert, in movie theaters and on DVD.

Classic rock, said KQRS' Hamilton, has "proven that it really is classic. I think people will still listen to it in a hundred years."

Maybe you're never too old -- or too young -- to rock 'n' roll.

Kevyn Burger of Minneapolis is a broadcaster, podcaster and freelance writer.

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