The biggest danger of writing this particular blog is youworry that some of the entries won't survive the time between writing andposting. You'd hate to jinx anyone. Pop music was once a temporary state. RingoStarr once figured he'd own a chain of hair-dressing salons after the Beatles'success faded. Except it kept going.
And now Bruce Springsteen, who turns 60 this September,releases a new album and performs at the SuperBowl. Whatever happened to LiveFast, Die Young? Someone ask Sid Vicious. Even Johnny Rotten turns 53 onJanuary 31. Used to be never trust anyone over 30, but now it's more like theonly performers who can still afford to tour are the ones who can maximizetheir AARP discounts.
In order to keep the list down to 25, I had to exclude somepretty serious players in rock-related fields. B.B. King, for example, is 83.Merle Haggard, battling lung cancer, is 72. Willie Nelson will turn 76 thisyear. Charlie Louvin is still making albums and is now 81. Initially, I startedthe list as rockers over 40, but that meant just about everybody. This way, U2,Metallica and R.E.M. are all spared being on an "old people" list for at leastanother year.
Little Richard, born 12/5/32 is noted here, rather than onthe list, since his Geico commercials aside, to my knowledge he hasn't beenperforming much anymore. And Billy Joel is technically retired.
What can you say about a list where Madonna and Prince arethe spring chickens at 50?Ozzy Osbourne (12/3/48): In some ways theyoungest guy on this list if only because he's the youngest at heart. He doesn'tseem capable of growing up--or filing a tax return. It's a good thing his wifeunderstands numbers because the number of the beast aside, I don't see Ozzyspending much time with a calculator--and when you're a freelance hard rocker,you gotta know how to budget your time and money.
24) Lou Reed (3/2/42): As he gets older and his voicebecomes more shriveled and shaky and the glasses make him look more like anacademic, or Bob Dylan's grandmother, than a rocker, Reed is finally cominginto his own. He's always been a crank, a difficult personality. But now he hasthe aura around him, the death glow. Just keep him out of the leather pants.Him and that dude from Train. Man, that is not a pretty sight.Tom Waits (12/7/49): Waits is another one whodreamed of being old before his time. You look at those clips from the 1970snow and he looks like a kid. While these days he looks just about right. He'salways had the voice that sounded wise beyond its years, even when his storiesturned out more shaggy dog than seeing eye.
22) Lucinda Williams (1/26/53): Lucinda's always hadthe sound of the road on her, that gritty dirt that she's turned into a bit ofseductive parody over the years. While the past ten years have been good toher, it was all those years previous to Car Wheels On A Gravel Road whenshe put the mileage on. And all things that catch up with you. She singsAC/DC's "It's A Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock n' Roll" like an oldblues shouter, meaning every word.Patti Smith (12/30/46): Patti came of age in the1970s, yet she easily could've been part of the previous generation of rockers.Keith Moon wasn't even 20 when he exploded on the scene, while Patti waitedher turn until almost 30. And Moon was only months older than Smith. Thenagain, he died many decades ago, suggesting that sometimes fame should be likeketchup and worth the wait.
20) Richard Thompson (4/3/49): I wonder when Thompsonrealized that no matter what he did, it would never catch on. He signed withone record label after another and always felt the love of his cult audience,but that elusive "smash hit," the "game-changer" never happened, no matter howmany great songs he wrote. At this point, he seems comfortable enough and canwatch his son go through the whole thing all over again.David Bowie (1/8/47): As a role-playing,character driven rock star, you'd think he'd find a few good masks to hidebehind. But, somehow, he doesn't need it. He still looks better than rockershalf his age and he's always on the verge of rediscovering his sound, sinceit's always been about borrowing from whomever happens to be sitting in frontof him at the moment. And then doing it better, or at least as convincingly.
18) Graham Parker (11/18/50): At this point, Parker'soften without a backing band. Pure economics. Who can afford to carry an entireband on the road if you're the leader of a small cult? Instead, he writes more,more songs, more albums and more lyrics, so the people politely seated havesomething to think about when he isn't playing the old hits that people havecome to hear.Chuck Berry (1018/26): Chuck still gets out andplays. And he still uses whomever they dig up at the last minute and good luckto everyone. Has he even written a new song in 20 years? Does he have to?His catalog is solid and a basic primer for rock n' roll. Whoever would havethought any rock 'n roller would still be going past 80?
16) Jerry Lee Lewis (9/29/35): Who's the best? Justask him and Jerry Lee will tell you. When he isn't busy working his name intohis songs, he's letting you know there's only one "Killer" and he still makesrecords from time to time. And he prefers cash. Now.Iggy Pop (4/21/47): No matter how great hisphysique, he needs to keep his shirt on. A man in his 60s is still a man in his60s whether he has the eternal youth of rock n' roll flowing through his oncedrug-addled veins or not. If kids half his age had his attitude and his energy,rock n' roll might be doing better with a battle against the computer age. Asit is, play Guitar Hero and hope for the best. Which isn't much.
14) Madonna (8/16/58): Whoever would've imaginedMadonna at 50 still trying to be a pop star? You would've figured she'd have aclothing line, a home-style magazine for the single woman, a dance troupe, anynumber of other lines of business. But then maybe pop star was the only job sheever really wanted. She probably never imagined the day when she'd haveseniority!Prince (6/7/58): As we age, we tend to getweirder. We're not all Howard Hughes but given the opportunity...and when youconsider how private Prince has been over the years, it only feeds into themyth. For whatever people don't know for sure, they make up. And what you makeup is always better than what actually happens anyhow. So Prince is evenfurther ahead than we imagine. Or rather is further ahead because we can onlyimagine.
12) The Who (Townshend: 5/19/45, Daltrey: 3/1/44): Doesit seem as if the Who have sold every song in their catalog to someone? Atleast the songs anyone wanted to hear again. So while I can respect the talentof these elderly gents, I can't say I enjoy them much anymore. I don'tblame them. I'd take the money in a heartbeat. But where I once heard youthfulcries of frustration, I now see a truck cruising through the desert.Ray Davies (6/21/44): Davies was always too weirdto be a real icon. His best moments are too personal and idiosyncratic and he'ssuch a frustrated crank that he's always entertaining even when you're not sureif you could ever be as upset about the things he's upset about. He's makingrecords again and he's performing his songs like he's on a permanent Storytellersjag. Which is probably the best way to hear him these days.
10) Van Morrison (8/31/45): Like Bob Dylan, VanMorrison is a lifer where it never matters whether or not he's having a goodtime or not. He's going out there regardless. And whatever happens, happens. Hemay or may not acknowledge the audience. He may or may not play his hits.Anyone for a medley? Some nights he will transcend every limitation. Somenights he will throw in the towel. But it's always a reflection of exactlywhere he is at that moment. And now he's playing Astral Weeks live. Ifhe lives another 50 years maybe he'll tour Veedon Fleece.Paul McCartney (6/18/42): The opposite ofMorrison, McCartney is a showman. He doesn't let his personal life interferewith the performance. He's there to entertain you. And he aims to please. Lotsof hits. Lots of lights. Lots of high energy and smiles all around. When peopleare paying what they're paying just to park the car these days, this can mattermore than you'd like to admit.
8) Wanda Jackson (10/27/37): Talk about a trueprisoner of rock n' roll, Wanda's been at it for decades and remains one of thetrue practitioners of an art form that doesn't have nearly as manypractitioners as it'd like you to believe. I just wouldn't call her old in herpresence. She's like a Japanese sports car, only getting warmed at afterturning 70,000 miles. And now she's made it to the R n' R Hall of Fame.Elvis Costello (8/25/54): Costello's someone youimagine as an older person. He's got the glasses and that thoughtful look tohim. A reader, a contemplator, a man of wisdom and intellectual curiosity. Hedoesn't need to get up and scream, but he might when he's in the mood. And ifnot, he can always find another collaborator who's just glad they haven't beencompletely forgotten yet.
6) Motorhead (Lemmy Kilmister: 12/24/45): Long afterthe rest of us are deaf, Lemmy will still be turning the sound up past the painthreshold and behaving as if he didn't notice he'd just deafened another group ofinnocent concert-goers. I have trouble imagining Lemmy playing shuffleboard--thoughI do see him as an enthusiastic BINGO! Player. "I've got bloody Bingo over'ere." Even if he doesn't, nobody's going to tell him he doesn't.AC/DC (Angus Young: 3/31/55, Malcolm Young: 1/6/53,Brian Johnson: 10/5/47): They've kept true to their sound and true tothemselves. Never varied their attack. Never tried anything new. They're like afast-food franchise where you always know what you're going to get. And if youlike it, well, what could be better? Consistency counts for a lot. And I neverunderstood how Angus kept up all that monkeying around when he was in his 20s,never mind in his '50s. Is this what happens when you don't take your Ritalin?
4) Rolling Stones (Jagger: 7/26/43, Richards: 12/18/43,Wood: 6/1/47, Watts: 6/2/41): Are theyretirement specialists? I mean, I'm sure they've got 401Ks that people like uscan only dream of. So they aren't doing it for the money anymore? Are they? I'dsay it's because they love the music, but even Charlie admitted long ago thatplaying in this band involves an awful lot of waiting around. They could alleasily play in a local club if it was just about the music. So it must be abouthaving as many people as possible screaming all at once. And then surviving theafter-show parties.Bob Dylan (5/24/41): Anyone who can name the tunehe's playing within the first 30 seconds wins a prize. I've seen Bobseveral times and he had the audience guessing through many of the songs.Between his constant melodic reinvention and his tendency to mumble, it isn'talways obvious what he's up to. Which is how this guy likes it in the firstplace.
2) Bruce Springsteen (9/23/49): OK, he no longerplays those four to five hour concerts. That's actually a good thing. It shouldbe entertainment, after all, and not an endurance test. Unlike many of hiscontemporaries, he insists on writing and recording new material that whilesometimes lacking the firepower of his greatest hits still manages to soundlike the work of a man actively involved in all aspects of his career--not justthe retirement planning aspects.Neil Young (11/12/45): Watching Neil Young lumberfrom one end of the stage to the other defying age, gravity and whatever conventionsyou've signed up suggests that someone should be checking this man's urine forperformance-enhancing substances--since when does an old guy maintain his ownlike this? Most guys his age gladly hop aboard a riding mower!
- Bruce Springsteen