New York Minute
By Larry Jaffee
More than 50 years ago, my dad announced that the Beatles were a Communist plot, as we watched the pandemonium unfold on The Ed Sullivan Show from our living room. At 5 years old, I didn’t know what a Beatle was, let alone a Communist, although even then I thought “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was a catchy tune.
Great music, no matter the genre, has a timeless quality, sounding as fresh today as when it first emanated from transistor radios. Good luck finding one.
It recently hit me that the most of the music I listen to and concerts I go to now are by musicians older than me (I’m 56). Maybe that’s why I started writing while in high school a book called Growing Up in the ’70s and Wishin’ It Were the ’60s. I despise the term “Classic Rock.” To my ears, Beethoven’s Ninth’s power chords are classic rock, not Led Zeppelin or The Doors.
At 11, I was too young to be at Woodstock, but in the late 1980s I made the pilgrimage to Max Yasgur’s farm. The closest I came to that kind of festival was September 8, 1974 when Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s reunion tour stopped at Westbury’s Roosevelt Raceway. It was only five years after their debut at Woodstock. (CSNY fans probably will want to pick up the new 3-CD/1-DVD boxed set of the 1974 tour.)
I can’t believe that the Roosevelt Raceway concert was nearly 40 years ago. They’re not kidding when they say life moves in a “New York Minute.”
A high school junior then, I can still feel the earth shake on Stephen Stills’s chords of “Black Queen,” and I’m pretty sure it was David Crosby, who announced at the concert – an all-day and night affair – that Spiro Agnew pardoned Richard Nixon, who resigned the month before. It was at that concert that I first heard reggae, wafting from the sound system between acts. “I Shot the Sheriff” sounded vaguely familiar; Eric Clapton’s version was already a FM radio hit. Hearing The Wailers’ version launched a love affair with reggae capped by visiting Bob Marley’s house in Miami around the time I wrote about the fight over the icon’s estate for Vibe and Billboard magazines in the mid-1990s, 14 years after he died.
Lou Reed, who I had the good fortune to interview in 2003, proves that rock stars are better off dead than alive – financially at least. Since dying on Oct. 27, 2013, Reed’s royalties have totaled more than $20 million; prior to his death he was worth $10 million.
Garland Jeffreys, Reed’s Syracuse University chum for 50 years, is very much alive, and at 71 is still delivering powerful recordings (Truth Serum, his latest) and concert performances.
At 73, Bob Dylan still spends half the year on the “Never-Ending Tour,” and Leonard Cohen turns 80 this September. Anyone who witnessed his world Old Ideas concert tour, which started in August 2012 and ended in December 2013 (with local stops at the Barclay Center and Radio City), was amazed by his energy for three hours.
These septuagenarians are continuing the tradition of bluesmen and jazz musicians before them, toiling their craft and trade as elder statesmen.
Another one of my heroes, Randy Newman, who turns 71 in November, explained his wry song “I’m Dead” on his Live in London 2011 CD/DVD release of a 2008 concert: “Speaking of myself and geriatric rock in general, nobody is retiring from rock ’n’ roll. People who said at 20 ‘I am not doing this at 30’ are out there in walkers. The stages are clogged thick with gray-haired people.”
A New York Times reviewer, writing about a recent Monty Python reunion show in London, noted: “With vintage recording artists like Metallica and Dolly Parton stealing the show at the recent Glastonbury (U.K.) music festival and Mick Jagger teasing the Python reunion in a promotional video, the show might seem to be further evidence that the baby boomers are determined not to let go of the earth they have inherited.”
No, we’re just throwing around our disposable income.