Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Should aging rockers know when to call it quits?

A popular riddle that is often posed upon and ferociously discussed amongst various circles of rock snobs and critics is the age-old question as to whether or not rock ‘n’ roll truly is dead. The answer, despite continual debate and verbal glove-slapping between the aforementioned parties, is no. Rock ‘n’ roll is not dead; it’s just getting really, really old. A more sensible question to mull over is whether or not aging rockers should give up and call it quits by the time they’re slamming warm milk before bed instead of liquor, and popping Viagra instead of amphetamines. Can you really put an expiration date on cool?
The idea of crotchety old men prancing around a stage and rocking out to songs that were popular 40 years ago isn’t exactly appealing to younger generations, but true art never shows its wrinkles. The Rolling Stones are case-in-point here. These guys have been rocking for over four decades! Mick Jagger (arguably the coolest old guy ever) is in his 60s, but he still jumps around in concert, kicking and screaming, like a 20-year-old, and is still the embodiment of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. With 2005’s A Bigger Bang, the Stones pick themselves up after some of the stumblings of their post-Tattoo You (1981) career, proving once and for all that a band with a combined age of nearly 250 can still go off pretty hard.
Former Beach Boy and surf-rock pioneer Brian Wilson, 64, released his long-awaited magnum opus SMiLE in late 2004, which had already gained a mythic status amongst fans after Wilson stopped its production in 1967 due to personal problems and growing tensions within the group. The album was hailed by critics and longtime fans as a masterpiece rivaling the Beach Boys’ best material and showcases Wilson as a virtuoso songwriter and arranger (as if we didn’t already know).
Wilson’s longtime friend and former artistic rival Paul McCartney, 64, (oh yeah, he was also in that band, the Beatles) released Chaos and Creation in the Backyard in 2005 to much acclaim. The album was extremely well-received, considered by many to be Sir Paul’s greatest album in years, and a throwback to his early solo work. McCartney, now at that magical age he so romantically glorified in 1967, seems to have reached a creative pinnacle in the twilight of his career. Now if only he would stop painting and focus on making more music as beautiful as this.
Bob Dylan just released his critically praised album Modern Times in August. The album marked the 65-year-old’s first number one record since Desire in 1976, making Mr. Zimmerman the oldest living person to have a record reach number one on the US Billboard charts. Ok, it’s no Highway 61 Revisited (1965) or Blonde on Blonde (1966), but what is, really? Dylan isn’t one to retrace his steps, and if he wanted to, he probably could go out and revolutionize rock ‘n’ roll all over again, but that just wouldn’t be cool.
By now, it’s probably safe to say that the Stones will never release another Exile on Main St. (1972), and it is unlikely that Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney will ever recapture the glory they attained in their respective 60s pop groups, but these geriatrics are all releasing career-rejuvenating albums in their golden years. With such rich histories to mine from, age isn’t a factor on quality, other than the fact that these guys learned from their past mistakes, and they know better than to repeat them. They’ll leave that to the amateurs.


Mike Affholder

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