Rock n’ Roll Fantasy
I went to see the 1980’s superband REO Speedwagon a couple of weeks ago at an outdoor music venue on Boston’s South Shore. Yes, this feels like a public confession — I still can’t believe I allowed my wife to drag me out to see them on what turned out to be the evening of game five of the Stanley Cup finals. If I had no desire to see the band that brought us “Can’t fight this feeling anymore” when I was in high school, the idea hadn’t grown on me in the intervening years.
A few things surprised me about the evening other than my own presence. First of all, I was shocked/horrified to learn they were still alive and touring. Long live the cheesy love ballad! Unlike a lot of these retread bands that tour small, outdoor venues every summer, REO Speedwagon was still together after 40 years. They weren’t touring in name only like many bands that have, say, one original member (I’m looking at you Foreigner, Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foghat, et al).
Sure, each member of the band was, in his own unique way, a caricature of the aging rock star. The bass player still had long flowing locks (extensions?), the lead guitarist was balding and slightly hunched over, the lead singer had that crazed energetic look of a man who had seen it and done it all before, and the keyboard player wore a skull cap and literally didn’t look up for the entire show.
What really stunned me, though, was that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It wasn’t just the good company (as opposed to Bad Company) I was with. These guys were crack musicians who weren’t just phoning it in — they could rock. They also brought a sly sense of humor that basically said “We know some of our big hits were cheesy and we know we have to play them so we might as well have fun along the way and anyway as long as we’re here we’re still going to play some actual rock ‘n roll so hang onto your hats.” Or something to that effect.
Perhaps the popularity of these nostalgia acts shouldn’t come as a surprise. Each summer middle-aged folks flock to such concerts. Maybe we’re trying to recapture a spark from our past — a time before children and mortgages and the burden of life’s responsibilities. A time when our emotions rollicked to the beat of our favorite bands and our identities were wrapped up in the intensity of our friendships.
These bands will always serve as the soundtrack to an earlier stage of our lives. That’s the power of music, after all, and it’s what draws us back year after year. The good news of faith is that while tastes in music change and evolve, God’s love for us remains the one constant in our lives. In other words, the acts may change but the stage remains the same.
Of course life does, and should, move on. There’s a fine line between nostalgia and living in the past and I was grateful for the pre-concert dinner out with good friends and a bottle of Pinot Noir rather than a post-concert meal of pizza and Schlitz of a previous era.
For me, the highlight of the show had nothing to with any of the hits that made the band famous — I still change the radio station whenever they come on — it was their very last number. They left us with the old Van Morrison song (popularized by The Doors) Gloria – G.L.O.R.I.A. I may have been the only one thinking about the words Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the Highest) but much to my surprise, REO Speedwagon brought down the house. And that was worth the price of admission.