LAST week, our house was abuzz with the feud between Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. It seems that their appearance in Vancouver on Thursday, the culmination of their most recent tour, may have been their last time on the same stage.
This will be a mixed blessing, as far as our 19-year-old daughter Petunia is concerned. It’s sad, certainly, as nobody likes to see longtime collaborators part company, but at least she will have witnessed their final gasp so she can boast about it forevermore.
And we, her parents, must be thankful for small mercies -- she’s moved on from Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent. In her early teens, Petunia obsessed herself with the music of hip-hop artists whose extracurricular interests included crack-dealing and making pornography in their backyards. Just walking past her bedroom when music was playing would make me blanch; I blame three quarters of my grey hairs on lyrics overheard between 2004 and 2008.
I once tried to explain to Petunia and her best pal why I couldn’t drive them around while listening to their hip-hop favourites thundering from the radio. The tunes were tolerable, the voices adequate, the rhythms catchy, but my brain is verbally oriented, I said. What it detected and processed between the grunts, the moans and the “yeh-yeh’s” was so distractingly obscene that I felt sure I would pitch us all off an overpass at any minute. The girls just rolled their eyes at yet another example of my pitiful squareness.
Then, oh joy, Petunia fell out of love with hip-hop. She and her friend now spend their time together talking about how great it would be if they could take a time machine backwards and be born in 1970. That way, they could have been teenagers when music was at its very finest – in the 1980s.
I tried to remember, without cheating by using the Internet, a solitary good song from that decade. All I could come up with was 99 Luftballons, the German novelty hit.
Petunia, however, feels the 1980s were the apex of civilization. By contrast with that golden age, “Our generation was robbed musically,” she says. Whenever the bands that dominated the period come to town – AC/DC, Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -- she spends every cent she has to buy tickets. She was thrilled in the summer because Joe Cocker was the opening act for Petty. All I remember about Cocker from the 1980s is his mastery of the spastic grimace.
Thursday night brought Vancouver the musical stylings and simmering feud of Aerosmith’s Tyler and Perry, with Joan Jett as the opening act. Tyler is 62, Perry, 60, while Jett is a puckish 52. I’ll hazard a guess about how the feud began – Tyler, without asking, gobbled down the last of Perry’s Metamucil. Jett was probably able to calm them down before the concert using her boxed DVD set of The Cosby Show.
Petunia isn’t entirely oblivious to the vintage of her heroes. Besides the impending breakup of Tyler and Perry, there was another reason this concert was important to her, she confided to her father. “I want to see Steven Tyler before he dies, Dad.”
Grim vigils aside, rock ’n’ roll offers a timeless experience to its stars and its audience members alike. Plenty of people my age haul themselves, their earplugs and their hemorrhoid prevention pillows to concerts on a regular basis. Petunia reports that there are all sorts of head-banging cougars and gray-haired goats at the concerts she attends. The way she describes the multi-generational scene, pot-bellied guys with mullets are “rocking their Iron Maiden t-shirts from the ’80s,” women of every age are flashing their boobs at the band, and younger fans show up swathed in Motley Crue tattoos, with their mohawk-wearing six-year-olds in tow.
Petunia’s still entranced by the spectacle of the large-venue rock event. She remembers the awe she felt when she turned her attention away from the stage for a moment at an AC/DC concert and saw BC Place lit up with thousands of devoted fans wearing glowing red devils’ horns.
The fact that Joe Cocker, for example, is 66, old enough to be her grandfather, doesn’t take anything away from his performance for her. Petunia likes the fact that 1980s rock stars are survivors. She knows this from reading the autobiographies of some of the most notorious performers of the last 30 years, people like Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, a one-time drug dealer, thief and heroin addict. “Alcohol, acid, cocaine … they were just affairs,” he wrote in his book, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. “When I met heroin it was true love.”
Sixx was once declared dead after an overdose, and was revived using adrenalin. According to Wikipedia, the incident inspired his hit song, Kickstart My Heart. This is the sort of story Petunia enjoys. I can only guess that such tales give her thrills she doesn’t wish to experience firsthand, and if that’s their function for her, it’s more than fine by me.
Still, her excitement over major bands that I barely noticed leads me to the conclusion that I completely missed the 1980s. My 20s somehow passed me by in a haze of Stan Rogers sea shanties.
Meanwhile, my own wild teens (such as they were) took place in the 1970s, the gentle, folky era of Simon and Garfunkel, Don McLean, Cat Stevens, Carole King and Leonard Cohen. In their heyday, these singers probably stayed up late more than a few nights drinking too much Chianti, but they couldn’t even have imagined the antics of a Nikki Sixx.
Come to think of it, in the 1970s, my friends and I were convinced that the 1950s was the period when popular music was in its prime. I once heard a theory that people always like best the music that was popular the decade before they were born. Maybe it’s true.
Petunia alighted on this planet in 1990. I can’t imagine her rushing off to be first in line for tickets to see anybody her frumpy old mother ever liked. But she’s already vowing to be front and centre the next time the Rolling Stones play Vancouver on one of their Sympathy for the Codger tours. Maybe I’ll swig back a little Chianti myself, for courage, and tag along.