April 29, 2013 in Features

Boomers haven’t strayed from music that helped define generation

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Bob Gallagher, of 4000 Holes in Spokane, stands in front of record bins holding a recent pressing from the Beatles catalog at his store Monday, April 22, 2013. Gallagher points out that the store started selling vinyl records, then moved into CDs, but CD purchases are going down because of digital downloads. “Now we’re a record store again,” said Gallagher. The store is at 1610 N. Monroe.
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Top-selling albums

The best-selling albums in the United States:

• Michael Jackson, “Thriller” – released in 1982, sold 29 million

• Eagles, “Their Greatest Hits (1971-75)” – released in 1976, sold 29 million

• Led Zeppelin, “Led Zeppelin IV” – released in 1971, sold 23 million

• AC/DC, “Back in Black” – released in 1980, sold 22 million

• Shania Twain, “Come On Over” – released in 1997, sold 20 million

• Fleetwood Mac, “Rumours” – released in 1977, sold 19 million

• Guns N’ Roses, “Appetite

For Destruction” released in 1987, sold 18 million

• Boston, “Boston” – released in 1976, sold 17 million

• Garth Brooks, “No Fences” – released in 1990, sold 17 million

• Whitney Houston/various artists, “The Bodyguard” soundtrack – released in 1992, sold 17 million

Source: Based on certified sales figures from the Recording Industry Association of America

Almost 40 years ago, in one of its biggest hits, Fleetwood Mac sang: “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. … Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.”

Today, fans of the band – which hasn’t released any new music in the past decade – are still happily looking backward.

Tickets for the June 29 show at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena are selling much faster than when the ’70s supergroup last came to town in 2004, said Matt Gibson, the arena’s general manager.

“It’s going to be sold out,” Gibson said. “Part of it is, you don’t know if this band is going to be back, ever.”

While its creators creep past retirement age, the music the baby boom generation grew up with keeps on trucking.

Northern Quest Casino is scheduled to announce its outdoor summer concert lineup this week, and it’s likely to be loaded with boomer favorites. Last year, the majority of the casino’s shows featured boomer acts, including Ringo Starr, Earth Wind & Fire and John Fogerty.

“I worked with guys who listened to Boston every day on their boombox,” said KPBX-FM radio host John Johnson. “This was 2005, and they were still listening to the first Boston album (from 1976) every day.”

Don Adair, program director for KREM-FM in the 1970s, and a former Spokesman-Review music writer, said: “The refrain I hear is, ‘They don’t make music like they used to.’ Maybe they don’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as good.”

Having a special attachment to the music of one’s youth is nothing new, said Johnson, whose “Johnson’s Improbable History of Pop” is in its 19th year.

“My parents were like that with their Sinatra, their big band music, stuff that I thought was pretty square at the time,” said Johnson, 61.

When you’re young, he said, “A lot of important things happen. You might get your first girlfriend, take your first sip or two.

“It might be the music you listened to at your prom. It might be what you went out and listened to with your buddies who didn’t go to the prom.”

But as people get older and become busy with careers and families, “they may only be listening to music in their car on their way to and from work. They don’t have friends over to listen to music and hang out.”

The events of the boomers’ formative years were particularly intense, said Adair, 66. Those years included the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr., the war in Vietnam, the free speech movement.

“There was a lot for this generation to rally around,” he said. “We took ourselves pretty seriously from a pretty early age.”

The arena’s Gibson, 41, said: “Music means something to every age group. But with the baby boomers, it really seems like it was a soundtrack to that generation, not just entertainment.”

And there’s certainly something to be said for the quality of the music that came out of that time, said Bob Gallagher, owner of Spokane’s 4000 Holes record store.

“You can be snobbish about the ’60s,” said Gallagher, 61. “The music got so much more sophisticated, so much more serious.”

Young people today continue to pick up on older sounds, he said: “To see a 17-year-old buying an Aerosmith album isn’t that unusual.”

But you’re less likely to see the reverse when it comes to boomers and more recent artists.

“Some of my friends got into Talking Heads and Elvis Costello,” said Adair. “Some of them were into The Clash. But it was really hard to get anyone my age to listen to Nirvana.”

The rise of hip-hop was “a real dividing line,” said Johnson. “That was as different as hearing electric guitars must have been to my parents.”

And it can be hard for older listeners to relate to younger musicians’ messages, he said. “You’re not so much rebelling against society when you’re trying to decide whether to take your early Social Security.”

Hearing aids

Theoretically, the Internet should make it easier for baby boomers to find new music if they’re so inclined.

“It’s a big listening station out there,” said Gallagher. He used to be the one to tell his customers about up-and-coming artists. These days, it’s the other way around.

And with downloads, he said, “People are listening to music who never would have in the past. If you have to get up and go to the store to buy it, some people just don’t do that.”

But with the vast sea of information to navigate online, it helps to have some idea what you’re looking for – particularly for a generation more attuned to radio, where the demise of progressive, album-oriented stations like the old KREM-FM has made it more difficult to find anything beyond the hits.

“It’s kind of hard to know where to hear new music these days,” said Johnson. “Young people have all these mixes of different styles on their iPods, and that’s great. I wish I could hear their music as well as they can hear mine, but it takes me more work.”

Some websites have stepped forward to fill the gap. At Valslist.com, founder Val Haller provides picks and playlists that promise to “introduce you to music that is a new twist on your old classics.”

In 2011, AARP Internet Radio ( www.aarp.org/music) launched with the tagline, “If you have a hard time finding music you love, or you miss the days when radio turned you on to great new sounds — we’ve got a radio player for you.”

Two original channels that focused on contemporary tunes – Fresh Sounds and Modern Hits – have since been discontinued, though newer music continues to be mixed into the Modern Rock and Coffeehouse selections.

Even boomers who bring themselves to listen to current artists aren’t necessarily comfortable going to see them perform live.

“People my age say, ‘I don’t want to be the only old person there,’ ” said Adair, who still goes to concerts by younger bands. “Why not? It’s about the music, it’s not about age or fashion.”

While he was once told to “get out of the way, Grandpa,” for the most part, he said, “Kids have been unfailingly polite.”

Diana “Dyno” Wahl, executive director of the Festival at Sandpoint, is among the youngest boomers at age 50. Intrigued by the acts at the annual Sasquatch Festival at The Gorge Amphitheatre, she asked her 19-year-old son whether she would like it.

“He said, ‘Oh, Mom, I don’t think that’s for you.’ ”

One of the reasons? “You’re camping out for five days and you maybe get a shower,” Wahl said.

The Sandpoint festival will announce its lineup May 16 for the Aug. 1-11 concerts. It books a mixture of boomer-era acts, like last year’s Kenny Loggins (“I saw people everywhere from five years younger than me to 10 years older who were singing every word,” Wahl said), and current artists that lean to the more approachable.

“If we are going to do something younger, we want it to be something that won’t chase our older patrons away,” Wahl said.

She cites Michael Franti, who blends hip-hop with genres ranging from funk to folk, as a “perfect example” – a hit not only with her son but with her 81-year-old mother, who proclaimed, “What an entertainer!”

It doesn’t hurt that typically eclectic Sandpoint supports a progressive, independent station, KPND-FM. Wahl remembers talking to her booking committee about bringing in a newer artist whose name they didn’t recognize: “I started humming a few bars, and they said, ‘Oh, I’ve heard that on the radio.’ ”

Changing tunes

Back at the Spokane Arena, Gibson, whose job involves constantly thinking about tomorrow, doesn’t see too many Fleetwood Macs in his future. The trend is more toward multiple-act shows, and smaller venues, like the arena’s self-contained Star Theatre.

With so much music to choose from, audiences are more fragmented these days, Gibson said. The availability of live performances on YouTube and television has stripped some of the mystique from the concert experience. And in the download age, it’s more about individual songs than albums.

“There are a lot of one-hit wonders out there, but not a lot of artists who have collections of music that people want to hear,” he said.

Boomers, Gibson said, “felt something very real about their music. It wasn’t quite so packaged as it is today. For that to go away, it’s kind of a sad thing.”

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