Now they're back, and both old fans and that lost new generation will finally get to hear the Zombies play "Odyssey and Oracle" -- and if Argent's and Blunstone's recent tour is any indication, it will be a stunning experience. I bought the CD of that tour just to see if the pair could still sing. I was driving in the truck with son Tad, Mr. Indy Rock, and put on "Miracles." Blunstone's voice was older and darker than those ethereal pipes of forty years ago, but he still had the chops. Then he hit that song's famous stratospheric last note … I winced in anticipation, but he hit it clean and perfect. I turned to Tad and said, "And that's a 60-year-old man, son."
"Jeez," Tad replied, incredulous, "He sounds like he's nineteen."
And that got me thinking. There are two great forces that seem at work today in popular music: technology and medicine. And at the intersection of the two, remarkable things are happening.
For a long time, I used to look in dismay at the fact that some of the most popular bands around, even for young people, were musicians from my generation. Didn't kids have the own music?
I asked, and it was easy to fall into the old trap of believing in the lost paradise of your own you, and to assuming that everything had gone to hell since. But I've listened lately to a lot of contemporary music -- and I'm convinced that the stuff being put out today by musicians as diverse as Wilco, the Shins, Arcade Fire, the Decemberists, Dashboard Confessional, Bright Eyes, the White Stripes, even a rapper like Lupe Fiasco, is as good -- and often better -- as the music of my generation, Rock's so-called golden age.
So why were the biggest tours of 2007 those of the Police, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and the Eagles -- and that doesn't even count the Led Zeppelin reunion -- all of them eligible for AARP membership? Surely it isn't just Boomers filling those big halls to wallow in nostalgia. So why are people still showing up to see these guys, or stripping the Starbuck's rack of the new Paul McCartney album?
The obvious answer is that these bands are good. Really good. If Jimmy Page, Joe Walsh and Nils Lofgren were great guitarists in 1980, how good must they be after a quarter century more of practicing and gigging? And if Sir Paul, Brian Wilson and Don Henley can still (pretty much) hit those high notes, how much richer must their vocals be with decades more wisdom behind them?
That, I think, is where modern medicine comes in. Until just the last decade, most singers -- from Satch to Ella to Crosby to Clooney -- began to sound old by age 55. Elvis seemed ancient in his forties. Many had health problems, most had to change their style to match their growing physical limitations.
They sounded different -- short of breadth, limited in range, talking as much as singing -- and as time went on, that made them increasingly obsolete to all but true fans. But that no longer seems the case: if you don't manage to overdose or drink yourself to death at a young age, and take reasonable care of yourself in middle age, nowadays you can probably still be performing at a very high level of virtuosity well into your seventh decade -- and longer.
And what time has taken away from you -- like Brian Wilson's falsetto -- can now be restored on the computer; meanwhile you've gained all of the wisdom and experience of those years to add a depth to your music that would have been impossible as a callow youth.