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Paul McCartney is a major boomer bridge for Coachella


With Sir Paul, the older generation of rock casts a giant shadow over the Gen X version. But we hope the new generation will soon find its place in the desert sun too.

If you need proof that the generational divide that has defined American pop since the rock era is vanishing along with the rock era itself, look no further than the top of the bill for this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival: Paul McCartney headlines the main stage Friday. (The other listed name likely to cause maximum excitement belongs to Leonard Cohen, the 74-year-old Zen grandpa of the singer-songwriter clan.)

For most of its first decade, Coachella celebrated the indie-to-alternative sounds and styles that came after punk slapped down classic rock and gave the new kids their chance to lead. Sunday night's headliner, the Cure, is a nostalgia act for the alt-rock generation, while Saturday's mainstage closers, the Killers, is its idea of a classic rock band.

In the past, the top of the bill has been dominated by artists who, while not completely rejecting the influence of their elders, signaled the rise of a new generation, with new social and political concerns and an affinity for hip-hop and electronic music. Last year's appearance by Pink Floyd honcho Roger Waters began to alter that script.

Coachella founder Paul Tollett wanted to open younger ears to the music of an elder he appreciates, but he also must have known that Waters' success would help convince his peers that this was a safe event for them to play. Featuring legacy artists also helps break down the old idea of rock as youth music and makes it an inter-generational affair.

Baby boomer favorites rake in major profits on the touring circuit. That's one reason why Tollett booked the Eagles to co-headline Stagecoach, the "country Coachella," last year. While middle-aged rock fans are suffering the blows of the economic crash along with everyone else, they're more likely than most to save up for a big entertainment splurge featuring an old favorite. And they might be more familiar with layaway plans, like the one the fest just introduced.

McCartney defines the old-favorite category, as well as the cross-generational one: This year we'll probably see a whole crop of high school and college kids darting around the polo grounds trying to shake off their parents. Macca's recent releases, including the feisty 2007 solo album, "Memory Almost Full," and last year's installment of electronic project, the Fireman -- at Coachella, he'll play selections from that release, "Electric Arguments," which has earned him some new young fans -- have helped lighten the heavy burden of his Beatleness.

Signing up for this hippest of mainstream events was a smart next step, and the crowd's gonna love him: Even the snobbiest My Bloody Valentine-worshiping noise rocker or dance tent loyalist is bound to go "whoo!" if she's within hearing distance of "I Saw Her Standing There."

Having McCartney top the bill makes sound business sense, but it also says something about rock itself in its Götterdämmerung phase. Not only does rock no longer dominate popular culture worldwide, having long been eclipsed by hip-hop and Celine Dion, it's also past both its youth as an agent of rebellion and its midlife as a "temporary autonomous zone" for nonconformists, which made Coachella possible.

Now, rock music is an institutionally acknowledged art form whose elders are knighted by the queen (that's Sir Paul to you) and granted civilian honors (Cohen earned his nation's highest in 2003, when he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada).

When younger rockers shock, it's usually because they're personally unbalanced, not consciously transgressive. Much of this year's anticipatory whispering likely will be about Amy Winehouse, whom we all hope will be well enough to perform a full set. Artistically, Winehouse is an utter traditionalist. She's only a source of surprise, sadly, because of her weakness for chemicals.

With a bill that also includes Morrissey, Franz Ferdinand, the Knux and that exceedingly rare Cohen set, Coachella 2009 promises to be fun enough to stave off anxieties about how old and creaky rock culture has become. If the baby boomers must step on the Gen X dream even this long after its prime, at least Goldenvoice has engaged two light-footed and undyingly creative grandpas to do it.

One dream remains, though, and 2009 might have been the time to make it real. An African American rapper has never headlined Coachella. Lil Wayne, currently the biggest rapper in the world, is releasing a rock album this April. Who knows why this perfect timing didn't result in a Weezy headlining slot? Maybe it was never even a possibility.

There's always next year for the festival to truly burst the confines of the rock aesthetic. Let me humbly suggest Coachella veteran M.I.A. as a future headliner. After all, her global hip-hop vibe proved pretty helpful for "Slumdog Millionaire."

--Ann Powers

Click here for the complete lineup.

Photo by AFP/Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (14)

Having been to Coachella in 07, I can't imagine anyone over the age of 30 enjoying it, let alone 50 and 60-something McCartney fans. For the unintiated, here's what you're in for: half an hour long walks from your car to the entrance, standing in line for an hour to get in, desert heat, no free water, massive overselling of tickets, and inability to get near any stages. No thanks...

in a word ; " envy " Ms. Powers?

I think this is more of an indication that Coachella has jumped the shark, than any generational divides being bridged.

This just in: The term "jumped the shark" has jumped the shark.

I'm over 30. I go to Coachella every single year. I have the time of my life. Heat, lines and crowds are all tolerable. There IS free water (and bottled water is cheap).

Perhaps by "over 30" you mean "old at heart." It's rock'n'roll man, not a theme park. It requires some exertion of your brain and body to enjoy. If you're not willing to push either in order to experience the transcendent joy of a killer Coachella set, you don't belong there, plain and simple.

All I can say about McCartney is: don't forget to bring the rock. Oh, and remember that the Beatles taught millions of alt-rock / indie kids to love BritPop. If you throw out some tunes from Revolver or Rubber Soul, you will be welcomed with open arms.

As a retired rockmed doc, I have been exposed to every kind of musician available.

From THe Montreal Symphony to the Grateful Dead, and the Seattle Grunge

I would just like to quote two of Paul McCartney's Beatle buds.

Ringo Starr said a good song is always a good song.
John Lennon said that people think that Ringo is stupid, but Ringo is not stupid

Since we began we offered music as a way to express love, worship, tribal battle, tell story, and exorcise our bones and muscles.

It does not matter what kind of music you hear,or what county.

It is the form of offering an expression of the soul.

In physics when light moves it creates sound.

We are light and sound. Different people express different colors.
These various tunes create a sound garden. Not every one is a rose.

In the past Psalm were written to song. From King David to Andreas Wollenweider, tunes have been used to calm the King and the savage beast.

All of us are livning our own melody.

All of these notes on an esoteric level, should raise our spirit.

The celestial music of the spheres , or the unstruck music, is 5 reverberations away from the TRUE SOUND.
Close your 9 holes of the body,open your tenth door, or third eye, light will appear. THe light will become ten sounds. When you hear the big bell, you will really be able to travel.

Who's this Paul retard? We all know that Soulja Boy is the new hope for music!

What a lot of you are missing is the genius in Goldenvoice's booking practices over the last couple of years.

While it might seem like Coachella is a hassle for old-school boomers coming to see Waters, McCartney, etc, it's not so much.

For one, a singe-day ticket for Friday @ Coachella with McCartney is about half the price of a regular Macca gig. With those long boomer dollars, a couple of nights in Palm Springs and (essentially) a half-price McCartney ticket sounds like a fun weekend. It's not like they're going to attend the fest on Sat or Sun, and they'll show up late on Friday just for Paul. In the end, it's a win-win for that crowd (which is similar to last year's Roger Waters draw and to some extent, Prince).

I just hope that when I'm in my 50s and acts like TV on the Radio and MIA play the Coachellas of the future and the new kids scoff, I'll be among the smug old bastards that can afford to drop in for a night or two, party like I did when I was a kid and revel in the nostalgia of it all (from the comfort of a 5-star hotel, of course!). I mean, should boomers get to have ALL of the fun? Well, they did spend all of the money...

M.I.A and Lil Wayne will never be Coachella headliners. The only acts that will ever have a chance to headline are Outkast, a Dre and Snoop collab appearance, Jay-Z, Kayne, or if 2Pac and Biggie were resurrected from the dead.

@Alex: Arbitrary much? Lil' Wayne could absolutely be a headliner. While he'd def endure the same subtle racism directed at Jay-Z for headlining Glastonbury, he'd pull MAD kids. As for M.I.A.--are you kidding me? You seem to have a very myopic view, my friend...

I'm 25 and seeing Paul McCartney is my main reason for attending Coachella this year. Let's hope it will be a great concert--lots of younger people love the Beatles, and Paul's recent release, "Electric Arguments", is definitely a good album!!

McCartney is living history. If you have a chance to see him perform, go!

I would rather hang out with older people who love the Beatles then idiots who were born in the late eighties and can't appreciate what means to see one of the best song writers in history perform. I am in my early 20's, have gone to Coachella many times, and am so excited to see Paul McCartney that I could burst. I hope everyone else my age doesn't ruin it for me.

Those who can't appreciate McCartney or question his participation at Coachella - are simply NOT into Music. Perhaps they look to Coachella as a way to sneak a cigarette, get high where mommy and daddy can't see them, maybe even get drunk Woo Hoo!!!
These fools wouldn't let Michelangelo into an art festival, or Walt Disney into an animation exhibit. Are you nuts? Would you question Motzart if he were available? Ignore greatness if you choose but don't even try to pretend it's anything but ignorance. It's ok.to be ignorant - that's why we go to festivals and museums - to EXPAND and EXPERIENCE new things. Those of you not familiar with the original Master "P" (oh, sorry "Sir" Paul) should be welcoming even MORE the chance to experience a legitimate historical musical legend. You need it more than those of us who've had the pleasure.
Oh, and if a miracle happened and you got the chance to see Jackie Robinson or Babe Ruth play ball, Muhammed Ali fight, Elvis or Houdini - don't scoff at them either. .


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