While today's biggest pop stars seem to have a shelf life of scant years or months, the older they are, the mightier they remain.
Case in point: When Whitney Houston, whose career surged throughout the '80s and early '90s, announced that she'd be postponing the kickoff of her European tour due to "respiratory illness," the announcement was met in more than a few quarters with knowing looks about both her current abilities as a singer--an object of lively discussion among those who've seen video clips of her onstage recently attempting to reach the high notes that once came so easily--and what in fact might be causing said respiratory problems. Few suggested it was overindulgence at her favorite health spa.
Fast forward a few years, and you've got two of the biggest names in the rap world--Marion "Suge" Knight and Kanye West--at legal odds in Miami due to Knight's being shot in the right leg at a Miami Beach party in 2005. West, oddly being held accountable purely because the event was a pre-MTV Video Music Awards party that he was sponsoring, should have know that the party could produce a "dangerous environment," Knight's lawsuit maintains, apparently because rappers are predisposed toward shooting each other. Adding to the scandal: During the brouhaha, Knight lost a 15-carat diamond allegedly worth $135,000.
However obnoxious he might be, in 2010 Kanye West is still making interesting and commercial music; Knight, on the other hand, appears to be a troubled, fading "rap impressario" whose major achievements would seem to be his being at the right place at the right time--about 15 years ago--and having some degree of business acumen. That said, anyone under 18 years of age probably has no idea whatsoever who he is.
And consider the world of rock ' n' roll: In the news this week is the release of Slash, the debut album by the former Guns N' Roses guitarist of the same stage name. Accompanied by a press release filled with such overripe terminology as "legendary," "classic" and "best," the album is a depressing statement however you look at it: The guitarist, whose bands--Guns N' Roses and the later Velvet Revolver--were never paragons of musical adventurousness in the first place, has partnered with a ridiculous array of popular vocalists, including Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop, Chris Cornell, Maroon 5's Adam Levine and even the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie. To be polite: "floundering" does not always mean catching fish. Incidentally, the name of Slash's record label is Dik Hayd; K-Tel was, sadly, taken. The only note of realism on the entire affair: Iggy Pop singing "We're All Gonna Die."
As for pop stars of the new millennium, news that Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard would be touring together this summer elicited yawns from nearly every quarter except those dark corners where American Idol nostalgiacs reside. The pair, whose peak of fame was close to seven years ago, would now appear to be best remembered by most for their sexual orientation and girth respectively, and are promising "surprise guests" at various tour stops. Be forewarned that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Santa Claus are otherwise committed.
So what's the point of all this? Namely that also in the news are two artists who have been in the news since the 1960s--the Doors and the Steve Miller Band--and that despite the decades that have passed, their latest projects seem the commercial equal of all of the artists above.
First up is the arrival of Tom DiCillo's new documentary When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors, which spotlights that band's colorful, short-lived career--and features footage of lead singer Jim Morrison so crystal-clear and contemporary looking that some reality-show-dulled audience members have assumed they were watching a "dramatic re-enactment" of the band's career featuring contemporary actors. Featuring some inspired live footage and an iconic band whose image was never seared into our collective retinas by MTV, the film will likely interest both old fans and new, much younger ones.
Likewise, the news that the Steve Miller Band will be releasing not one but two studio albums soon--his first in 17 years--is interesting not just because he's quite talented but because...people still care, and it's making news. Like that of the Doors above, Miller's music has never really dated and has continued to draw fans throughout the decades. Compare that to a past-her-peak Whitney Houston, tired rap industrialists like Suge Knight and, in AP's words, the "boorish" Kanye West, the struggling Slash and the growing, depressing array of overly ordinary American Idol alumni, and it's strange but true: The old people win.
At least while they're still here.
THIS WEEK'S TOP 10 MUSIC STORIES
1) Whitney: Honest, I'll Be Back Soon - Whitney Houston postpones some European tour dates, no one is surprised.
2) Even More Vacant Than Usual - Sex Pistols' former Manager Malcolm McLaren is dead at 64.
3) Where The Heck Is My Earring? - Suge Knight and Kanye West tangle in Miami lawsuit.
4) How Do You Like My New Lead Singers? - Guitarist Slash releases his first solo album.
5) Hi, I'm The Skinny Gay One - Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard on the road again.
6) Continue To Light My Fire Again, Once More, Then Repeat - New Doors documentary hits the theatres, provides Jim Morrison decent exposure.
7) Michael Jackson Dressed As A Renaissance Man: Is It Art? - Portrait of the singer goes for auction online, puzzling interplanetary observers.
8) He Wasn't Joking Then, He's Not Joking Now - Steve Miller announces first two studio albums in 17 years.
9) That Was No First Lady, That Was My Wife - France's singing first lady disputes infidelity rumors.
10) For Starters, I Don't Like Your Name - Judge denies bail for Jamaican dancehall star Bounty Killer in assault case.