Orlando Sentinel, December 29, 2005
OLD-SCHOOL COOL Members of the iPod generation are being led back to Zeppelin and turning on to AC/DC
Hope I die before I get old
Anyone who chanted that line along with The Who in the 1960s -- and is still around -- might have a new philosophy now. They might be watching the cholesterol and the receding hairline, planning retirement -- or taking Viagra.
Fortunately, many of their kids (or -- gasp! -- grandkids) are singing that old song again, sparking a rock revival that turns the generation gap on its head. If kids and parents had agreed so much on music in the 1960s, the original Woodstock might have featured swing bands instead of Santana and Jimi Hendrix.
"The older music is just more appealing to me," says Kyle Bellar, 12, who recently performed solo guitar renditions of Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Eric Clapton songs for a talent show at Windy Ridge School in Orlando. He found the old music on the Internet and on the albums owned by his parents, Rex and Susan Bellar.
Favorites include Led Zeppelin's debut and the Beatles' "White Album," as well as material from ELO and some blues. His wish list ignores new groups such as the White Stripes in favor of stuff that's almost four decades old.
"I don't have Led Zeppelin 4," he says, "and I hear that's the best one."
Bellar wants to start a garage band, which puts him a step behind Eric Pait, a classmate who plays trumpet with Bellar in the school band. Pait, who favors Grateful Dead T-shirts as a fashion statement, also plays bass with four other friends in the budding ensemble The Drive.
His favorite band? AC/DC.
"I just think the music and lyric choices are better," Pait, 13, says of classic rock. "I also like it because the majority of the songs are the roots for what's being done now. It's like going back to the history of the music, to where it started."
History you can dance to
That sense of history is right on the money, says E Street Band guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt, who receives a lot of e-mails from teens about his syndicated radio show Little Steven's Underground Garage.
Underground Garage, which airs at 10 p.m. Sundays on 96.5 FM (WHTQ) in Orlando, mines the clanging sounds of the Kingsmen and the Troggs and bookends the oldies with like-spirited newbies such as the Hives and the Vines.
"We go back through all 50 years of rock 'n' roll and we've found that young kids respond now very much in the way we did," says Van Zandt, 55, who traces his love of rock 'n' roll to Meet the Beatles.
Now, he's spreading the gospel to young and old alike on 136 stations that reach 200 U.S. markets. There's also a network on Sirius Satellite Radio and plans for a TV spinoff. On Christmas Day, the show will debut on the BBC in England.
Many fans are discovering the music for the first time, he says. He considers it an important cultural milestone.
"It's called the Renaissance," Van Zandt says of 1950s and 1960s rock. "It's our Renaissance, and it will be studied for hundreds of years.
"It'll be studied until they invent new instruments. Those who aspire to greatness will compare themselves and be inspired by that greatness.
"Cool is forever."
Back to the basics
Marketing possibilities abound. Stores such as Target, Hot Topic and J.C. Penney are finding an appetite among young shoppers for vintage T-shirts featuring everyone from Zeppelin to Bob Marley and Johnny Cash.
Online retailer Wolfgang's Vault (wolfgangsvault.com) even sells the real thing: vintage T-shirts made in the 1960s for acts such as the Grateful Dead and others.
At prices that can hover above $50, the T-shirts are as much collectibles as fashion accessories. It also should be noted that a large T-shirt in 1965 wasn't designed for the expanding American waistline of the 21st century.
"The college market and high-school market are good ones for us," says company vice president Matt Lundberg. "When they think about these bands, it's not just the band, it's the period, the time they were in. Rightly or wrongly, when they look at the '60s, they think it was less commercial and not all about the money."
There's also an element of style behind the popularity of the company's vintage merchandise, which includes coffee mugs and other band giveaways. The best-selling T-shirt is a bright green one with homemade-looking block letters spelling "Jefferson Airplane Loves You."
Lundberg says that many of the popular old bands share a similar characteristic, one that flies in the face of digital recording studios, sampling on rap records and the big production of American Idol.
"The music was raw," he says. "If you look at these groups, they are all pretty basic rock bands with two guitars, bass and drums. That's real basic, and I think kids really like that music."
Two guitars, bass and drums
Not coincidentally, that's also the lineup of Pait's garage band, which already has put together versions of "Smoke on the Water" and "Hell's Bells" in only a few months of rehearsals. Don't expect any current hits to creep into the mix.
"They are just hard-core classics," Pait says of the band's set list. "We've really gotten into the old stuff."
Jim Abbott can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-6213.
By Jim Abbott
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