The old Rocker wore his hair too long,
wore his trouser cuffs too tight.
Unfashionable to the end --- drank his ale too light.
Death's head belt buckle --- yesterday's dreams ---
the transport café prophet of doom.
Ringing no change in his double-sewn seams
in his post-war-babe gloom.
Jethro Tull – Too Old To Rock ‘n Roll: Too Young To Die
Ian Anderson wrote these words as he approached his 30th birthday. Hippies in the US and Mods and Rockers in the UK, they were the post war generation who wanted change but weren’t sure how to get it. Now Anderson found himself about to be enshrined in the club he rebelled against – 30! Chuck Berry was 32 when he crowned himself Johnny B. Goode yet that fact was lost on this new generation. Bo Diddley was on the cusp of 30 when he declared “I’m am man” and asked “Who Do You Love?” He was 32 and when he released “Mona.” Bill Haley was staring down the barrel of 30 when he released “Rock Around the Clock.” The dirty truth is teenagers were shaking it to old men in their 30’s ever since Alan Freed coined the phrase “Rock ‘n Roll.”
We all survived that 30 threshold, But in the 80’s came the dreaded 40. The Icons from the 60s who were still making records: Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, Jerry Garcia, were all turning 40 and the question was raised again: How old is too old? We got some relief when Don Henley went back to his summer haunt and found the “deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.” Could it be we could have careers, be responsible and still rock ‘n roll? The Grateful Dead made further speculation moot. “I will get by, I will survive.” Jerry passed on a few years later. No one will deny it was the bitter fruit of a lifestyle that no doubt shaved substantial time off the back end of his life.
Thank goodness for the Rolling Stones releasing Voodoo Lounge because it trampled down the “50” argument before it began. Grunge was fading into “alternative” (that’s what happens when you label your music, by the way. You have to keep relabeling the box). The Who greeted the new millennium still a much coveted concert ticket.
In the dawn of the second decade of the 21st century everyone’s too old. Depending on the blog/facebook page you read it seems The Who and the Rolling Stones embarrassed themselves at their Superbowl halftime gigs. Really? I thought they looked pretty good in the most trying of situations. The sound check is the night before, then the stage is disassembled only to be hurried together in 8 minutes and you play. It’s never the same as it was the previous night. Would Mick have been easier to accept if he pranced in a $2K business suit instead of spandex? If Pete ditched the leather jacket for Armani would it have gone over better?
John Gotti said “In the end all we have is memories.” I guess that’s never truer than in Rock ‘n Roll. In the end you have to fight you’re fans’ memories. If you saw The Who in ’78 does that mean every time you see them it must be 1978 all over again? Even if you’re closer to 50 than 20? The only band I know to pull off that trick is Kiss. Taking the makeup off in the 80;s was their second best idea. The best idea was putting it back on. They’ve become a tribute band to themselves, playing the same notes and doing the same shtick for 35 years. I’m not knocking it, it’s a quality show. For some it will be one of the biggest nights of their summer. Still, if you watch Gene Simmons’ reality show he’ll take you into his plastic surgeons office before the tuck. So why isn’t he over the hill? Kabuki makeup? If the band performed without the 7” heels and the leather would they seem silly singing “I wanna rock ‘n roll all night and party every day?”
I’ll leave you with one final point. I’ve included a link to the Scorpions Raised on Rock video. The Scorpions for those not up on their history came together in 1965. Three years after the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, a year after The Who. The first time I saw them was in 1979, their first US tour (it took them 13 years to be an overnight sensation in the US). The were the first act on a bill with AC/DC and Ted Nugent. By the way the ticket was $8 including the ticketmaster fee (there’s a memory I miss, the $8 ticket). They worked and I thought they were quality, though the never became “my band.” I like some of their things, though I really never warmed up to much of it. The song fits their sound for the past 30 years and the video is a nice retrospect of their career from bigger than life stages to pick guitars and 80s fashion. I think it’s a great statement: HEY! WE CAN STILL DO IT AND (bleep) YOU IF YOU SAY WE CAN’T!
I’d really like to know what you think. And I’ll post some of the best responses.
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Wow, Lou! You have written about a touchy subject. I think that my generation (I'm 59 y.o.) is having to deal with this new phenomenon of being "old" in body, but our hearts are still rockin'! In my opinion, if you can still rock and people still pay their hard-earned money to see you and buy your music, then go for it! My kids have always had rock. They don't remember what it was like before that...