March 4, 2010

Music remains the glue that binds generations


— The highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Everybody's out on the run tonight but there's no place left to hide.

Together Wendy we'll live with the sadness,

I'll love you with all the madness in my soul.

Someday girl I don't know when we're gonna get to that place

Where we really want to go and we'll walk in the sun.

But till then tramps like us baby we were born to run

''Born To Run''

by Bruce Springsteen


Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram

It all began with the Springsteen tickets.

After a long hiatus from rock concerts -- years filled to the brim with jobs, the home front and three busy kids -- this summer my husband Ken and I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to celebrate our 22nd anniversary by seeing Bruce Springsteen at the Comcast Center in Massachusetts.

For three hours the Boss and his E Street Band sang, gyrated and made rock 'n' roll magic for a multi-generation crowd whipped into an adoring frenzy. As Springsteen biographer Patrick Humphries put it, ''All the dreams you've hoarded are suddenly made vivid and real. Everything you've heard about those legendary shows is true!''

As we waited out a massive post-concert traffic jam, the endless line of SUVs, minivans and Subaru wagons were filled with middle-aged parents and their teenage or college-age children. I started thinking about the importance of music in the lives of my generation -- the baby boomers, many of whom came of age in the 1960s and '70s.

Music defined that generation, from Beatlemania and Woodstock to disco and punk; today's music still reflects the influence of that massive cultural revolution.

What makes music created 30 or 40 years ago still resonate with people of all ages today?

''When the baby boomers were growing up, music and culture were tied together,'' said Chris Brown, marketing director for Bull Moose music stores. ''There was the feeling that music should be something important, and a record album could change people's feelings or perceptions somehow. Artists like Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Beach Boys, for example, all were passionate about making artistic statements. Boomers have held onto that feeling about music.''

The hoopla this summer over the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, followed by September's media blitz over the simultaneous release of the Beatles Rock Band game and the group's newly remastered CDs, are proof that boomer music spans the generations. Kids, parents, and even grandparents gather in living rooms across the country to sing and play like the Fab Four on Beatles Rock Band.

''There's an element in music that helps people find common ground,'' said Ethan Minton, program director at WCLZ radio, an adult album alternative station in Portland. ''A sharing takes place, and suddenly a 16-year-old can see where her 45-year-old father is coming from, and vice versa. That's a really cool connection.''

This is certainly true in our family. As middle-aged baby boomers, my husband's and my tastes are grounded in our adolescence. Ken grew up in suburban New Jersey and in the '60s had easy access to concerts by such rock legends as the Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly. My teenage years came along in the '70s, and the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, Talking Heads and Steely Dan dominated the soundtrack of my youth.

When our two older kids became teens, music became a common language, a non-threatening way to navigate the tricky waters of adolescence. On days it seems we couldn't agree on much, listening together to Led Zeppelin, AC/DC or David Bowie always eased the tension.

And the music flows both ways. Now that I have an iPod, the kids can share their latest finds with me. I don't always like what comes up on ''shuffle,'' but it tells me where they're coming from.

Sean, 20, favors metal bands, electronic and European techno; Emily, 16, likes Coldplay, the Killers and Snow Patrol, and Elise, 9, always wants to hear Queen and AC/DC. Luckily, all five of us never get tired of listening to the Beatles.

''At the radio station I get e-mails from people who listen to Dylan and the Beatles with their kids, and then the kids introduce them to newer artists like Modest Mouse, Snow Patrol or Death Cab for Cutie,'' Minton said.

Sharing music is a big part of the Toothaker family's life as well. Parents Jeff and Karen, both baby boomers in their 50s, introduced their three kids to their musical tastes early on.

''I've always been a huge fan of Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder and James Taylor, to name a few,'' said Jeff, who works in finance for the state. ''Now the kids listen to the same radio stations I do, and we sometimes go to concerts together.''

Daughter Anna Patterson, 27, of Westbrook credits her dad's love of pop/folk singers and her mother's passion for Broadway musicals for making a lasting impression. She sings in a Portland-based folk-rock band, This Way, whose members credit many boomer artists as influences.

''Growing up I always wanted the music blaring,'' Patterson said. ''Looking back I'm sure that wasn't always pleasant for my parents, but I really appreciate how they encouraged us musically.''

Today, father and daughter share a fondness for Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin and Mason Jennings. Both Patterson and her brother Nate, 24, of Portland, said they were drawn to their parents' extensive vinyl record collection.

''I remember being in high school and searching through my parents' records. I spent an afternoon discovering all these great albums that I still have today,'' Nate said, mentioning such artists as Peter Frampton, Neil Young, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder. ''I think that one of the reasons I've always been drawn to music from that generation is the political motivation behind a lot of it,'' he said.

Whether it's Springsteen or Santana, Dylan or the Grateful Dead, the baby boomer generation created music that defined an era -- and still connects with music lovers today.

Lori Douglas Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Readfield.

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