from mockumentary to best rockumentary ever: young@heart.
For the comic perspective, which sees us all as ineluctably enmeshed in history, ultimately subsumes the revolutionary utopian perspective simply by locating it in the ebb and flow of history’s tides. After all, tomorrow never knows. …It remembers. – Nick Bromell
The documentary Young@Heart seems to be about old age, but as the film unfolds, it turns out that it is really about rock ‘n’ roll.
At first, you think the film is a gag. Is it mocking these retirees who dare to sing rock songs and other pop hits? It sure seems like it when director Walker George intersperses silly MTV-style videos of the chorus members in between his cinéma vérité.
But slowly, you start to realize that a deeper, more substantive comedy is at work in this film as it moves between the brink of death and the absurdity of life.
The film begins to display precisely the comedic perspective that Nick Bromell argues rock music acquired in the 1950s and 60s. Bromell contends that rock became the crucial cultural medium in which baby boomers developed a particular structure of feeling: an adolescent “double consciousness” that drew upon African-American expressive traditions to transform alienation into a deeper understanding of history and struggle. Rock, for Bromell, was not only about the tragically-messianic utopianism of 60s anti-authoritarianism, but also about a more profound “comic vision of reconciliation.”
Recovering his memories of coming of age to the sounds of Elvis, the Beatles, Dylan, and the whole rock tradition, Bromell writes about how the music awakened a consciousness of time, mortality, fluidity, and (with a nod to William James) all the implications of lifting the veil on the radically destabilizing pluralism of human experience.
From a later moment in the life cycle, trying to remember the 60s and why they were important in ways that are so easy to forget, Bromell writes that, “It is as if these songs’ own consciousness of the brevity of their vision and the futility of adolescence created a genie who could fly forward through time and greet me when I arrived here.” The music in Young@Heart shows how the awareness of “brevity” and “futility” that rock revealed to Bromell can even reappear later in life than middle age. In this case, it reappears for retirees who are older than the baby boomers themselves.
Reinvigorating what Lawrence Grossberg has called the rock formation when they sing everything from the Rolling Stones to James Brown to the Ramones to Cold Play to Sonic Youth, the members of this retiree chorus reverse the famous dictum from the Who: to rock is to in fact hoping to get old before you die. But you can only do this by embracing an adolescent defiance that, as Bromell contends, is busy being born precisely from the realization that it will fade, like the last notes of a song, into the flow of history itself.