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Reunited and it feels so bad

When we buy into geriatric rock, prime talents pay the price

Sometimes, when I'm watching a group of money-grubbers like the Pixies, I'll take off my glasses and squint a bit. In a dark hall, and with a little imagination, time slips away. Suddenly, it's 1991. I'm surrounded by college chums, not aging attorneys and desperate house-husbands. And Frank Black isn't cashing in. He actually wants to be playing ''Here Comes Your Man."

But eventually my eye muscles get weary, and the picture sharpens. Here I am, a sucker like the rest of them, searching for a nostalgic jolt. I'm hopeless, willing to see '70s punk pioneers Television at the Paradise and '60s icons Simon and Garfunkel at a casino. If only the Andrews Sisters were around to bury the hatchet.

But this summer, I'm swearing off reunion rock. I don't care if Loggins & Messina offer a ride to their Bank of America Pavilion gig tomorrow in a souped-up El Camino, or if Pink Floyd allows me to sit on their giant, inflatable pig during ''Wish You Were Here." I'm out. Same goes for any show featuring Gang of Four, Cream, Judas Priest, the Eagles, or the Who.

Because somebody has to take a stand. How else can we stop the spread of this reunion rash?

You don't have to go to the Casey Kasem School of Economics to understand the temptation to re-rock, and why bands that insisted they'd never look back are suddenly eager to kiss and make up.

Jim Messina's most recent solo album, 1996's ''Watching the River Run," has sold 3,200 units in nine years, according to Nielsen SoundScan. A new Loggins and Messina compilation, released to coincide with their current tour, has moved 174,000 copies since May. Judas Priest's tenure with replacement singer Tim ''Ripper" Owens wrapped with a live CD in 2003 that has barely cracked 20,000 in sales. This year's ''Angel of Retribution," a reunion with Rob Halford, is at 150,000. Frank Black's 2003 ''Show Me Your Tears" has sold 20,000. A Pixies compilation put out last year has hit 118,000.

At least the Pixies were honest about their motives. When the '80s college rock darlings re-formed last year, they didn't offer any of the obvious reasons. There was no musical rediscovery. No Dr. Phil justification. No claims of newfound maturity.

No, the Pixies admitted they're in it only for the money.

''We've had this chip in our back pocket for a long time," Black told the Globe. ''We're cashing it in this year."

Black gets points for honesty. He doesn't get points for abandoning his mantra. In virtually every interview after the band dissolved, the singer would be asked about a reunion. No way, he said.

So what's the harm? Can't we just have fun with old songs?

Yes, and that's what karaoke machines are for. Going to an Eagles concert might seem innocent enough. But when you slap down $175 to hear a crusty take of ''Hotel California," you're supporting a business model that excludes new bands, new music, or even moderately successful aging musicians. Why would a promoter put together an innovative tour package that sells at $39 a ticket when he can wheel out Crosby, Stills & Nash for a guaranteed cash-in? New groups end up playing the Middle East, and artists such as John Hiatt, Gillian Welch, or Paul Westerberg fall deeper into indie label irrelevance.

What's worse is that we've not only started to buy tickets to see these sellouts, we've started to celebrate them. Bands like Styx and the Eagles were easy targets, even in their primes. The resurrections of Dinosaur Jr., Mission of Burma, Gang of Four, and the Pixies put the critics in a corner. They can't slam their aging heroes. Instead, there's a collective sense of justice. Finally, they think, these groups are getting what they deserve. Money and attention.

I prefer Bob Mould's take. He's one of punk rock's great voices, the leader of Husker Du, which broke up in the late '80s. Mould, whose artistic integrity has never been in doubt, could pull off a reunion without any questions. Instead, Mould is releasing another solo album and dismissing the constant inquiries about Husker Du.

''I don't feel like I'm in the same place in my life as I was when I was doing that music," Mould said by phone last week. ''I was in my late teens and early 20s and had a pretty nihilistic, explosive view of the world. At the age of 44, I'm actually pretty mellow and content."

But wouldn't a Husker hoedown bring in some serious coin?

''Do I want to make more money and suffer one more moment of my life with two people who hate my guts, or do I want to continue living a totally fun life?" said Mould. ''Real estate is a good investment, too."

Geoff Edgers can be reached at gedgers@globe.com.

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