Old Guys and Rock & Roll

Paul McCartney, at age 70, is a textbook example of how old guys can still rock.

It used to be very true that rock and roll was not made by old people. “Old” used to mean people over age 30. So what happened?

Bob Dylan (age 71) just released Tempest to glowing reviews – it should appear on the upper reaches of the Billboard album charts in a few days, but probably not at No. 1. Paul McCartney (age 70) is currently performing close to three-hour sets on his “On The Run” tour, which began last summer in New York City. Roger Waters (age 69) and Rod Stewart (age 67) are also touring, while relative youngster Bruce Springsteen (age 62) can’t be dragged off a stage for anything.

Paul Simon (age 70), Crosby, Stills & Nash (average age 69) and the Beach Boys (average age 70) have live DVDs and/or CDs from recent tours. Van Morrison (age 67) is about to release his 34th studio album, Born To Sing: No Plan B, in early October. Mark Knopfler (age 63) and ZZ Top (average age 60) have strong new albums out, Neil Young (age 66) is readying a new album and tour, and the Rolling Stones (average age 68) keep threatening to do something to celebrate their 50th anniversary. And you can’t stop Willie Nelson (age 79)!

So what gives? Is there something in the water?

Well, pretty much all of these guys mentioned above are big draws on the concert circuit so one can cynically say that the lure of the big bucks is enough to get these codgers out of their rockers. Nobody makes money off albums any more, so each of these acts will go on the road to support an album if they haven’t already. Hell, Dylan’s been touring constantly since the early 1980s.

You think maybe it’s an indication that music being produced today somehow doesn’t measure up to those classics of the past? Perhaps – nothing sends concertgoers to the restrooms/beer vendors faster than “a new song off our latest album.” Even superstars like McCartney and Dylan know better than to populate their concerts with new material.

And it’s tempting to say worthless stuff like “do you think we’ll be paying to see Bon Iver or Green Day live in 15 years?” Because unless you are a total idiot, you know the answer is yes. It may not be Bon Iver or Green Day specifically, but it could be that Weezer reunion or the surviving members of Mumford and Sons or the remnants of Radiohead.

Because it’s not necessarily about who is playing, but what they’re playing. It’s rock and roll, and despite what smartasses over the years keep saying, it’s not dead.

It’s pretty damn old, and it’s not pretty (take a close look at the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone). But rock and roll is still alive because we want it to be. The footsoldiers of rock and roll are sticking around because we want them to – the audience changes more than the artists, and as we discover new acts we like, we also go back and appreciate the past. My kids know more about the Beatles and the Stones and the Who than I ever did, when I was a teenager and those boys had brand-new songs on the radio every day.

Women seem to know better, they know when it’s time to fade away – although you can make a pretty good case for rockers like Joan Jett and Bonnie Raitt being here for quite a while. Pop artists are another thing entirely: Madonna has well overstayed her welcome and the decline of Katy Perry, Britney Spears, et. al. won’t be pretty.

Perhaps it’s best just not to think about these things. We’re all going to get to the end of the trail – literally and figuratively – one day. Rock and roll is here to distract us from that brutal truth, to keep us dancing until we can’t any more.

So. The Rolling Stones may tour next year? Don’t know about you, but I’m gonna buy a ticket. For a few hours, I’m gonna be young again.

One Response to “Old Guys and Rock & Roll”

  1. This is great. I’m usually pretty dismissive of reunions, retreads, and retros, but you make a convincing case.

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