Not even rock stars are forever young
Bruce Springsteen was forced to postpone all of his September concerts because, at age 73, he is suffering from peptic ulcers.
On doctor's orders, Aerosmith, one of the greatest, highest-energy rock bands ever, also recently postponed shows for its farewell tour. It wasn't because one of the band members had overdosed or gotten into a scrape with police, but because 75-year-old frontman Steven Tyler had worn out his vocal cords in an earlier concert.
When late-night host Jimmy Fallon recently interviewed the Rolling Stones' Mick Jaggar, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood in London to promote their first studio album in almost two decades, it looked instead like Bring Your Grandfather to Work Day. Jaggar, after all, is 80, Richards is 79 and Woods is the youngster at 76 ... and they look it. Nevertheless, the Stones have been performing for more than 60 years and show no signs of slowing down, even after the 2021 cancer death of original drummer Charlie Watts at age 80.
Could all of these guys actually be so old?
Aerosmith, the B52s, the Eagles, Kiss, Kenny Loggins and Sir Elton John are either in the midst of or have completed farewell tours. That's entertainment lingo that means they're retiring. It's one more painful reminder - right up there with a 50th high school reunion and increased name recognition on the obituary page - that we're getting old.
These and many others are the rock stars my generation grew up with. We blasted their music in our cars, on bedroom stereos and on the beach - the louder, the better. As the saying goes: if the music's too loud, you're too old.
It used to be back then that when their shows were postponed or canceled or, worse, when their bands broke up, it was the result of youthful excesses like alcohol poisoning, drugs, arrest, suicide or some other form of untimely demise among the band members. They were young; we were young. We all thought we would live forever.
Then, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, we started losing them.
Rock legends Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Doors Jim Morrison all died within about 2 1/2 years of each other, all at age 27, the latter three from various forms of substance overdose, Jones from drowning. Allman Brothers guitarist Duane Allman was only 22 when he was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971.
After flamboyant drummer Keith Moon died from a sedative overdose in 1978, The Who continued on-and-off with several replacement drummers, finally settling on Zak Starkey, the son of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr. Lead singer Roger Daltry and guitarist Pete Townshend are the only two surviving band members after bassist John Entwistle died in 2002 from a cocaine overdose.
Led Zeppelin, another four-man English super group, broke up after drummer John Bonham drank himself to death in 1980 at age of 32. There were tens of millions of concert ticket requests when they got back together ever-so-briefly in the late '80s with Bonham's son, Jason, sitting in on the drums. The original magic was gone, though, and the band itself was done. Still, the three surviving members, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, all enjoyed individual musical success afterward.
More recently, however, our stars are succumbing in increasing numbers to natural causes, often exacerbated by old age.
- After battling cancer for years, guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen, 65, died of a stroke in 2020.
- Keyboard player/singer/songwriter Christine McVeigh, 79, the glue who held Fleetwood Mac together, also died of a stroke last year after battling cancer.
- Tropical rock icon Jimmy Buffett died earlier this month from skin cancer at age 76.
- Saxophonist Clarence Clemons' 2012 death from a stroke at age 67 devastated Springsteen and his E Street Band.
- Well before embarking on their recent farewell tour, the Eagles lost founding members Glenn Frey, 67, in 2016 to complications from colitis, arthritis and pneumonia. Randy Meisner, 77, died this year from pulmonary disease.
When I was a teenager, my father and I would argue passionately over whose music and musicians were better. He'd argue for the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra; I'd counter with Aretha Franklin and Paul McCartney. He said Buddy Rich was the world's best drummer, but I'd argue for Bonham, Hendrix's Mitch Mitchell, Rush's Neil Peart, Cream's Ginger Baker, and Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. He'd play Duke Ellington and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra on the stero; I'd play The Who, Pink Floyd and Cream. Charles Mingus on bass? I'd take The Who's Entwistle or Cream's Jack Bruce any day.
Dad argued that what I considered electric guitar wizardry by Hendrix, Page, Cream's Eric Clapton, and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour was "just so much noise." He argued not only for his music's quality ("At least you can understand our lyrics.") but the performers' longevity. Still going strong at the time into their 60s, for instance, Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Rich and some of his other favorites had been performing at high levels for decades.
"Where will The Who and the Rolling Stones be in five years?" he asked derisively back in the early ‘70s.
Fast forward to 2010: While watching our last Super Bowl together, Dad asked what the halftime entertainment would be.
"The Who," I replied. "They were the band you predicted back in 1970 wouldn't be around in five years. Here they are now, four decades later playing for tens of millions of people at halftime of the Super Bowl."
"How about that?" he replied incredulously.
He would be even more astonished at the Rolling Stones' seemingly ageless endurance after more than 60 years.
The icons of the previous generation, like Sinatra, Martin, and Tony Bennett, continued crooning into their 80s and 90s, respectively. However, beyond sentimental value and Sirius Radio, their music's sales and staying power don't match that of classic rock. A half-century later, there are any number of classic rock radio stations, stadium tours, and greatest hits albums/CDs that drive sales into tens, even hundreds of millions. Heck, they even play classic rock in some of the grocery stores these days.
It turns out, though, that even the most enduring rock stars of our youth are mortal after all. Like most before them, they eventually age, retire and ultimately fade into history - some more gracefully than others. However, their wonderfully loud, hard-driving music, with all the great memories it provides from our younger years remains with us and it will live on forever.
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