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The Good Listener: Am I Too Old To Go To Rock Shows?

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the pulverized shards of an Eli "Paperboy" Reed LP is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on how aging might affect your concert attendance.

Michaela writes via email: "I'm growing increasingly conscious of being among the oldest attendees at concerts lately. Is there a specific age at which I should stop going to indie-rock shows and just stay at home in my rocker?"

My colleague, Bob Boilen, is [REDACTED] years old, and I have confirmation that you, like most people, are considerably younger than he is. Now, imagine traveling back in time, interviewing your 22-year-old self and asking her whether she thinks she'll attend lots of concerts when she's Bob's age. You'd most likely get a puzzled look in return, because it'd be difficult for her to comprehend the concept of living that long.

There's a part of me that wants to cut off this answer right there — to leave the answer at, "Hey, you know who's old? Bob Boilen." But Bob is illustrative of a larger and, if you can believe it, even more important point.

I've been known to tell this story a lot, but hear me out. A year or two ago, while skipping from his desk to NPR's fourth-floor lounge to fetch himself an ice-cream sandwich — and, no, I'm not kidding — Bob tore a calf muscle. Doctors gave him a little device, kind of like a Razor scooter, on which to putter around, and it really cramped his style. The entire time he was healing, he complained that he could only go to one concert a night.

Maybe it's different when seeing bands is hardwired into your career; Jane Scott, a well-known music critic in Cleveland, was still writing about pop and rock shows into her 80s. But, really, if you want to go to indie-rock shows in your 40s, 70s, 90s, whatever, then why the hell shouldn't you? Will people assume you're the bassist's mom? Perhaps, but so what?

There are activities for which you're too old. Olympic gymnast, for example, is right out. Cello prodigy, contestant on Masterchef Junior, soapbox derby racer ... you're probably out of luck. Attending a concert is not one of those activities. So what we're really talking about here is your own self-perception; your own self-consciousness. You're wondering whether the indie-rock kids are scoffing behind your back while preening in their skinny jeans.

On one hand, they're probably not, because if they're that paranoid about people who don't fit in, then they're probably applying that obsession to themselves and not you. But if they are, then what's the worst that's going to happen? What are they going to do about it?

One of the great benefits of aging, and it's a big one, is that you are freed of the burden that is the empty and pointless pursuit of coolness. That ship has sailed; you're not cool, and you never will be. You've won! So enjoy the show.

Got a music-related question you want answered? Leave it in the comments, drop us an email at allsongs@npr.org or tweet @allsongs.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)