By half past nine, all of the pool tables at Bar Leucadian are taken, and fortysomething couples line the bar like birds on a wire. They are exposing an inordinate amount of cleavage and chest hair, and I watch as a man in a suit and gleaming leather shoes orders a drink. He looks around self-consciously at the others, who wear stonewashed jeans two sizes too small.
Most are turned toward the band, playing at the front under a surfing video and a sign that spells out “Illicit Behavior” in alternating colors of Day-Glo paint. Illicit Behavior is now several minutes into a Ted Nugent cover, and each musician — from the drummer pounding out the beat to the lead singer — is intensely focused. Their heads are down as they play, and when they look up, they look at each other, nodding in time to the beat. They don’t seem to mind that the dance floor is empty except for Sergio, a 22-year-old rocker in the heavy metal band Axson. He wears black lace-up leather pants with chains and has long, curly hair, which he shakes wildly while he repeatedly makes the heavy metal hand sign over his head.
Sergio stands in sharp contrast to the members of Illicit Behavior, who are a far cry from the undernourished-looking twentysomethings that usually skulk onstage, belting out angry lyrics. Most of the members of Illicit Behavior have receding hairlines and deeply lined faces. They wear baggy jeans and T-shirts. And they are each old enough to be Sergio’s father.
A man with white hair, shorts, and flip-flops tries to get the women at our table to dance, but the six of us shake our heads. “It’s usually a lot more wild than this,” says my friend Sarah, a neighbor of the lead singer, Marcus Matherly. Last month when Illicit Behavior played, women were flipping up their shirts and trying to jump onstage. Now I watch as several women — lined up hopefully against the wall — play with an inflatable microphone. It’s so large that when a woman holds it up, it hits her knees.
“Hey,” Matherly yells over to them after a Led Zeppelin cover. “Is that the biggest thing you’ve ever had between your legs?”
The musicians I listened to while I was growing up in the ’80s did not have receding hairlines or wrinkles. They had Mohawks and leather jackets. They partied all night, free of worries about how their children were doing in school — probably because they didn’t have kids. Most didn’t even have wives. But now it’s not unusual to see middle-aged men and women onstage, playing way past rock-star prime.
Bono is 47. Joe Walsh is 60, and Mick Jagger is 64. They are all still playing, mostly to sold-out crowds. Locally, quite a few bands with baby boomers at the mic play clubs monthly; many more play at weddings and corporate events.
“I know lots of other people doing this too,” says Phil Beaumont, who, at 40, is a former manager of God Machine and a musician and singer in Maquiladora, who have put out six CDs in the last decade.
Tim Mays, owner of the Casbah and widely regarded as the glue of the San Diego music scene, says that he sees older musicians in all kinds of bands, including rock, punk, metal, jazz, rockabilly, and country. “I think anyone out playing music that they love and enjoy playing is great — old or young. There are bands like X, TSOL, Adolescents, and others, who are all punk rock bands from the early ’80s that are still out playing, enjoying themselves, and drawing decent crowds.”
I ask Matherly, Illicit Behavior’s lead singer, why he still plays. “Hey, it’s not like I’m an athlete and past 35 I can’t play ’cause my body hurts too much,” he says. “With music, you’re never done. You can play till you’re 80. In fact, I sing better than I did in college. If you’re good at it and you love it, why not?”
John Adams, who plays guitar and keyboards in Illicit Behavior, says, “I’m 52 going on 18.” He’s been playing music since he was 5, and in addition to playing in Illicit Behavior, he works at Band Central Station, a music store in Vista he’s been involved with for the last 15 years and owned for 4. “I don’t see me quitting playing,” he says. “It’s just what I do. The music store makes my living, but it’s just something to see me between gigs.”
Matherly — who looks years younger than his actual age, 44 — believes that older people play in bands longer because it’s socially acceptable now in a way that it wasn’t 30 years ago. “In the ’70s, ’80s, and even the ’90s, rock and roll was about youth and anger. If you were 40, you were considered over the hill. Now there’s a resurgence of older rock bands — Yes, Genesis, the Police, Aerosmith — and all those guys are in their 60s.”
Another big change is in the music itself. John Adams explains his own musical version of evolution theory to me: musicians who played rock and roll in the ’50s and ’60s couldn’t keep up with the changing times and dropped out. “The sounds changed,” he tells me. “The amps got louder, the songs got more difficult than the three-chord that came out of the ’50s. Music evolved.”
Myhearpod.com, a company specializing in hearing aids for baby boomers, states on its website, “Baby boomers are the first generation to be exposed to electronically amplified sound. Perhaps a defining image of youth for this generation is that of booming drums and squealing electronic guitars played by rock bands like the Grateful Dead.”
A common denominator among many baby boomers playing rock and roll is that they grew up playing music in their homes. John Adams started piano at age 5, played drums in the school band when he was 9, and got into guitar when he was 13. Matherly’s parents were flower children in the ’60s, and he was introduced to Jimi Hendrix at a young age. “I was always around music,” he tells me. “My dad played guitar and had a great voice, and by the time I was 10, I discovered I had a voice and a gift in terms of being able to sing.”