Although the usual terms are "renaissance," "revolution," or "movement" to describe the resurgence in interest in old school RPGs, I think it's more properly called a "counter-reformation," as it's at least in part an attempt to "push back" against what are seen as uncongenial developments in the hobby. Consequently, some of its more vocal proponents -- myself among them -- are apt, for rhetorical reasons, to exaggerate certain aspects of the Old Ways. A good example of this can be seen in the way that "cheap death" and "expendable characters" are often emphasized as key elements of old school play, often to the detriment of the very points we're trying to make about how RPGs have changed over the years.
In the old days, the death of a player character was not a rare occurrence, but it was far more common at the beginning of a character's career than later on. That is, low-level characters did in fact die quite easily and regularly; their mid to high-level counterparts, however, did not die anymore frequently than most PCs created nowadays. Certainly they might run afoul of a save or die effect of some sort, but it was rare that a character stayed dead unless his player had tired of playing him for some reason.
In remembering our early experiences of gaming, we probably remember the deaths of many ill-fated low-level characters before we finally hit upon the character who, through a combination of luck, skill, and perhaps referee mercy, managed to make it past 3rd level, but do we actually remember those dead characters? With very exceptions, I can't recall the name of almost any of the poor schmucks who were killed by being turned into a pin cushion by kobolds, level drained by wights, dissolved by green slime, or just falling into too deep a pit trap -- not unless their death was particularly memorable in some other way. I don't expect I'm unique in this regard.
Part of the reason we don't remember those dead characters is that because, in old school games, most of them weren't characters, not really anyway. Becoming a "real" character was something one earned through play. Prior to 3rd or 4th level, it was generally unwise to get too attached to a PC, as he was both mechanically fragile and sufficiently lacking in the experiences from which a character is made. Characters are only truly born after they've survived a few adventures. The kind of detachment necessary to undertake this kind of play is made easier with random generation in my opinion. When you sit down at a table without any preconceptions about the kind of character you want to play and see what the dice give you, it's a lot less traumatic when that character suddenly dies in play than if you provide him with an extensive background, personality, and goals due to careful thought beforehand.
That's why I think old schoolers are right to emphasize random character generation as a cornerstone of our preferred style of play. One can distance oneself from such characters sufficiently so that the referee can feel little compunction about letting the dice fall where they may. A closer bond with one's character is something that, in my experience, only grows over time, after the experience of surviving the many things that resulted in the deaths of previous characters. Then one can go ahead and start fleshing out the character further, creating a "living" alter ego, because, despite all the chest thumping and machismo, even mid-level old school D&D characters are very resilient and, when they do die (or get level drained or whatever), it's not that hard to "fix" things if one's willing to make the effort.
In short, I sometimes think we exaggerate the deadliness of old school play, or at least misrepresent the nature of that deadliness. Simultaneously, I think we sell short the importance of random character generation as a necessary corollary to conveying the kind of flavor we prefer. To my mind, the two go hand and hand and I must say, based on Jeff's report, that it sounds as if Goodman Games's DCC RPG gets at least this aspect of old school play. I find that cheering, honestly, and I hope it's something that we collectively might do a better job of explicating.