Geezers Need Excitement
June 11, 2007
Geezers Need Excitement
OLD-PEOPLE COVER BANDS, HIP-HOP ROCK STARS, MANU CHAO, AND MIRANDA LAMBERT.
By Jody Rosen SLATE MAGAZINE
Last year, the Young @ Heart Chorus out of Northampton, Mass., stirred a minor Internet sensation when a performance video was posted to YouTube. Young @ Heart's members are all senior citizens, ages 71 to 93, and their repertoire consists entirely of rock-era songs. The YouTube hit was a version of Coldplay's "Fix You"—the group has sung everything from "You Can't Always Get What You Want" to "Hey Ya." It sounds like a gimmick, and a cheap one at that, but the "Fix You" clip was extraordinary, not least because of the grave, graceful lead vocal performance by chorus member Fred Knittle, who has a heart condition and sang with a breathing tube attached to his nose. Adding to the poignancy was the fact that the song was originally a duet with another Young @ Heart member, Bob Salvini, who died shortly before the performance. But Knittle and company completely transcended kitsch, as well as the insipidities of Chris Martin's lyric. Young @ Heart's "Fix You" is touching and dignified. Most importantly, it's a fine piece of music.Well, you know the pop music calculus: One hit act begets a thousand lesser imitators. Thus, we find ourselves in the midst of history's first Geriatric Cover Band boomlet. In England, where Young @ Heart has toured extensively and the documentary in which the YouTube clip originated first aired on television, the BBC assembled its own elderly choir, the Zimmers—so named for the Zimmer frame, the British term for a walker. (Har de har har.) That's right, for a documentary, the BBC built the group from scratch: The Zimmers are the Monkees of Codger Rock. The group's first single, currently No. 26 on the U.K. pop charts, is about as cheap as novelty songs get: a version of "My Generation," the "Hope I die before I get old" song. Get it, get it? In the Zimmers' video, we see lingering shots of canes tapping, toothless men singing "People try to put us down/ Just because we get around," a phalanx of elderly women attempting to smash guitars a la Pete Townshend, a geezer kicking over his drum kit. (No Depends cameos or pacemaker montages—gotta save something for the next single.) The video concludes with 100-year-old Buster Martin, the group's oldest member, flipping the bird to the camera, a coup de grâce that must have inspired all sorts of back-clapping hilarity when the thirtysomethings behind the Zimmers dreamt it up over pints in a Notting Hill gastropub.The Zimmers may strike many as funny precisely because their big, broad joke hits too close to home. Within three years, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry themselves will be senior citizens, and when the Rolling Stones next play Wembley Stadium, there's likely to be a major Zimmer-frame traffic pileup at the turnstiles. Rock-era hits are indeed entering the song standard canon—soon, assisted living facilities across the land will ring with the sound of old folks unironically singing the Who and other songs of their youth. For the time being, my geezers of choice are Young @ Heart, whose rendition of Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia" proves it's possible for octogenarian "rockers" to be funny without humiliating themselves. Then again, Young @ Heart is not above going for cheap yuks: Just check out the wheelchair- and hospital-gurney-packed video for "I Wanna Be Sedated." Pop oldsploitation may well be here to stay. Me, I hope I die before I end up on YouTube.