AS WE BABY BOOMERS take over the country, moving into middle management and solid citizenship, it is worth asking why we have abandoned that jewel of our youth, that one creation which was truly ours: rock 'n' roll music.
Here we are, graying legions in our late 30s, the people who drove our parents nuts with Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Now we have a hand in running Washington, God help us, writing books and filling the newspapers, providing position papers, briefs and research data to those in the center ring if we aren't in it ourselves.
We used to be rockers, but most of us listen now to anything except current punk and new-rock music, the true descendants of the stuff we loved. We lap up soporific soft rock or wear our sequins to the disco or hum the commercialized pap that gags the airways, all of it mass-marketed into total predictability.
Workaholic movers and shakers ought to be pogoing every weekend, laughing at themselves with True Fax and the Insaniacs, reaffirming their ideals with the Clash and venting frustration with the Bad Brains. Current gut rock, like youth, is wasted on the young, who don't have the years of slogging work in the world behind them that one needs to appreciate it truly.
What was Elvis Presley, after all, but a demand that attention be paid to the outrageous? What was Mick Jagger but a step further? The gleeful amazement we felt at those first shimmies and leers was more than surging teen-age hormones. Rock became our code for new, modern, different -- something ours, a way of saying hey, listen to us too. Like Lear, we were going to do such things -- what they were yet we knew not -- but they would be the terrors of the earth. What could be more political than that?
And what is Jagger now, the great rock survivor who turns 40 this month, but proof that flouting convention without apology can convert convention? How quaint those early Elvis films look now; how rigid the society he helped us to ruin, bless him. And Jagger -- if he pooh-poohs the contribution of his sneer as so much fluff, all the better. The world has changed, and -- value judgments aside -- we did it.
So why doesn't the new music reach most of us? Punk and funk and New Rock groups are only saying the very same thing as our old rock did: the world has changed and attention must be paid. If you don't believe that, betake thyself to hear Pusillama or the Virgin Prunes or Wanabeast and prepare to be astounded, outraged, perhaps disgusted, but very definitely entertained. You will recognize the sex appeal, bravado, energy and decibel level; but computers, women's liberation, race relations, unemployment and politics are new ingredients.
There is humor and art and hope and cynicism along with ineptitude and idiocy as there always was; and there is more energy than you'll ever get from the Beach Boys. Kids haven't changed all that much.
But we have. A few theories about those who once were rock fans and have now abandoned the field:
* They secretly bought our parents' opinions and listened to rock out of rebellion only, not because it really turned them on. These folks chucked rock as they did long hair and beads as being incompatible with bank vice presidencies.
* They never really listened to the music. They were thinking as they danced about what came after the party. If they didn't hear it then, one wonders if they ever really hear anything now.
* They liked rock because it was In. This bunch took its tastes from Dick Clark; recently, it's been into disco, which -- at the very least -- causes cancer in laboratory animals.
* They're tired. A little bit older and a lot less bolder than they used to be, as Bob Seger would say; harassed and needing Valium more than additional excitement.
* They decided it wasn't "good music," had repetitive, boring rhythms, lacked sophisticated instrumentation and ignored creative tonal dynamics, so they now listen exclusively to pre-1900 classical music.
Well, to all these folks I say come back, baby; rock 'n' roll is still there with its revitalizing messages of energy and involvement and outrage, and if you didn't really buy it the first time you can try it again now. It's still just as amateurish and fun and often just as exciting as it -- and all of us -- used to be. What more can you ask?