Way back in the day (well, 1976), UK rock band Jethro Tull released a song (and album) titled Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! That was 34 years ago; Jethro Tull (with original founding members Ian Anderson and Martin Barre) still tours and records to this day. I saw them perform a couple of years ago, and there’s no question that they were nowhere close to “too old to rock and roll.”
Some of that sentiment may have stemmed from the distrust of the older generation that Boomers growing up in the Viet Nam era possessed. “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” and “Hope I die before I get old,” were popular sentiments among hippies and flower children – until they (we) passed 30 and started growing old. As the resident “senior columnist” here at the Weekly Newspapers, I’m happy to report that those of us old enough to remember the Viet Nam era certainly haven’t decided to head out to pasture. I also attest that our age and experience more than qualify us to keep rocking! A few examples follow.
Exhibit 1: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Currently in the middle of a tour celebrating the release of their latest album Mojo, Petty & Co. are in fine form, perhaps never sounding better as a band. The new album was recorded almost entirely live in the studio, and shows just how good a group of seasoned veteran players can actually be. As the Heartbreakers, they’ve been together (the four original members) for 35 years. The three main players (Tom, Mike Campbell, and Benmont Tench) have been playing together since their teens. I got to see them in concert on this tour, and they sound as good (if not better) than they did when I first saw them over 20 years ago. It was also good to see their opening act…
Exhibit 2: Crosby Stills & Nash. More than four decades have passed since this trio first harmonized their way into America’s collective consciousness. Four years ago (with compatriot Neil Young), they showed that they still have something to say, and they sounded spectacular as they opened for the Heartbreakers. It’s still hard to consider them the opener (more like a twin-headliner bill), and the crowd treated them like they were the act they came to see and cheered them back for a well-deserved encore. They all sang and played well, and they don’t seem too eager to lay their guitars down anytime soon. That’s a good thing. You can go see for yourself – CSN will be performing in concert in South Florida on October 1.
Exhibit 3: Paul McCartney. Rapidly approaching that magical milestone of 70 years, McCartney has showed no signs of slowing down, and time has taken absolutely nothing away from his musical abilities. This past year has seen Paul take on another world tour, and he’s still musically creative in the studio, recording under his own name as well as his alias The Fireman. The concerts aren’t short shows, either. Paul and his band go through 35-37 songs a night in a marathon concert without an intermission, and he performs like a man one-third of his actual age. I’d have to agree with the Toronto Sun reviewer who wrote, “That McCartney kid looks like he could very well be an up-and-comer.”
Exhibit 4: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Speaking of someone else who doesn’t act his age on stage, the Boss still plays legendary concerts that last over three hours, and again, no intermission. Finally seeing them live last year was a bucket list item I could cross off, and the show was nothing short of incredible. Bruce has stated that the E Street Band is sounding and playing better than they ever have, which is pretty incredible when one considers that they’ve played a lot of shows together over that past 38 years. The records that Springsteen has made with the band for the past ten years are arguably the best of his career, and here’s hoping for a chance to hear more.
I’ve had a theory for a long time that music – especially playing music – keeps people young. I’ve seen it in friends and bandmates, and I’ve certainly seen it at the uppermost echelons of the business. I also totally believe that age and experience gives a musician seasoning and hones his abilities and chops. If old blues, jazz, and country musicians can still play with the best of them, then why not the rockers? Too old to rock and roll? Never.