Music fans around the world held their breath earlier this month when Carlos Santana collapsed from heat stroke during a show in suburban Detroit.
Santana, who postponed six gigs “out of an abundance of caution” while recovering, is a legendary guitarist whose distinctive blend of rock chords and Latin beats has earned him 10 Grammys.
He too is 74 years old.
And of the rock icons on tour this year, he’s one of the youngest.
Bob Dylan is 81 years old and has been shooting almost non-stop since last fall. Paul McCartney turned 80 last month shortly after wrapping up the North American dates of his “Got Back” tour. Former Beach Boy Brian Wilson, 80, is on tour through September. The Rolling Stones – anchored by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, both 78 – play stadiums across Europe. The Who, starring Pete Townshend, 77, and Roger Daltrey, 78, are on tour in November.
Also on the road this summer are Eric Clapton, 77, Rod Stewart, 77, Elton John, 75, and Roger Waters, 78, co-founder of Pink Floyd, who still fills arenas with his majestic songs and spirit. . bending scenography. The list continues.
In arenas and stadiums around the world, we are witnessing history. Never before has such a grizzled group of rock icons graced so many major stages at once.
This moment is something to celebrate. But it’s also a bit bittersweet, because it marks the twilight of an early generation of rock ‘n’ roll – the rockers who came right after founding artists like Chuck Berry, Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis.
We can still feel a thrill hearing these performers live: the visceral punch of the opening guitar chords of “Start Me Up,” the sing-song piano intro of “Tiny Dancer,” the shimmering sonic burst of “Good Vibes”.
But let’s face it, on almost every level, these rock stars are old. And it forces those of us who grew up with their music to recognize that we are getting older too.
As critic Steven Hyden wrote in his 2019 book, “Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock,” “You can’t talk about classic rock now without also thinking about death.”
In 2019, Damon Linker penned a widely shared essay for The Week, provocatively titled, “The Coming Death of Almost Every Rock Legend”.
In it he predicted that most aging rock icons would likely die within the next decade.
“Here are the killing fields before us,” he wrote, before listing 28 rock stars in or about to turn seventy: Dylan, McCartney, Wilson, Jagger, Richards, Daltrey, Townshend, Waters, Clapton, Stewart, Elton John. , Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Ray Davies, David Gilmour, Debbie Harry, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry, Don Henley, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.
Three years later, all 28 are still alive. (As do Tina Turner, now 82, Ringo Starr, 81, Neil Diamond, 81, Sly Stone, 79, Bob Seger, 77, Stevie Nicks, 74, Ozzy Osbourne, 73, Bonnie Raitt , 71 and many more.)
Considering the impact of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle on the health of musicians and the fact that we have since been hammered by a global pandemic that is preying on the elderly and has killed over 6 million people, it just looks amazing.
Just like the fact that most of these artists are still on tour.
Should are they still on tour? That’s a whole other question.
“People always ask me, ‘What do you think about writing, ‘I hope I die before I’m old?'” Townshend told the audience during an April show by The Who at Miami. “I feel really, really old.”
One of Neil Young’s songs from the 1970s says, “Better to burn out than fade out,” an oft-repeated phrase about the creative lifespan of rock musicians. The line, quoted by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note, suggests rock stars are better off igniting a brief burst of creative glory than slowly sinking into obsolescence.
But John Lennon, when asked about Young’s song in an interview three days before his death, said he hated the lyrics.
“It’s better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out,” Lennon said. I worship people who survive.
Linker is not so safe. In a follow-up article for The Week last year, he argued that the quality of rock stars’ musical output invariably declines as they age, become wealthy and lose the creative fire that sparked their previous songs.
And live, many of them also appear physically diminished.
Linker says he and his wife recently attended the Genesis reunion tour and were appalled to see 71-year-old Phil Collins so limited by health issues that he couldn’t play drums and sing. sat.
“It was a good show – great lights and sound, and Phil Collins’ son Nic did a fabulous job with the drums. But Phil was clearly not up to it,” Linker told CNN “It left us a bit depressed at the end of the evening. It can’t help but be a constant reminder that we’ve aged a lot too.
Linker feels the same way about other septuagenarian rock bands who continue to persevere despite the death of key members.
“I don’t mean to sound mean, but Roger Daltrey of The Who hasn’t been able to hit high notes in decades. What songs are really hard to sing! And he’s now 78. Yet they keep on singing. ‘go there. There’s something very sad — very needy — about that,” Linker said. perhaps the best in rock history! It’s time to give it a rest.
But Scott Russell, Music Editor of Paste magazine, disagrees.
For him, there’s something special about watching someone take a song you’ve loved for decades and bring it to life right before your eyes.
“They are living legends with catalogs to match, giants of music history who still walk the earth despite decades in a grueling industry. You might hear the years in Bob Dylan’s voice, but that’s never what made his music special in the first place,” he told CNN.
“Touring is a major burden on body and mind, so any artist still on the road in old age does so for more than just financial security,” Russell added, noting that the vast majority of professional musicians have to scratch and claw to make a living on tour.
“Any artist who gets to the top of this mountain has earned the right to stay there as long as they wish.”
These rock ‘n’ roll icons are all survivors. But time, one might say, is no longer on their side.
And their specific musical genre is also doomed.
“Classic rock” was coined by radio programmers to describe guitar-driven music of a distinct era—roughly the mid-’60s through the grunge era, Linker and Russell point out.
“By definition, that’s a thing of the past,” Linker said.
Of course, you still hear classic rock on mainstream radio, on your uncle’s Spotify playlists, and slammed by cover bands in bars around the world. His best songs remain timeless.
But as a contemporary cultural force, its relevance is fading. In an increasingly diverse global music scene, it’s a genre dominated by older white dudes.
“Is classic rock itself now a problematic relic of an era when white male musicians attracted disproportionate attention?” Hyden wondered in his 2018 book, “Does he deserve to disappear?”
Rock has long ceased to be the dominant genre of popular music in the United States, being overtaken by hip-hop, country, rap, and dance-oriented pop. Outside of some college and community stations, it’s hard to find new rock music on the radio.
As more and more rock legends die in the years to come, the last remnants of an era will die with them.
Will a new generation of disciples take the flag?
There are plenty of contenders – Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder, Thom Yorke, Trent Reznor and members of U2 and Metallica, to name a few – but they’re all over 50. It’s hard to think of many young rock artists who can fill stadiums like McCartney and Elton John.
And it’s good. There is no shortage of talented young musicians pushing the boundaries of rock in front of cheering crowds in theaters and clubs. Good music will always find an audience.
“Rock may never regain its place at the top of the pop music hierarchy, but it will never leave either. As one generation of rock musicians ages, there is always another rising,” said Paste’s Russell, citing up-and-coming artists such as Bartees Strange, Turnstile and Wet Leg. “What’s old can always be made new.”
Rock ‘n’ roll “is a great formula for young people looking for a creative outlet, so I don’t think it’s dying out,” Linker agreed. “I mean, all the good old stuff is still there in our Spotify and Apple Music accounts to listen to and inspire new generations of disgruntled young people, where rock music came from.”
In the meantime, let’s enjoy these touring rock music legends while they’re still around.
Yeah, maybe Pete Townshend’s iconic windmills are getting a little creaky. Maybe Brian Wilson outsources his high notes to young singers. And many concerts of these artists are overpriced.
But they’re still out night after night doing what they love. They gave us so much. We are lucky to have had them for so long.