For pretense is the name of this game. As Zep fans explained to me, they have substantive jobs, they pay taxes, they hold marriages together, they raise kids. Nothing "adolescent" about such lives of responsibility and care -- nothing, that is, except their own deeply ingrained, metaphysical aversion to seeing themselves as ... adults; as the very backbone of a hidebound "Establishment"; as, in the words of a 40ish attorney who reverently reviewed the Zep concert for The Washington Post, a bunch of "corporate stiffs."
What is ironic is that the rock 'n' roll soundtrack to which these 21st-century Babbitts live their lives came into existence as the martial music of a youth revolution to overturn the Establishment; to denigrate corporate stiffs; to smash monogamy and push promiscuity; and to mark middle-class duty, whether civilian or military, as a chump's game.
So what's it all about? According to my reader comments, there's only one alternative to Led Zeppelin et al: Death by "muzak." There's only one alternative to Robert Plant: Barry Manilow. There's only one alternative to rocking out: Being "a robot."
What a choice. But such is the truncated range of human possibility as whittled down in our post-grown-up era by the forces of Hollywood, the music biz and Madison Avenue. They have convinced us to see ourselves as either wild or boring; cool or uncool; unzipped or straitlaced; at least secretly licentious or just plain dull. Give me Zep or give me death! As one 48-year-old Zep fan commented: "I'm about as conservative as they come, but conservative doesn't translate to `Fuddy Duddy'!"
Oh yeah? A great irony here is that there is nothing more conventional -- dare I say corny? -- than, after all these post-adolescent decades, still running with the Zep-loving, air-guitar-playing masses. Mavericks by the tens of thousands, they now conform to the pose of the rebel just as Babbitt once conformed to role of civic booster. In other words, the Babbittry still exists, all right; but today's Babbitts simply pretend it doesn't. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll rules, dude -- even in the "work place cubicle" where my columns are now boycotted.