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ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: They’re coming again, strutting and growling their golden oldies.
Late this summer, the Rolling Stones are starting their sweep through the country’s arenas and amphitheaters, aiming to tug hard at the nostalgia of us aging baby boomers. Let me calculate. Let me not.
Mick must be, what, 60-something now? Do I really want to go see him do his thing, let him cavort with my memories? Isn’t he in danger of becoming a caricature, a corny, prancing grandfather of a rock star?
He is not alone. The summer venues have been full in recent years of retro acts. The Eagles are in the midst of their final tour. Fleetwood Mac made its reunion tour last year. Brian Wilson has been resurrected. Crosby, Stills and Nash are also out again this summer.
Eventually, their shows will probably turn up on public television, where a dreamy-eyed, gray-haired, aging audience will sway along, mouthing all the words. And watching them, I feel a tender embarrassment for them and their ever-so-naked nostalgia.
In fairness, I do it, too — mouth the words. But in the privacy of my living room, just as, on a given night, I might play some of the old Roy Orbison, his voice, as always, sending chills up my slightly osteoporotic spine.
Or I listen to Janis Joplin. Thirty-five years after her death, she still startles me with her ragged, bare-bones longing. What’s clear is that we baby boomers are at the nostalgia tipping point, and if we’re not careful, we’re going to turn into some fusty, crusty, sentimental-eyed parody of our former selves.
It is not just us, though. These acts are now big business, the biggest in the music tour world, drawing younger crowds as well as older. No question, nostalgia is hot. We are always told that America is a bustling, driven, future-oriented country. That maybe so, but it is also a backward-yearning one as well.
That yearning was never so evident as now when our sway over the world seems more fragile and complicated than it ever has been, when we are feeling threatened by the rise of other mega-economies, or when we are puzzled why so many other countries don’t feel as grateful to us as we think they should and when we are terrorized by rogue bands of zealots, our borders permeable in ways we never imagined possible. It’s no accident that our bookshelves are full of books about our founders. Such books are a beacon, a balm for our current complicated position in the world, our hands not as clean as we would want them, our image, certainly not.
Nostalgia does have its uses. It can call us back to our younger, more optimistic selves. It can also siphon off the grief that comes with aging and loss. But it can also be a trap, a hiding place we retreat to when the present is unpleasant or confusing, and we don’t want to face it or ourselves.
I think of the other performers like Bob Dylan, who have refused to be stuck in the past. So too, Neil Young, who has morphed forward musically. Bruce Springsteen is another, pushing on into darker waters, taking on complexity as the country has taken it on. These are not just performers, but artists who are continuing to dig for their truth, however ragged or uncomfortable that might sometimes be. And if we listen to them or go see them out of our own nostalgic longing, they insist on showing us a different, more- admirable version of the aging rock megastar.
I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.