Columns, Opinion

SELIBER: The kids are alright

The Who, that great rock ‘n’ roll band of yore, put on a fantastic show at the TD Banknorth Garden Oct. 24. My friends and I were in the balcony, section 306, and there was no place in Boston I would rather have been during those few exhilarating hours with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. Those old-time British rockers are in their mid-60s and half-deaf, but Pete still relishes his swinging guitar moves and Roger can still pull off that primal scream at the climax of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ They have been called the greatest live band of all time, a reputation they make every effort to maintain.

Seeing them pound through their greatest hits, I recognized clearer than ever that even as they’ve matured as people, their music has always been the voice of a generation younger than their own-rebellious, angry, suspicious of authority figures and of aging in general. Their entire catalogue was captured in that one immortal lyric, ‘I hope I die before I get old,’ from ‘My Generation,’ a line Townshend regrets he ever wrote but never fails to play.

Forty years from their prime, The Who will remain a culturally important band as long as there is a young generation of Americans who don’t think their elders give them enough respect. At least since the term ‘teenager’ was coined shortly after World War II, that group has always existed in one incarnation or another. The leather jackets and mop tops of the 1960s have since been replaced by the iPod and YouTube and the moniker has evolved from ‘Boomer’ to ‘X’ to ‘Millennial,’ but it’s still the same old story. The wizened old codgers view their posterity with disdain and a certain fear:’ ‘If children are the future, I’m taking the next Greyhound to the past.’ Young people return the sentiment in kind, wanting the headiness of growing up without the headaches of growing old.

President-elect Barack Obama inherits an America he seeks to change, but America has changed more since his campaign began than even he could have ever anticipated.

The 2008 election provided a venue for every conceivable rift in the American character to clash, but the most salient struggle of all was generational. The question of race played a colossal role in the build-up to Tuesday, Nov. 4, but racial politics was more of an inextricably linked component of this election’s overarching theme, the open warfare between old and young. The old guard versus the new kid on the block.

On the surface, it was only natural that a race between men 25 years apart would bare tinges of generational resentments. The 72-year-old warrior often referred to the 47-year-old neophyte derisively as a ‘young man,’ who fired back by calling the septuagenarian ‘erratic’ and ‘losing his bearings.’ However, the heart of this melee was not limited to two ambitious senators. It was fought in the streets, town halls and voting booths across America. The fight has raged for decades, always becoming more pronounced when voting is involved, and this time, by God, the young’uns have finally notched a victory.

At the dawn of this epic campaign we were asked, ‘Is America ready for a black president?’ Let’s not kid ourselves: That question was not directed at college students. Anyone under 30 who votes against a black candidate on purely racial grounds is a walking, talking anachronism ‘-‘- a mere vessel for the dying values of his parents or grandparents. Needless to say, we teenage and 20-something hooligans are not free of our own prejudices, and a mammoth majority of our elders are sane, respectful folk. But make no mistake: The issue of electing a black president was an issue exclusively because enough of America’s old and middle-aged characters ‘-‘- the Jim Crow leftovers ‘-‘- just couldn’t rid themselves of their archaic views that the rest of us have either shaken or never possessed. How gratifying, then, to learn there weren’t enough of them left to hold back the tide of history.

Of course, an enormous heap of credit goes to the youth who came before us ‘-‘- principally the civil rights heroes of the ’60s and ’70s and all their kin ‘-‘- who provided us the foundation for an integrated, multicultural society as harmonious as any in America’s ever-evolving history. The reason today’s myriad ethnic and cultural groups get along so well (comparatively speaking) is little more than we’re so used to each other. We have much work to do, but that’s an issue for another day.

Now is the time for celebration ‘-‘- not about politics, for we don’t know what lies around the bend ‘-‘- but simply for the idea that youthful idealism is not a phase that everyone grows out of at a certain age, and that maturity and cynicism are not the same thing. The youth today is a powerful force in American life, the backbone of a new wave of progress, and not the teenage wasteland Pete Townshend worried about all those years ago.

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