Aging rockers

8th July 2010 | Daily Life, Musings | 2 comments

An uncomfortable experience watching a TV programme about ‘aging rockers’. Rock musicians were interviewed about the experience of growing older, especially in the light of the fact that their teenage lyrics were dismissive of this possibility.

I cringed through a 1967 BBC clip of Austrian-born musicologist Hans Keller interviewing Roger Waters and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd. Keller, cigarette in hand, pontificating in his crisp Viennese-flavoured English, pointed out to viewers that Pink Floyd’s music was repetitive, extremely loud, and that he was ‘perhaps too much of a musician to enjoy it’, a damning remark if ever there was one.

If this was hard to watch, so were Waters and Barrett as they smirked through their replies. I disliked both sides yet identified with them both. I remembered how it felt to be a teenager, proud of my generation’s music. But I also agreed with Hans Keller. Though I disliked his superior manner, I suspect I would have agreed with his observations even as a teenager. And I found it admirable that he was willing to make himself unpopular and stand up for his views, unlike today’s media-trained presenters, so desperate to appear non-judgmental.


  1. peter

    If one is trained in the western classical music (or art-music) tradition, then one learns to listen for various aspects in music, such as harmonic progression, while ignoring or overlooking other aspects, such as rhythmic complexity. Different musical traditions emphasize different aspects. Most any Australian Aboriginal child with two hands can beat 3 beats against 2 or 5 beats against 4 with no effort, but western children struggle to do this.

    Keller, listening for subtle harmonic progressions, may have found little to hear in rock music. But he should not have been listening for harmony. He should have been listening for the the beat, or listening in order to dance to the music, or listening in order to lose himself (and thus NOT listening FOR anything). These are all important aspects of Pink Floyd, at which Wagner, to pick a classical example, simply fails. When was the last time anyone danced to Wagner? When did anyone hearing Wagner reach a state of trance?

    The same comments apply to minimalist music, whose very deep and subtle profundity typically arises from synchronic rhythmic interplays, rather than from diachronic harmonic sequences. One can tell this just by listening to it!

    • Susan Tomes

      These are all very interesting points, Peter. I wonder why our generation has so much valued the kind of popular music that enables you to ‘lose yourself in a trance’?


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