It's hard to believe that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Rolling Stones. Once the most outrageous and insurgent bands of their generation -- the Who and the Pretty Things notwithstanding -- they transitioned from rebellious youth to senior citizens with such respectability, it actually earned Mick Jagger a knighthood. (Although to his credit, Keith Richards still showed his disdain.)
Indeed, it's odd to imagine Jagger in his current context, a wizened old man of 69, still strutting and posturing with the same attitude he possessed all those decades ago.
Born July 26, 1943, Jagger was raised in a solid working-class family, and like most of his musical contemporaries, he fostered an early interest in art. However, once introduced to the blues, he abandoned those ambitions and opted instead to make his mark in music. An initial apprenticeship with Britain's Godfather of the Blues, Alexis Korner, fostered an obsession he shared with Richards, inspiring their future as the Glimmer Twins.
The Stones paid their dues, slogging it out in local dives, living in conditions best described as horrendous, and putting up with the barbs tossed their way by an antagonistic media and public. But their penchant for early covers -- including a castoff by Lennon and McCartney titled "I Wanna Be Your Man" -- soon gave way to original compositions, and the Jagger/Richards writing team emerged as one of the most formidable in rock history.
The Stones continued to evolve over the decades, from their blues-based origins to their multihued canon of the mid- and late '60s, through an unfortunate tryst with psychedelia. They moved on to signature staples like "Jumping Jack Flash," "Honky Tonk Women," "Start Me Up," classic albums such as Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Exile on Main Street, and into the era of disco. Less fallow endeavors of the late '70s, '80s, and much of the '90s followed. Along the way, they found themselves embroiled in ongoing tragedy and controversy -- drugs, sex scandals, arrests, the death of founding member and social outcast Brian Jones, Altamont, internal squabbles, an unfortunate lack of quality control -- but regardless, they manage to persevere. In fact, there's rarely been a Stones tour that hasn't sold out.
Jagger, along with Richards, remains the physical and philosophical focal point of the band. Though the years may have taken a toll on his facial features (crags are not that far from Stones, after all), he remains nimble, lithe, and very much the sharp-tongued cynic. He also remains the same mesmerizing figure he's been all along and a one of a kind, a singer who sets the standard for rock 'n' roll frontmen now and forever, or at least until something like arthritis or a broken hip forces his retirement.
Still, the idea of this blustery and defiant symbol of youth and rebellion rapidly approaching his 70th birthday is difficult to reconcile. Even though rock 'n' roll was conceived as the exclusive domain of the young, stars like Jagger, Richards, McCartney, Townshend, Daltrey, and others of that g-g-g-generation forged the new rock reality.
With that in mind, here's a select list of other famous frontmen who successfully transitioned into the realm of elder statesmen with credibility intact.
Robert Plant, 63
Plant may have adjusted his focus from hard rock to the heartland, but he's still a passionate perfectionist who carries himself well onstage. And hey, hey, mama, he's still quite the lady's man. He recently wed backup singer Patty Griffin.
Roger Daltrey, 68
If ever there was a rocker able to emulate Dorian Gray, Daltrey would be the one. Slim, trim, and with his golden locks still intact -- albeit with less frenzy than the lion's mane he once flaunted -- he's every bit the rock god he once was, if a bit advanced in years. The Who just announced it'll be touring this fall, perfect opportunity to catch Roger wailing away.
Paul McCartney, 70
Well past the point where he claimed he'd be digging in the garden and pulling the weeds -- according to the scene set by "When I'm 64" -- Macca can't seem to stay away from the stage. He may not be the adorable mop top he once was, but let's face it -- we should all look so good when we hit his age.
Neil Young, 66
Neil's still ripping it up like always, and apparently he remains just as irascible as well. (So Neil, what became of that short-lived Buffalo Springfield reunion anyway?) His latest album, Americana, has him reuniting with his old band, Crazy Horse, and the disc's set selection shows him in the grip of age and nostalgia. An "Old Man," indeed. Still, this isn't your parents' take on American folk.
Van Morrison, 66
No matter what his age, Van's always been a cranky kind of guy, so what reason would there be for him to mellow now that he's reached his autumnal years? If he's still pursuing that "Brown-Eyed Girl," chances are he's not going to share that fact in concert. Or that he'll share anything at all. In fact, he's kinda like that mean old man who lives next door, the crotchety neighbor who can't be bothered to exchange pleasantries even when you run into him outside. Methinks Gloria ought to revisit him and put a smile on his face... Finally.
Steven Tyler, 64
So Steven quit American Idol. What a relief. Selling out may befit a man of his age, but that's not the image Tyler seeks to convey. All scarves and open shirts, multihued locks and extravagant shades, he's obviously a chap who seeks to cling to his youth. Though he's been hampered by physical mishaps and the occasional pain medication that mitigates them, one can't help but want to cheer him on. No doubt he's still aiming for love in an elevator... Simply because he can't take the stairs.
Iggy Pop, 65
Iggy apparently isn't afraid to take his shirt off in public and make a spectacle of himself, which belies the assumption that every aging body is something to shun. Although living on South Beach has brought him savvy and sophistication, his decision to summon the Stooges shows he still retains more than a hint of his punk prowess. Would your granddad dive head first into a mosh pit? Not likely.
Joe Cocker, 68
Nowadays, his spastic attacks that once singled him out may be a sign of old age and infirmity, but regardless, Joe still makes the effort to emulate his Woodstock ways. He may be balding, and true, much of his repertoire seems geared toward MOR, but chances are, it only takes a little help from his friends to get him back before the crowds yet again.
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