Everything Old is New Again

21 Sep

An old friend of mine issued a group email the other day asking everyone he knew to send him lists of their favorite songs of all time. He was looking for lists of 20-to-25 songs. He wouldn’t fully explain his request, just said he had some vague theory he was testing out.

I spent more time than I care to admit trying to compile my songs, and found the task ultimately impossible, although I did send him an unsatisfying list of 25 songs, winnowed down from an initial draft of 80.

If I did it again tomorrow, I wrote him back, the list would be completely different.

One interesting thing, though: When push came to shove and I had to make hard decisions about what to cut out and what to leave on the list, I ended up rejecting more recent songs (because who knows if I’ll still like those next week) and holding on to the golden oldies with proven staying power.

To my genuine surprise, 24 of the 25 songs in my final draft were either from my teenage years (contrary to popular belief, there were one or two good songs released in the 1980s) or were older than I am.

When you came of age in the ’80s, you grew up in the shadow of the Baby Boom generation. So no surprise that the Beatles, the Who, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix – all broken up, past their prime, or dead by the time I became musically literate – formed a big part of the soundtrack of my youth.

It turns out, though, that my generation is not alone in loving the music of the 1960s. A recent Pew Research survey found the Baby Boomers’ music – most notably that of the Beatles – is universally popular across four generations of listeners.

Among 16-to-29-year-olds, the Pew survey found that musical acts such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Hendrix were more popular than current-day superstars such as Coldplay and Mariah Carey.

Among senior citizens, only Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash and Elvis remain more popular than the Fab Four. (Of course, Sir Paul McCartney himself is now part of this demographic.)

No wonder the musical event of the year was arguably the rerelease this month of all the Beatles’ original albums for the first time in a digitally remastered format, as well as the release of the Beatles: Rock Band video game, which should make the group even more appealing for generations to come.

Meanwhile, the musical acts with the four top-grossing concert tours of last year – Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and the Police – were all played at my high school graduation a quarter century ago.

This is a unique historical phenomenon. Teenagers in the 1960s didn’t dig the hits of the 1920s the way kids today chill to the four-decades-old music of the Beatles and Stones. And my high-school friends and I weren’t saving up our allowance money to flock to concerts by Bill Haley and the Comets.

Apparently, there’s never been a better time in history to be an aging rock star.

Or an aging TV star.

Speaking of which… Did you happen to notice that Fonzie came to town recently?

If you didn’t, then you probably also didn’t see the photos of Henry Winkler AKA Arthur Fonzarelli AKA the Fonz on the front pages of both of Ottawa’s English-language daily papers the day after his whirlwind trip to our city last month to speak at the launch of a charity campaign.

Turns out the tough leather-jacketed jukebox-punching Italian paragon of cool from 1970s TV is actually a short Jewish 60-something impassioned public speaker and children’s book author.

But he’s still the Fonz, star of my elementary school lunch box back in the old happy days.

As part of his whirlwind visit to Ottawa, Winkler happened to speak at my children’s elementary school. I didn’t think a guy most famous for a 30-year-old TV show would hold the interest of school-age kids (although one of my kids recognized him as “the guy from that Adam Sandler movie”).

But it’s a tribute to both Winkler’s charisma and his luck at living in an era when everything old is new… and Internet-accessible… again, that my kids now regularly give each other the thumb’s up sign and exclaim “Ehhhhhhhhh!”.

It’s fine with me, until they start telling me to “sit on it”.

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