The Kids Are Alright

Nothing has changed at rock concerts in nearly half a century, except the age of my fellow concertgoers

The last major tantrum that I threw was when I was 13. It was 1969 and my parents had just nixed my request to accompany my older sister to a Jefferson Airplane concert on campus in the college town where we lived.

I fumed. I cried. I swore that if they let me go, I would never ask for anything else again.

My parents relented and off I went. Grace Slick and the band sang "White Rabbit" and their other big hits, a cool light show played on a screen behind the group and the scent of marijuana rose from the college age crowd. I spent most of the concert on my feet, bobbing my head in time to the music and thinking I was way cool.

Like I said, I was 13 at the time.

It would seem, however, based on my experience of recently going to see The Who during the band's 50th anniversary tour, nothing has changed at rock concerts in nearly half a century except the age of my fellow concertgoers.

At The Who concert, the audience stood for much of the concert, bobbing their heads in time to the music. The majority of those noggins were either balding or gray.

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I haven't been to a rock concert in decades and hadn't intended to go to this one. But that morning a cousin who's a major Who fan called to say that the friend who was supposed to go with her was sick and did I want the spare ticket, gratis? Sure, I replied.

So that's how I found myself with a premium floor seat at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, watching the Who. Not only has the band been together off-and-on for 50 years, but it was also the 70th birthday of guitarist Pete Townshend, not that the curmudgeonly Townshend acknowledged it from the stage or responded to audience members who shouted out birthday greetings. (Along with Townshend, lead singer Roger Daltrey is the only remaining original member of the band; drummer Keith Moon died in 1978 and bassist John Entwhistle in 2002.)

Let me say up front that I was never a Who fanatic. Sure, I liked the band way back when and considered "Tommy," the group's rock opera, a major achievement, but it's not as if I ever bought any of their LPs or CDs or, in recent years, downloaded Who songs onto my iPod.

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That clearly wasn't the case for most of those in attendance. These were Who Fans. Capital F.

They were also white (I saw exactly one person of color) and closer to getting a Medicare card than getting carded. Age, however, was merely a number this evening.

As the Who played a bevy of the band's greatest hits, including "I Can See for Miles," "My Generation" and songs from "Tommy," audience members stayed on their feet and sang along, loudly and happily and—if male—played air guitar. They also occasionally turned their backs to the stage so that they could snap a selfie featuring the tiny figures of Townshend and Daltrey on stage in the background.

I may be in the minority, but I was kind of puzzled by all of this. Why pay close to $200 for a seat and then not sit in it? Why pay that much not so that the Who can sing to you but rather so that you can sing along? Isn't karaoke a lot cheaper? And, dude, air guitar? How old are we?

From the blissed-out look on the faces of most of the audience, that was exactly the point. They may be old but, for as long as the concert lasted, they were transported back to where ever they were when they first heard "Won't Get Fooled Again," "The Kids Are Alright" and "Pinball Wizard." The concert was like entering a time machine, one that allowed you to travel back over the decades on a wave of sound to before you had a mortgage, kids, a boss you couldn't stand, a puny 401K and whatever other adult troubles that now nag at you.

Sure, there were moments that brought the audience sharply back to reality. When a few folks in the crowd lit up joints, Daltrey twice halted the music to plead with them to stop, not because the stuff is illegal but because he's allergic to smoke and could feel his voice shutting down. "If you don't stop now, I will leave this stage. That'll be the end of the show. I mean it," he said. He suggested they eat the marijuana, saying the effect was the same.

Townshend had a recommendation of his own. "Why don't you just stick it up your ass?" he said brusquely. "That'll work."

The smoking stopped, Daltrey and Townshend resumed the concert and all the folks around me went back to pretending for the evening that the kids they used to be were still alright .

Tags: aging