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‘Former rocker’ still rocks on

In Bob Seidenstein’s August 7 column, “If you ain’t rockin’ it, don’t be knockin’ it,” he dismisses the assertion of a highly published neuroscientist because, I’m afraid, I used an ambiguous term in a guest commentary article published on July 28 (“We all love our teenage tunes best”) in describing the neuroscientist as a “former rocker.”

This began with Mr. Seidenstein’s July 24 column, “Schlock and roll,” in which he discusses some of his favorite music, the genre for which dates back to his youth. To me the issue isn’t the genre, but the fact that it dates back to his youth. Without trying to sound like my father, the former Big Band drummer who had nothing nice to say about any form of music that came about after World War II, I referred to Daniel J. Levitin’s 2006 publication, “This Is Your Brain On Music,” in which he says it’s perfectly normal to have a passion for music you learned about during your teenage years because of how the adolescent brain develops.

As an example he mentions those with Alzheimer’s disease who seem to have no problem remembering songs they learned at 14.

My intent was a subtle message to all the generations of readers out there that there’s nothing wrong or unusual about growing up thinking the music you may have danced to at your prom has a certain place in your heart. So go ahead and enjoy what you like, but try not to get upset if your kids enjoy something different.

However, in Mr. Seidenstein’s rebuttal, “If you ain’t rockin’ it, don’t be knockin’ it,” he defends the honor of rock ‘n’ roll as if I had attacked it.

As opposed to the notion that it has anything to do with the way brains develop, he wrote, “As far as theories go, it sounds like a good one. But it’s not one I agree with – at least not when it comes to me and my peers and our music. I think the reason we still love old rock ‘n’ roll is because, no matter how you cut it, it’s flat-out fabulous.”

Later on he writes, “Mr. Levitin is a neuroscientist, which gives him lots of creds. But in my book, being a FORMER rocker takes those creds away.”

This is where I think we have a misunderstanding. I used the term “former rocker” to describe the neuroscientist’s professional life as opposed to his musical tastes. It’s not like he “outgrew” rock music, threw out his entire Beatles collection and moved on to something like experimental music a la John Cage. He instead got into a band right after college in the San Francisco area that “became moderately well known,” got to record in a 24-track studio and hear their recordings played on local rock radio stations.

Fascinated by the whole recording process, after the group broke up he became a recording engineer and record producer where his ear became sensitive enough that he could listen to a record and tell you what brand of recording tape was used on the session.

As far as I know, Mr. Levitin is still a rocker at heart. It’s just that he doesn’t make his living performing it any longer; hence, the term “former rocker.” My apologies for any confusion the term may have caused. If I could do it over I’d write, “Mr. Levitin, prior to becoming a neuroscientist, played full time in a popular rock band in the San Francisco area before working for 10 years as a record producer and recording engineer.”

I nevertheless enjoyed reading Mr. Seidenstein’s take on what the local music scene was like during the early years of rock ‘n’ roll, and I chuckled at his notion that the term “adolescent brain development” could be an oxymoron.

While teaching at Jefferson Community College in Watertown I put on about a dozen concerts as the director of the college’s jazz/rock ensemble, usually playing along with them on lead guitar. My favorites were usually the Chuck Berry songs I’d arrange for them such as “Roll Over, Beethoven” and “Run Rudolph, Run.”

Of all the musicals I’ve played, “Grease” is my favorite from a guitarist’s point of view. It may not be the first one I’d want to go see, but it’s definitely the first one I’d want to play for.

So, in a way, I guess I’m a former rocker too.

Steve Lester lives in Lake Placid where he is the music director at St. Eustace Church and the owner of Lake Placid Music.

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