I’m rewatching the History of Rock ‘N’ Roll series that was made for TV in 1995 and marveling at the phenomenal way art morphs over time — sometimes gracefully, sometimes forcefully, but always ceaselessly and always by necessity. I had many rites of passage in my adolescence, but two stand out: being required to learn how to change a tire before I could get my driver’s license (thanks, dad!), and watching the History of Rock ‘N’ Roll.
It must have made sense to my parents’ generation that a rock retrospective should take place in the mid-90s; by that time, all good rock would have been long dead and gone. And when I saw the series ten-or-so years later, all I cared to see were the sweet-faced, mop-topped boys of Liverpool. So I, too, was happy to eject the home-recorded VHS tapes after Woodstock. And true confessions: until recently, I have managed to continue ignoring most music that came out between 1969-1999.
At one point, I had decided that in a past life, I was born in 1950. I was 14 when the Beatles came to America, I was 17 at the Monterey Pop Festival, and I was 19 at Woodstock. In my real life I went through a phase that I felt, even then, was not sophisticated. But everyone goes through a Nirvana phase, and I suppose it helped that I could listen to Nevermind on a cassette tape that belonged to my parents. Like I said, everyone goes through a Nirvana phase.
I experimented with rap and let’s-not-mention-all-the-emo-and-terrible-pop-music, but eventually matured into folk music, electronic, and obscure indie music that made me feel superior. There’s a lot of great music currently, and there are a ton of great “oldie” bands.
But it turns out that I missed quite a lot by largely ignoring those few decades.
Maybe the past few months have been a subconscious effort to submerge myself in a tiny portion of those decades and develop an appreciation for that with which I was unfamiliar. Regardless, I was pleased to be familiar enough with the performers to be completely stunned and overwhelmed when, during the dream-come-true of being able to attend a Paul McCartney concert in Seattle, Dave Grohl and other members of Nirvana joined Paul on stage for two encores.
I would go out on a limb and say that the greatest moment in the vast expanse of rock ‘n’ roll history was Jimi Hendrix’ performance at Woodstock. But the greatest moment of rock ‘n’ roll in my own life was Paul McCartney with members of Nirvana playing “Long Tall Sally.” It was a tribute to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll that was all at once purist, wholesome, gritty, and zealous. It was perfect.