- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2001

Among the avalanche of acts ruling today's airwaves — alternate-rock, speed-metal, rock-rap and trip-hop (you know what I mean) — which one won the most Grammys in 2000?

Could it be Creed? Wrong. Did one of those generic pop phenoms, say 98 degrees of Boys, grab all the trophies? Wrong again. A 53-year-old fossil named Carlos Santana offers breathing proof that rock 'n' roll has no age limits.

With this genre of music spanning five decades, history demands that its elder statesmen take to the stage to constantly remind newer generations of the music's roots.

The supposed relics of rock can teach plenty to the whippersnappers of today — especially how to perform.

Countless examples exist.

The Who took on drummer Zak Starkey (Beatle Ringo Starr's son) and definitely made him work for a living with a 1996 tour of "Quadrophenia."

Jimmy Page and Robert Plant retooled Led Zeppelin, with a younger rhythm section delivering blistering versions of their hits in 1998.

Mr. Santana's latest success gave vocalist Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty a new fan base.

Should Mr. Santana have deprived live audiences of his virtuoso guitar sounds just because he exceeded the half-century mark?

AC/DC's Angus Young and Eddie Van Halen, blistering-guitar-playing hard rockers who are both in their late 40s, display unbelievably energetic stage shows compared with prima donnas such as Fiona Apple melting down on a New York City stage or any number of petty performances by Oasis.

The most recent Super Bowl half-time extravaganza featuring Aerosmith vs. 'N Sync and Britney Spears proved beyond any reasonable doubt how classic rock veterans can make any new artist look like a member of the Mickey Mouse Club.

'N Sync resembled a barbershop quintet with ants in their pants while brooding through "Bye Bye Bye." Shortly afterward, the once-toxic Aerosmith twins Steven Tyler and Joe Perry stalked the stage to reveal a new single, "Jaded."

As a finale, the sight of Mr. Tyler screeching "Walk This Way" was juxtaposed with the butchering of the refrain by the "Star Search" crooning club (the guys and Miss Spears, separately). Suffice to say, Miss Spears never will walk that way.

A lot of homogenous mediocrity is hovering around the charts. Watching a much appreciative Fleetwood Mac, Cheap Trick or even REO Speedwagon seems much more amenable to the palate than trying to survive an evening with Limp Bizkit.

Without a doubt, the geezers know how to bedazzle an audience, have a mastery of their instruments and appreciate the chance to entertain a group of people.

This still may translate to, "Why is grandpa standing on stage singing about teen-age wastelands," but the reality of the entertainment business is to give the people what they want.

Concertgoers have proved their appreciation for the classic rock groups by dumping countless amounts of riches into the bands' bank accounts.

Amusement Business magazine's "Boxscore," which reports concert grosses, consistently shows legends such as the Rolling Stones ($89 million in 1999), Bruce Springsteen ($60 million in 1999) and Tina Turner ($108 million in 2000) packing venues.

Parents can take their offspring to relive their own first concerts. While mom and pop bathe in nostalgia, junior gets his hearing threshold tested and is exposed to a genuine rock experience.

No need to waste money on the unoriginal schlock goth of Marilyn Manson and his "Beautiful People" rant when we have the living comic book characters, with almost 30 years of experience: Kiss invites audiences to "Rock and Roll All Nite" and the master of theatrical rock, Alice Cooper, strikes an identifying chord screeching "school's out for summer."

Another reason for embracing the older stars can be found in lyrical content.

Jim Morrison's daring viewers of Ed Sullivan's TV show that he couldn't get much higher has been replaced with profanity-laced, woman-hating, sophomoric diatribes from a generation of spoiled children with too much time on their hands.

Considering that one can still hear the socially conscious sounds of 20-year-old U2, poetic mumblings of Bob Dylan or soaring harmonies of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, why bother with the monosyllabic rantings of Kid Rock or Eminem?

Much as the music world never would admonish a Tony Bennett or B.B. King for daring to continue touring until they were practically on their deathbeds, why would any true fan of rock deny himself a spectacular age of diversity? This is a time of abundance, with masters of rock such as Eric Clapton, Billy Joel and Neil Young willing to impart their melodious wisdom.

Also, let's not forget that monoliths such as Aerosmith still can produce chart-topping albums. "Get a Grip" from 1993 with tracks "Cryin'" and "Livin' on the Edge" and 1997's "Nine Lives" with "Falling in Love" and "Pink" have been monsters for this group spanning four decades.

Meat Loaf returned to the top of the charts after a 16-year absence with "Bat Out of Hell II," and Blondie reunited to watch its tune "Maria" hit No. 1 in the U.K. charts in 1999.

Finally, exactly what is the cutoff age for no longer being able to rock?

A recent concert by Peter Townshend, 55, and Who mates at Nissan Pavilion unleashed a reckless energy level sorely lacking in bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins and Third Eye Blind.

Are we suggesting Paul McCartney — whose Beatles have let loose again with a top album — end up as an elder resident in "Logan's Run," sucked into a musical death machine for daring to enjoy perfecting his passion?

Rock 'n' roll will continue to thrive through a melding of styles. The genre offers plenty of room for all ages — especially as the disposable income of the 1960s, '70s and '80s generations continues to pile up.

Remember, the Christina Aguileras, Backstreet Boys and Blink-182s of today will be looking for that reunion tour of tomorrow.

Long live rock — with a heavy emphasis on "long live."

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