Backstage in South Florida: Are Aging Rockers Still Relevant?

Many people would have you believe that advanced age and rock 'n' roll are simply not in sync. That's understandable really, given the fact that rock, especially in its earliest incarnations, was always a young person's game. For its first couple of decades, it was a sound synonymous with rebellion and defiance of society. And for as long as I can remember, at least, those causes have always been those of the youthful, whose innate intention is to reject parental values and strike out in directions of their own choosing.

Yet those musicians who started out so young and fresh-faced early on are now increasingly reaching the age of social security and the realms of senior citizenry. It's a strange transition to be sure, especially when viewing photos of eternal icons like the Rolling Stones, Robert Plant, Stevie Nicks, or Paul McCartney, and the craggy, crease-lined visages that stare back are scarcely recognizable as the faces of those who were once so familiar. These senior moments make a statement. So it's not so surprising to hear that Mick Jagger allegedly refused to have a close-up taken when he was out clubbing in New York recently. And it's not all that odd that when I met McCartney a few years ago, he consulted with his handlers on how he looked prior to taking a photo.

A couple of scenarios brought this reality of rock and age home to me recently. For starters, there was the Beach Boys concert at Hard Rock Live a couple of weeks ago, a 50th anniversary reunion that gathered all the surviving members of a veritable American institution. The fact that the tour celebrated a half-century seems imposing enough, but there's also the irony of a band calling itself the Beach Boys when it's clear that they're anything but. It seems weird to identify anyone as a boy when they're on the precipice of 70 and old enough to be the fans at their original ages' grandparents. And what's even stranger is to hear them still singing songs like "When I Grow Up to Be a Man" or recite lyrics like "We'll have fun, fun, fun 'til her daddy takes the T-Bird away."

Let's face it, the words to those two songs might be more appropriate if they were combined. "When I grow up to be a man, there'll be no more fun, fun, fun, because my kids took the keys to the T-Bird away."

It seems sad initially. Indeed, more than one person told me they had seen the band interviewed on television and the guys looked so lined and wrinkled, so damn old in fact, that they couldn't bring themselves to see the show. But as I told them, and as I stated in my review, the accumulated years appeared incidental. Ultimately, it was just plain fun, fun, fun with no strings attached.

See, that's the thing. Young people don't have a monopoly on zest, enjoyment, adventure, or any of those other emotions nurtured early on and seized upon in adolescence. Sure, energy and enthusiasm may wane as we get older, but the primal urges that stir our psyche -- especially when it comes to the music that moves us -- continues to create a bond. At a certain age, it transitions from a rallying cry into nostalgia, allowing the music of our memories to exert a powerful grasp... Perhaps more than ever. I know that for me personally, the things I listened to and loved back in the day continue to stir me as much as ever. I can put on an old tune and instantly flash back to the time and place where I first heard it, and then sing, make that shout, along as if it's an anthem that demands to be shared. Sometimes, that rush of exhilaration will even bring me to tears, especially when I'm so caught up by the energy and emotion that I need to excise it yet again. I guess it's called catharsis.

It was also brought home to me the other night while watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction honors on HBO. It was an unusually poignant ceremony, particularly the part when the aging members of several revered backing bands -- James Brown's Fabulous Flames, Gene Vincent's Blue Caps, Bill Haley's Comets, Smokey Robinson's Miracles -- were finally recognized and given the opportunity to step into the spotlight. These are people that possess a quiet dignity and reserve, an unassuming humility that seems well suited to their senior status. And yet, when keyboardist Ian McLagen and drummer Kenny Jones of the Small Faces offered their own touching tribute to their departed band mates, singer Steve Marriott and bassist Ronnie Lane, it was striking in a different way. When they later regrouped with guitarist Ron Wood, their colleague in the reconstituted Faces, for a rave-up rendition of "Stay With Me," their weathered appearances didn't defuse the fire and ferocity in their performance. It was tender and touching indeed.

Of course, there are some artists who seem all too willing to concede their supposed maturity by abandoning the music that made them famous in the first place. Instead, they revert to retracing old standards once favored by a previous generation. Rod Stewart successfully reinvented himself as a classic crooner and reaped the rewards with his series of albums drawn from the Great American Songbook. Paul McCartney and Glenn Frey recently followed suit with their new albums, Kisses on the Bottom and After Hours, respectively. Personally, I find it a bit disconcerting to see these revered rockers turning their backs on the visceral intensity of their youth to conform to the image of a senior citizen. Happily then, I doubt if you'll ever see Iggy Pop, Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richards, Metallica, Todd Rundgren, or other irrepressible rockers abandoning their irreverent attitudes and insurgent stance. And why should they? As they've aged, so has the genre they've helped nurture.

Aging is inevitable, of course. But how we deal with it is up to each of us. Rock on!


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