2010-06-10 / Sam Bari

Bands that go from rock ‘n’ roll to the rockin’ chair

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

Not too long ago, I went to a rock concert featuring the band “Chicago” – one of the few bands of the late 1960s era that still tours. It still has many of its original members.

The band began as the Chicago Transit Authority in 1967. They were forced to change their name to just “Chicago” when the actual Chicago Transit Authority threatened to sue because it felt the band was making a mockery of its image – as if it were something sacred.

The last time I saw Chicago before this recent concert was in the late 1970s in Florida. The stadium where they played held 80,000 people, and if my memory serves me correctly, I believe the place was packed. The venue where they recently played held about 5,000, and it was not packed, although the crowd was enthusiastic.

Before going, I anticipated a few changes, but I didn’t think they would be too dramatic. I was wrong. The changes were very dramatic. The promos promised “Chicago – with the original band members” and, as promised, most of the original band was there. I think four out of seven were original members. That was impressive.

The only thing wrong was that I didn’t recognize any of them. They were older – a lot older. Not that they aged badly, but they did age. I’ve aged, too, but I see myself every day, and I try not to think about how young I looked in 1975.

Then, I surveyed the audience. That was a shocker.

The audience I remember from the 1970s was young, and the girls were hot. It was summertime, and slender figures with bare midriffs, long bare legs and flowing hair were the order of the day. The young men also had long locks and wore tight T-shirts that revealed muscular arms, with taut six-packs in their midsections.

The recent audience, like the band, was quite different. They were conservatively dressed, with short haircuts. Both men and women, if they had hair, were all gray or graying, or their hair was obviously colored. They never say “dyed.”

As if that would make a difference.

This crowd wore sensible shoes, sport coats and loose-fitting blouses. None of which did much to camouflage the potbellies and generous posteriors that come with age. They looked like a gathering of my parents’ friends when I was in my twenties. But this time, I was one of them.

The outdoor stadium in the 1970s had a pall of lingering smoke hanging over the noisy crowd. This crowd was quiet, and polite. Nobody smoked, even when they were outside.

It was more like an audience for a symphony or opera than for a popular rock band that sold millions of records and played to crowds of screaming fans.

When one of the band members announced that they had been playing for nearly four decades and pointed to his grandchildren in the audience, it hit home. I fit in. I was one of them. I was aware of it before, but I didn’t think of it as I did that night, when I saw the people around me. They were my age.

It was hard to imagine this group dancing, cavorting on the beach and going to all-night parties. But I am sure they probably did those things at one time. I know I did.

I thought about when I was young and I listened to the big bands – Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. It was the music of my parents’ era. It was old, but it sounded great. I remember seeing photographs of my parents doing the jitterbug, and dancing in the massive ballrooms where the big bands played.

The photos made me smile. My parents didn’t look right acting like a couple of kids. I don’t know why it struck me as funny, because that’s what they were, just kids trying to live through the hardships of WWII.

Today’s kids think of Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Chubby Checker and Elvis Presley the same way. It’s their parents’ music. They are probably amused when they see a gathering of AARP members attempting to do the twist and other dances from their youth.

Each generation is the same and different at the same time. However, one thing never seems to change. We still live in a system we can’t understand.

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