ON THE AVENUES: When I grow up, I’d like to be alive.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
The city of Flint, Michigan is where Ayn Rand’s prophetic ramblings about clueless second-raters gleefully indulging in orgies of destructive looting recently are confirmed, except these have been instigated not by the likes of weak, collectivist Jim Taggart, but by those present-day Republicans fancying themselves as Hank Reardon – or even worse, John Galt.
But enough of literature, seeing as Rand rarely practiced it. Let’s switch to music, because the pride of Flint isn’t the wonderful left-wing documentary filmmaker and polemicist Michael Moore, although I adore his work. It’s Grand Funk Railroad, Homer Simpson’s favorite band.
“You kids don’t know Grand Funk? The wild shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner? The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher? The competent drumwork of Don Brewer? Oh, man!”
In the early 1970s, when Grand Funk was one of America’s biggest homegrown concert draws, live performances of the song “We’re An American Band” were introduced by a recording of little boys telling us what they wanted to be someday.
One says a fireman, and another a cowboy, then this: “When I grow up, I want to be a rock and roll star.”
Don’t we all – except, of course, when we don’t, at all.
Indeed, it seems like a disproportionate number of rock and rollers are dying of late: Lemmy, David Bowie, Glenn Frey and a handful of sidemen, like drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin of Mott the Hoople, which scored its biggest hit with “All the Young Dudes,” written by Bowie.
Throw in the actor Alan Rickman, and observe that in spite of Natalie Cole and Scott Weiland being younger, most of them were around the age of 70 at death – still youthful by today’s standards of longevity, though not according to the history of human habitation on this planet.
Statistically, in the absence of wars and plague, a newborn these days who passes the immediate infant mortality window has a good chance of making it to the very top end of the life expectancy charts.
However, as the calendar pages flutter to the floor, casualties inevitably mount. As the Internet meme reminds us, “Do not regret growing older, it’s a privilege denied to many,” and at least we have the luxury of celebrating long, productive careers from musicians fortunate to have avoided the same fate as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Ronnie Van Zant, whose premature deaths genuinely were “tragic.”
It’s still disconcerting. When it comes to what we now conveniently (and often mistakenly) stereotype as “classic rock,” the clock is ticking, and the time approaching for the actuarial tables to balance: Half the Beatles, half the Who … two founding members of Pink Floyd … and one each from Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple.
During this recent spate of memorials, I’ve been feeling déjà vu all over again. I spent the 1960s listening to big band music from the 1930s and 1940s, so artistic attrition is something I’d begun calculating by the 1970s: Ellington and Basis; Miles and Diz; Satchmo and Django. Been there, done that, and mourned while keeping count. Of course, many aficionados of classical music never met a living composer, most of whom had been dead for centuries by the time their music came to dominate overly conservative public radio playlists.
Yes, baby boomers, I know: It isn’t quite the same thing. Never seeing Beethoven at Goethestock doesn’t match viewing Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop, and being able to remember very little about it, including whether you actually attended the show.
Please forgive the seeming flippancy, but permit me to offer this advice: All the “classic rock” stars are dead or about to be, so it’s finally time for you to LISTEN TO NEW MUSIC.
Young people insist on playing electric guitars, keyboards, bass and drums, and they’re defying codger logic by producing pleasing and original variations on comforting, familiar and sometimes loud themes. They’re out there, so give them a chance.
It’s the same as doctors: You want yours to be younger than you, right?
Back to Grand Funk.
When I grow up, I want to be … well, what?
Some of my school chums had vocational aspirations. They wanted to be soldiers, sailors and race car drivers. Surely there was a future rock and roll star in the bunch, though most were more practical, probably because careers in medicine, law or engineering already had been chosen for them by their parents.
Forty years later, these matters remain a mystery to me. My father desperately wanted me to be an athlete, and while it never made very much sense to me, playing along with him seemed the least disruptive solution. In retrospect, devoting those many hours to playing a musical instrument would have made me happier, even if music wouldn’t have been a likely career choice from a monetary standpoint. Still, basketball didn’t exactly enrich me, did it?
In cosmic terms, singing in choir taught me far more about teamwork than playing sports, which struck me as fundamentally tainted by the “win at any cost” ethos. In a great many ways, I’ve never come close to recapturing the massed choral vibe, emphasizing teamwork for the greater artistic good. I miss it.
Wanting, being and growing up all suggest a process of self-knowledge. What are we good at doing? What do we prefer doing? What makes us feel productive, and provides some semblance of satisfaction at the end of a day?
Speaking personally, I have three answers.
For as long as I can remember, finding the right words to convey concepts and ideas has been a daily compulsion, tantamount to an obsession. I awaken to the urge to write, and until the writing’s finished, there is inner discomfort.
Writers take the long view. Like Glenn Frey’s or David Bowie’s songs, the written word when properly rendered is capable of lasting forever, and retaining importance long after the writer gone – even if you’re Ayn Rand.
My mother was a teacher, and I’ve been around teachers my whole life. I’ve done my share of teaching. It’s just that I never actually became a teacher in the sense of officialdom and accreditation.
As a child, it briefly occurred to me to become a park ranger in the National Park Service, but not if it meant going out into mountains to rescue a stray backpacker. Rather, I wanted to be the fellow in the visitor center giving the interpretive talks and answering questions.
My role as self-appointed educator has provided me with the most joy during my time in the beer business. From the beginning, I’ve held that the best way to help create the rising tide necessary to lift all our “good beer” boats was to teach people about good beer, what it is, and why it matters.
Crusading for the collective.
Conversely, my greatest single source of dissonance as a small business operator has been the seemingly inescapable aspect of carnival barking and chest-thumping, to the exclusion of teaching and genuine content. Although I learned how to perform as a front man and to credibly speak the language of self-aggrandizement, it always was done somewhat grudgingly.
However, I can embrace the evangelical in a collective setting. Serving on the Brewers of Indiana Guild board of directors has been delightful precisely because our work – education, legislative advocacy and tub-thumping — benefits all the brewers in our state, not just the biggest and richest ones, or those screaming loudest.
Teaching’s not about screaming, anyway, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s why I’m bullish about the prospects for a viable New Albany Restaurant & Bar Association, and the goal of eventually utilizing both it and the bully pulpit of New Albany Indie Fest to advance the outlook for all independent small businesses in the city.
I’ll do whatever I can to help, and perhaps somewhere along the way, a career option will emerge from it. Then I’ll grow up and “be” something — or not.
December 31: ON THE AVENUES: My 2015 in books and reading.