---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 22:09:12 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Hope I Play as I Get Old
February 24 2002
Hope I Play as I Get Old
REBELS OF THE '60S AND '70S SEE NO HYPOCRISY IN THEIR
NEW ROLES AS ROCK'S ELDER STATESMEN: THEY'RE ARTISTS FIRST.
By GEOFF BOUCHER
Retirement is not forced on the aging lions of literature or on art
gallery heroes. Classical composers, film directors and architects see no
job jeopardy written in their wrinkles. In jazz, folk and the blues,
performers seem only more elemental as they perform on into their autumn
Ah, but for rock stars, the passing decades present a thornier
proposition. Rock was born in the 1950s as the most rebellious,
disposable and youthful squawk of them all, and by the end of its first
decade it boasted a considerable streak of debauchery and generational
antagonism--not the type of forum that seemed likely to someday create
its own wealthy elder statesmen. But somewhere between Bill Haley and
Bill Gates, that is exactly what happened.
And it has led to something no one would have envisioned in the Summer of
Love: the world's first relevant 60-year-old rock star. Bob Dylan's "Love
and Theft" is nominated for best album at the 44th annual Grammy Awards
this week and was just named the best album of 2001 in a Village Voice
poll of more than 600 U.S. music critics, a good number of them half his
age. Dylan, as he has done so often, is leading the way among his peers
in an artistic quest; this time around, it's to fashion later-in-life
success in a field that traditionally has found its axis in youth.
Live fast and die young? Don't tell the Rolling Stones, now gearing up
for their 40th anniversary tour, or 54-year-old Carlos Santana, now
looking to follow up the biggest success of his career, or 56-year-old
Neil Young, who has become a touchstone figure to a new generation of
rock collaborators. And right behind those 1960s-era names is an even
larger horde of 1970s stars. The situation creates an intriguing
generation gap between the genre's older voices and its younger ears.
"Of course age has to do with the way we're going to hear music and the
way someone one is going make it," says Christian Hoard, a 22-year-old
freelance journalist in New York who was among the younger voters in the
Voice poll. Hoard included Dylan's disc on his ballot, along with far
younger artists Jay-Z and the White Stripes, but says Dylan is not the
norm among classic rock figures. "I don't listen to a lot of people in
Dylan's age bracket. They're talking about things I don't necessarily
relate to and drawing on styles I'm probably not terribly interested in."
Hoard also admits he views many of the aging rockers with a jaundiced eye
and echoes many peers his age with this take: "Mick Jagger looks great
for his age, but there's something a little ridiculous about him being
waifishly thin and just trying to rock out all the time.... I'm not
saying that's off-limits to these people, but trying to recapture youth
may not be the right way to go about continuing your rock 'n' roll
It has become common to mock the rock graybeards and use their famous
youth anthems against them ("Hope I die before I get old" is now a rote
reference in any Who concert review), and in many cases it's appropriate,
with the glut of "classic" rock tours chugging from arena to arena on the
wispiest fumes of nostalgia. But there is also a case to be made that
Dylan and his most talented peers are exceedingly fascinating artists to
watch today because they are trying to reconcile their youthful view of
rock and their current career status.
"I viewed rock as a young person's music," says the Eagles' Don Henley,
reflecting with a chuckle on his worldview as a teen. "I was young and
rebellious. I thought I would be well done before I was the age of 30....
Somewhere in the 1960s, the motto became 'Live fast, die young.' If you
wanted to be elevated to that great pantheon of artists that are
eternally young, then the thing to do was OD. I consider myself lucky. So
do my bandmates. We came out the other side. Now I much prefer the idea
of getting old. I want to be around to see what happens."
No one begrudges Henley, 54, and other veteran performers long lives, but
there are a number of observers who would rather see them put down their
guitars and drumsticks--or at least abstain from renting "Baba O'Reilly"
and other classic songs of age angst to computer and car companies for
advertisements. The tenor of the criticism is usually mocking. An
example: When the Rolling Stones launched their "No Security" tour a few
years ago, it was instantly and widely nicknamed the "Social Security"
tour--not just by naysayers, but by people working on the tour.
Whole books have been written on the topic, including "Rock 'Til You
Drop," by John Strausbaugh, which argues that the Stones and other
maturing icons are betraying the rock ideals they once personified and,
worse, have become cultural criminals by presenting themselves in
increasingly nostalgic and corporate settings.
For Bonnie Raitt, those criticisms simply ring hollow, especially when
applied to the most ambitious of the veteran rock artists. The
52-year-old singer has longtime ties to the blues and folk worlds, where
performers have the reverse problem--youth has the credibility challenge.
How, she wonders, could anyone want a 56-year-old Eric Clapton or
60-year-old Paul Simon to take a seat because they have passed some
arbitrary age limit?
"There's strong ageism in rock," Raitt says. "When people write about
other parts of culture, about Philip Glass or Jackson Pollock or Allen
Ginsberg, the preeminent thing said about them through the years is not
about their age. With poets no one says, 'Wow, even though you're an old
geezer, you came up with a good rhyme.'
"Maybe it has to do with sex and rebelliousness and when people become
the establishment they're no longer able to be rebels or they seem like
they're hypocritical. But I disagree. The counterculture has to do with
state of mind, not the number of wrinkles you have. Rock has always had a
sexuality to it, and as a culture we've had some problems viewing people
as sexual beings as they move on in life, which is ridiculous."
Bob Merlis, the dean of record label publicists before he left Warner
Bros. Records last year, remembers a cartoon he saw decades ago in the
back pages of a magazine. It showed a sad-looking, mop-topped, wrinkled
fellow and a caption: "A 40-year-old rock star."
"At the time, that was a ludicrous concept, and now Bono and Axl Rose are
[past] 40," he says. "Twenty years ago, even, the idea of a 60-year-old
rock star was something to ridicule, something that wasn't even
plausible. But you have to remember the stars aren't the only ones
maturing. You have 60-year-old rock fans now too."
Indeed, a considerable number of the music fans of the 1960s did not turn
away from their music passion in the way that previous generations
"outgrew" the music of their youth. Surveys by the Recording Industry
Assn. of America, for instance, show that one in three rock music buyers
is older than 35 and that 14% of the genre's consumers are older than 45.
That is due in large part to the cultural legacy of Dylan and the
Beatles. More than any other performers, they raised the artistic
ambition of rock and pop, and in doing so led a movement that made the
music less disposable.
In the 1950s, most of the top rock stars tried to recycle and repackage
their hits, and restricted their subject matter to the most inane of
themes. Their approach was not unlike that of jingle writers, although
the spirit and energy of their music cannot be discounted, says Phil
Ramone, the veteran record producer who has helmed projects for Billy
Joel, Simon and others. "The beat of the business was that you were going
to get thrown away at 30," Ramone says. "Only the Sinatras and Crosbys
and jazz performers were expected to stay around."
The stakes changed in the mid-1960s, and down the road members of the "My
Generation" generation are not willing to let go of the big sensation of
their youth. They also have the money to pay for triple-digit concert
tickets, lavish boxed sets of CDs and coffee-table books that present
their beloved rock music in trappings more black tie than tie-dyed.
"Whether that's good or not," Merlis says, "depends on if you're a fan."
There are plenty of fans, no doubt, but how many of them are kids? The
most avid music consumers today remain young people. The sales of Britney
Spears and 'N Sync and Eminem far outstrip those of any of the 1960s-era
stars still on the scene. "Love and Theft," for instance, has sold about
610,000 copies since its release on Sept. 11, a total that the Backstreet
Boys have been known to match in a single day. While a healthy number of
thirtysomethings buy, say, Sting's recent hit album, the general rule is
that the older the artist, the older the audience.
The most noticeable and telling exceptions to that marketplace trend are
"Supernatural" by Santana and "1" by the Beatles, two of the best-selling
albums in the past five years (there is also the forever-young audience
of Aerosmith, but more on that later). "Supernatural" teamed guitar hero
Santana and his band with an eclectic mix of young artists for clever
duet duty that gave the veteran an easier time with radio programmers and
invaluable airplay in a range of formats. Armed with radio hits such as
"Smooth," Santana found that his age was suddenly a boon, creating a
comeback story and career coronation that, in this case, climaxed with a
Grammy for best album (it also apparently inspired veterans Mick Jagger,
Run-DMC and Willie Nelson to each assemble new albums of their own
featuring a raft of young collaborators).
In the case of "1," the Beatles' package of No. 1 hits, the consumers
buying the disc included a fair-sized contingent of fans in their 20s and
30s, which suggests (as does the success of classic rock radio) that old
rock ages far better in our culture than old rockers.
As a concert endeavor, the most famous 1960s and 1970s music acts enjoy
business that is typically steady and, in some cases, spectacular. The
top-grossing tours in recent years are almost all veteran acts from the
1960s and 1970s (the Stones, 54-year-old Elton John, 52-year-old Joel,
52-year-old Bruce Springsteen, etc.), and a whole middle tier of the
concert business is devoted to classic-rock acts, even ones with lineups
that bear little resemblance to their glory-days memberships.
The economics and allure of nostalgia can be stifling for the more
restless artists among the veteran acts, such as David Bowie, 54, who for
a time tried to quarantine his past by refusing to play his oldest and
most defining hits in concert. Henley observes that on some nights,
singing "Desperado" one more time is akin to "sharp needles in the eyes,"
although he adds that the guaranteed emotional response from the audience
for the forlorn Eagles hit quickly takes the pain out of the process.
To blunt those artistic needles, a segment of the performers who first
rose up in 1960s and 1970s has also pushed off into exotic sonic
frontiers, be it the world music safaris of Simon and 52-year-old Peter
Gabriel, 50-year-old Sting's explorations of jazz, or the stranger,
darker landscapes mapped by 52-year-old Tom Waits and 59-year-old Lou
Reed. Those are all artists who get serious inspection and respect from
critics and fellow musicians of all ages, but there is considerable
reason to suspect none of those artists will again match the commercial
or cultural impact achieved by their work in past decades. The pursuit of
relevance and/or sales takes the veteran artists in very different
directions. One of the most interesting trajectories has been that of
Aerosmith, the 1970s band that survived the life of rock excess and, by
the 1990s, had salvaged its career by allying itself with young producers
and songwriters and embracing the 1980s music video boom.
Aerosmith may draw more of today's young fans than any other 1970s act
and is a still-familiar part of the MTV culture that defines today's pop.
Guitarist Joe Perry credits that to the band's willingness to change with
the times, even if it meant tamping down their egos to allow young
collaborators to shape their songs. It hasn't always been easy, though,
for Perry, now 51, to wear a young man's clothes for a living. "I was
about 35 when it hit me," Perry says. "Is this any way for an adult to
behave? What kind of role model am I to my kids? Does this mean anything?
I felt stranded."
The band's comeback success sustained him, but sometimes the countless
performances of the old familiar hits are a challenge.
"If I have to play 'Walk This Way' on another national broadcast, I'll
probably throw up," Perry says. "I mean, if all we got to do was sing
those old songs, I don't know if I could do it. The fans love it, and
when we play them, it's almost a tribal thing that goes beyond the notes
played. That I don't get sick of. And where would I be without those
Lot of water under the bridge,
Lot of other stuff too
Don't get up gentlemen
I'm only passing through
--"Things Have Changed" by Bob Dylan
Those lyrics are from the Oscar-winning song that served as a centerpiece
in 2000 in "Wonder Boys," a film that is not about aging rock stars but
does hold some insights into the challenges they face. When director
Curtis Hanson set about adapting the Michael Chabon novel to the screen,
he knew he wanted a song that would capture the "emotions, frustrations
and fears" of the central character, a middle-aged literary professor
grappling with writer's block, an unraveling personal life and a quirky
protege who reminds him of his own robust creative past. Hanson's first
hope was to get Dylan to provide the music, and after seeing early cuts
of the movie, the singer signed on.
Reflecting on the lyrics, Hanson hears threads of meaning about age and
art and withstanding the rigors of the years. He also calls Dylan the
"quintessential wonder boy."
"We wanted a song that applied to all of us, all of the wonder boys, male
and female and every age--everyone who is trying to retain through the
years the capacity to care and to be our best no matter how things
conspire to wear us down," Hanson says.
"The themes at the heart of this movie dovetail with this discussion [of
aging rock stars].... Rock has changed as far as what it means and what
it's an expression of. Obviously when you have somebody who has been
doing it that long, it is no longer the so-called music of rebellious
youth that's misunderstood by the parents as it was when it came up. It's
a different part of our culture now."
Is there any downside to having an old guard redefine what was once so
edgy? "I don't think there's a downside to artists that continue to
challenge themselves and their audience," Hanson says. "I mean, why
shouldn't Neil Young be writing new songs?"
The new songs by the best of the veteran artists are adding later-in-life
themes to the rock songbook, and there is no clearer example than the
recent work of wonder boy Dylan. "Love and Theft" not only challenges the
mundane definitions of rock (it creates a feel of vintage Americana with
its country, bluegrass, and blues shadings), its core messages and images
are darkly honest about a life nearly four decades removed from "Highway
61 Revisited." If Dylan's previous disc, "Time Out of Mind," winner of
the best album Grammy for 1997, was about an aging troubadour who saw no
end to the road ahead, the newer, more challenging work presents a man
who suspects he may be running out of pavement but reacts, in turns, with
playfulness, soulful reflection and intellectual edge.
Dylan is not the only veteran who infuses current work with the long-view
of middle age and beyond. Be it Paul McCartney's recent musical farewell
to his late wife, Clapton sharing his maturing view of his relationship
with his father, or Henley's ruminations on marriage and parenting, the
artists are accompanying their fans on the walk of life.
"It's good to have music as an outlet," Henley says. "Just because people
turn 30 or 40 or 50 doesn't mean they should stop listening to music.
There are still things out there that can be searched out. Things that
give pleasure and even spiritual nourishment to some degree. Music is
good for more than just partying.... You have to write what you know.
That was the wonderful thing about the Beatles. They grew and they
brought their audience with them. We grew with them. We went on spiritual
journeys with them."
The journey continues. This summer, McCartney joins Dylan and Simon in
the 60s (the age group, not the decade), and Jagger and Keith Richards
will reach the milestone age next year. In 2013, perhaps, the world may
see Jagger shimmying to "Start Me Up" to celebrate his 70th birthday. If
so, some fans will smile and marvel at the years gone by, and others will
cringe and wonder where rock went wrong. And there will also be more than
a few musicians cheering the old boy on for purely personal reasons.
"Hey, I'd love it," Aerosmith's Perry says. "As long as the Stones keep
going, that means we aren't the oldest ones out there."
Geoff Boucher is a Times staff writer.
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