Shoulder to shoulder with a multitude (15,000 in all), I am listening to White Heart, a contemporary Christian band playing at the Jesus Northwest music festival in Vancouver, Washington. I am standing in what would be a mud puddle if it were not six inches deep in wet sawdust, while all around me youthful bodies bob up and down like coconuts on an ocean swell. In the indigo sky, a sliver of moon has appeared. The stage above me is steaming in artificial purple fog, and music pounds so loud the drum beat threatens cardiac arrest.

The mostly teenage listeners seem deliriously happy. They are waving hands in the air; they are pressing toward the magnetic stage; they are mouthing the words—unintelligible to me—and I can hear a faint backwash of sound from the choir of thousands. As White Heart jumps, whirls, and slams out music like a crowd of dervishes, my memory is stirred. I remember this. This is the feeling you get when you have waited all day for the music; and now, while it booms out loud and wild, you are going to jump and howl and have a good time. This is a rock concert.

In my long-ago college years, I did this kind of thing. I went to Grateful Dead concerts; I heard Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Blue Cheer. Back then I recognized that some people regarded rock music as the low point of sensual irresponsibility—sex, drugs, and thumbing your nose at society. But for me, it was none of those. For me it was just fun. It was an experience—the experience of being young.

Now I am not so sure. I am 43 years old, my beard is mostly gray, and I am a father of a couple of almost-teenagers. I view my rock-and-roll past with some ambivalence. Perhaps the critics had a point.

At my shoulder is a chunky kid in a baseball cap. He ...

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