For Gosh's Sake, Stop Rockin'!
July 8, 2001 6:34 PM   Subscribe

For Gosh's Sake, Stop Rockin'! Featered here are excerpts of Rock Til You Drop, an intentionally provocative slam of the notion of rockin' into old age. I'm not sure if author John Strausbaugh has an age limit (he suggests, but doesn't outright state, one's early 30s). But it's clear that he thinks any fake version of an old band should call it quits (Steppenwolf), as should any playing casinos (Yes) or rockers who have had, say, hip replacement surgery (Eddie Van Halen). And he apparently thinks the Stones should've called it quits in, say, 1972. A cruel hack job, or on-the-mark? Somewhere in between? And what rockers should retire?
posted by raysmj (35 comments total)
Music is a form of expression. If anyone has a passion for music, then, I say, as long as the quality of the music they are making is up to their own personal standards, then they should keep it up, regardless of their age.
posted by rift2001 at 6:54 PM on July 8, 2001

It's a gig. It's the people that go see them at 100 bucks a pop that need a reality check.
posted by rodii at 6:57 PM on July 8, 2001

rodii: Think that was part of the idea of this book, which I personally found (well, the excerpts) a bit over-the-top. What, should he stop writing too, or making dough off an easy idea? But the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame has a Jim Morrison's Boy Scout badge on display? Mercy. If the author has any dynamite, I'd be willing to help blow the place up. Metaphorically speaking, but . . .
posted by raysmj at 7:03 PM on July 8, 2001

From the excerpt:

Were you still thinking Clapton was God by, say, 1980? How about after the easy-listening Miller Beer commercials? How about after his son died and he wrote that hideously mawkish song for him and then would not stop playing it everywhere he went, year after year?

Hehehehe....It's about time somebody called Eric on this one. He's been pimping that kid's corpse for way too long. He's in a three-way tie with John Walsh and God The Father for the title of "Most Dough Made In The Name Of A Dead Son."
posted by Optamystic at 7:20 PM on July 8, 2001

There is much truth in this. Rock music is about about youth and rebellion. It's not highbrow (despite pretentious attempts at Rock Opera in the 1970's). It's all about energy and attitude, nothing more or less.

The boomers (and this is coming from one born on the cusp) were the loudest generation, only now they're the loudest generation of grizzly old farts.
posted by lagado at 7:37 PM on July 8, 2001

Regarding the Stones: I do think they've proven themselves to be the best rock and roll band ever but they're seriously sailing into some weird uncharted waters now. I do admire them for keeping on, but hasn't it become a kind of animated wax museum? It's been 20 years since Tattoo You - their last relevant album. I'd respect them if they'd settled into their golden years as a wise old blues band instead of "rocking" towards the sunset.
posted by davebush at 7:49 PM on July 8, 2001

Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," from it's first moment of release, has always reflected two major influences: Clapton's own personal tragedy and the movie it was written for.

"Circus Left Town," to my knowledge, is the only song exclusively about his son's death, and no authorized recording has ever been released of it, though bootlegs exist. He has performed it in public, including on the early '90s Unplugged session, but it does not appear on the disc that resulted from that performance.

Officially, "Circus Left Town" remains unreleased.

If you wish heap scorn on Clapton for daring to play while aging, have at it, but I don't find performing a soundtrack song for a fictional movie, even one informed by personal tragedy, to be a stoning offense.
posted by NortonDC at 7:58 PM on July 8, 2001

Some people have an awfully narrow view of what "rock" is, is all I can say. To me anything with a downbeat and an electric guitar, and some even without one or the other, is part of the rock lineage. I don't see how the age of the performers or their audience can possibly have any influence one way or the other on whether a particular piece of music is or is not "rock" -- the music must always be judged on its own merits.
posted by kindall at 8:15 PM on July 8, 2001

Rock music is definitely a young person's game.
You must admit, though, a few of the old corpses still pull it off.
Iggy Pop, Stephen Tyler, David Bowie... somehow when you see these guys still rocking out convincingly, their age sortta makes `em cooler than the pip squeaks.

That said, I'd rather go see Sum41.
posted by dong_resin at 8:18 PM on July 8, 2001

Brian Setzer is 41, and his latest album has more flat-out whee-ha glee & energy than anything I've heard by anyone this year or last. But he's not aiming for the charts or trying to live up to an expensive contract, like Aerosmith. He's just having fun. Perhaps that's the rule: when it isn't fun anymore, they're too old.
posted by lileks at 8:55 PM on July 8, 2001

What a bunch of ageist bullshit. My first question: how old is the author? Who is he to tell anybody what they can do artistically at any age?

People make this music. Other people enjoy it. The Stones aren't pushing out Sleater-Kinney--it's manufactured pop like Britney and N*stync that's making airplay scarce for true quality. Anyone who's out there doing it with their heart--who fought to make it where they are because they love it--has my ringing endorsement.
posted by frykitty at 8:58 PM on July 8, 2001

I sure saw R.L. Burnside rocking (no it wasn't just blues) last year. And he was doing quite well, even though he was sitting in a chair. And as dong_resin says, Iggy is still rocking. Sabbath still sells out.

Rock and roll didn't start being equivalent with rebellion—it was simply a way for people to have fun and get some action. The Sixties were about rebellion, and rock and roll just happened to be in the right time and place to coincide with an era as it grew to adulthood. Without Bob Dylan, rock still might be about love songs and cars.

Strausbergh does make good points about Cleveland sucking wind, but I don't understand how that relates to his premise. Sure, most historical museums are about dead objects. You can't find the spirit of rock in a museum for exactly the same reasons you can't find the spirit of dinosaurs by looking at their bones.

There's a lot of opinion in the excerpts I read that might have made a better essay for the Village Voice or something. I'll probably get the book at the library just to see if there's anything more (or read it at the bookstore. It seems like it could be read in a sitting).
posted by timothompson at 9:09 PM on July 8, 2001

timo: Actually, for the record, the author does praise Iggy in the excerpts, calling him an exception, but he opines that the man's much more recent stuff isn't up to par. Also, he digs old blues guys. I still wonder what they do to authors and journalists in such cases, but . . .
posted by raysmj at 9:15 PM on July 8, 2001

sum 41... *groan*
posted by mcsweetie at 9:28 PM on July 8, 2001

Aging Rockers have nothing on Aging Rappers.

Here's hoping Ice T is still gangsta at age 70.
posted by D at 9:37 PM on July 8, 2001

it's manufactured pop like Britney and N*stync that's making airplay scarce for true quality

People make this music. Other people enjoy it.

(cut/paste is my friend)
posted by owillis at 9:47 PM on July 8, 2001

Owillis: executives manufacture that music. As far as I'm aware, few executives are people. ;)
posted by frykitty at 10:08 PM on July 8, 2001

/me slaps frykitty some righteous skin.
posted by Optamystic at 10:32 PM on July 8, 2001

Rock and roll is mostly cliché and tripe. It's certainly true of almost anything bland enough to make it to any big radio station's playlist. Non-teenagers -- OK, I'll give you until 25 or so -- should be embarrassed to get excited about it. If it's danceable, then shut up and dance, but don't analyze it or you'll see that there's nothing there.

And this:
"I think you can say that there are certain art forms that only young people can credibly perform. It would be hideous to see an 80-year-old ballet dancer trying to accomplish a graceful plié, and it's hideous to see a 60-year-old Mick Jagger pretending to be the Mick Jagger of 1968, pretending to give a darn about singing 'Satisfaction' for what must be the 20,000th time in his life."
is right.
posted by pracowity at 12:31 AM on July 9, 2001

If this chap had his way, some of my favourite albums of recent years (the Steely Dan album, XTC's Apple Venus and Wasp Star, the King Crimson albums, Scritti Politti's Bonhomie and Anomie and a number of others) wouldn't have happened, and I would have been stuck with... what?

Actually, I'd probably not have bought many CDs.

Old men with loud guitars: it's the new Rock and Roll.

And the old Rock and Roll of course.

(Throw in 70-something Derek Bailey, as well, who makes some very scary sounds indeed).
posted by Grangousier at 2:34 AM on July 9, 2001

I just started playing bass. I'm 34. Damn.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:03 AM on July 9, 2001 [1 favorite]

Hey, it's another Metafiler music argument that's descended into people getting all huffy and defensive about their tastes!

"My argument is not against aging, it's for aging gracefully. Plenty of people know how to do this, but rock stars, like movie stars, find it extremely difficult, and I suspect for the same reason: they have a pathological-professional need to continue to pretend they're young and sexy long after they’ve become neither. It’s not about age so much as it is about the pretense of youth. Nobody says a word about old poets, jazz musicians, or tango dancers. If Mick Jagger wants to sit on a stool at the Blue Note and croak de blooz with Keith on an acoustic guitar, I wouldn't say a word. It’s Mick butt-shaking and pretending to be really into "Satisfaction" for the millionth time that’s unseemly. And it’s what buying into this pretense does for us in the audience, we middle-aged boomers "recapturing the magic" of our teen years, that unsettles me."

Now, I ask you. Of course it's fun to go back—insert requisite "I love 'Exile on Main St' and Aerosmith's collective 1970s output and etc etc etc" disclaimer here—especially when the songs are great, amazing, and had (note tense) an impact of importance.

But sometimes nostalgia should remain in the place where nostalgia sits. When these bands creak out of their chairs on "Behind the Music" and into the tour buses, new members to replace the dead ones in tow, and get airplay and attention and all their spoils, that's taking time away from bands that might epitomize the "rock" aesthetic, such as it was, more. Because that aesthetic is about youth (yes, youth) and thumbing noses and fucking shit up (case in point: the wildly veering messages of the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" and the totally banal 1980s Jagger/Bowie version of "Dancing in the Streets") and not just about collecting the huge paycheck that goes along with the $250 floor seats.

The constant emphasis on Boomer Rawk (which was the subject of a glowing cover article in USA Today a few weekends ago) and the push to canonize it over and over is in a lot of respects nothing more than continued shots in a generational war; the implicit message of these classic rock stations, and all the lionization of the '60s that goes along with that format, is that no one born after the war was over could possibly make anything that had any relevance, because, nyah nyah, the boomers had Vietnam, and the kids after them had ... what? the Iranian hostage crisis?

Not to mention David Lee Roth looks really really silly with his weave, going on Howard Stern and talking about how the original lineup of Van Halen is "really going to get back together this time." I mean, let's be honest. There are some things that should just be let be, and the original version of "Unchained" is one of them.

And yeah, Strasbaugh's argument is ageist, but it's not like rock and roll hasn't been guilty of other isms in its time.

(NB: That said, the Soft Boys show I went to in March was pretty good.)
posted by maura at 4:37 AM on July 9, 2001

Wow. It's as if you feel "classic rock" is really doing something against you. What's the big worry? Why do you have to define rock as youthful? Why can't it simply be the music of that generation? People stay with what they grew up with - surely the average age of people at Stones concerts is way higher than those going to see Eminem.

Isn't it more than young people that listen to rock are listening to the music of their parents? Isn't it them that should be getting a life, and a music, of their own?

Rock musicians are old + boring / Rock is old + boring...
posted by andrew cooke at 5:05 AM on July 9, 2001

"Isn't it more than young people that listen to rock are listening to the music of their parents? Isn't it them that should be getting a life, and a music, of their own?"

Isn't my point that the lionization of "classic" rock artists hands down the explicit notion that nothing will be as good as it was back in the day, thus rendering "getting a life" impossible?
posted by maura at 5:24 AM on July 9, 2001

sorry, "get a life" wasn't aimed particularly at you - i got carried away by rhetoric.

i guess i'm not convinced about the lionisation stuff. isn't it just people writing what people want to hear? won't the majority of people that aren't part of that generation see it as the rubbish it is (as you and i both do)? there's so much interesting "new" music that wasting energy moaning about old farts strutting their stuff seems as pointless as them (the people who like the stones, for example), complaining about rap, lounge, drum+base etc.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:54 AM on July 9, 2001

put another way - realising that your parent's generation still make music is as unappealing as realising that they still make love. neither is going to be particularly pretty, but they enjoy it, so the best tactic is probably just to ignore it...
posted by andrew cooke at 5:59 AM on July 9, 2001

although taste is no doubt a consideration in judging another's music tastes, there is no denying the role of brainlessness in some listeners.
posted by mcsweetie at 7:47 AM on July 9, 2001

I don't have any problems with "old" rock musicians reinventing themselves and continuing to play/create music. Sometimes when they reinvent themselves I like it, and sometimes I don't - it's just like considering any 'new' music. When they DON'T reinvent themselves though and keep playing and it all sounds like same ol', same ol', that's when I start wondering if they're really enjoying it or are they just doing it out of habit, contracts, etc. I won't name names - LOL.
posted by thunder at 8:11 AM on July 9, 2001

when Foghat plays at the local bowing alley...hell i cant say it.
posted by clavdivs at 9:14 AM on July 9, 2001

The whole argument is silly: rock isn't about being a certain age. It's music. It's lyrics and melody and guitar licks and the rhythm.

Writers get better with experience, if they learn from what they're doing, and have some talent to start with. So do musicians.

If Strasbaugh doesn't want to watch Mick Jagger sing "Satisfaction," he doesn't have to. He can save his money--or let someone who's interested take the free ticket and write a review. And sure, Jagger's gotten up on stage thousands of times. How many articles has Strasbaugh written? And how many of those has he genuinely cared about?

Blues musicians and classical pianists don't automatically lose their chops when they reach a certain age, or start to get gray. Neither do rockers. The stadium show is a sideshow, whether the guys on stage are in their 50s or their 20s.

"You're never too old to rock and roll, if you're too young to die."
posted by rosvicl at 9:27 AM on July 9, 2001

Here's the problem, right here:

they have a pathological-professional need to continue to pretend they're young and sexy long after they’ve become neither. It’s not about age so much as it is about the pretense of youth.

Strausbaugh is making the assumption, here that sexy = young, and that by daring to continue to be sexy in their performances, these aging rockers are necessarily lying, pretending to be young.

It's not necessarily so. Strausbaugh has clearly bought into youth culture's premise that older people must go on to lead dignified, sexless lives. But the truth is, David Bowie at 54 is still damn sexier than I'm sure Strausbaugh himself ever will be.
posted by webmutant at 11:25 AM on July 9, 2001

webmutant: Um, no, he doesn't quite say that. He says these folks are no longer young OR sexy, not that young necessarily equals sexy. Pretending to be young may be what makes them less sexy. Well, in many cases it is. I wouldn't have taken these excerpts at all seriously if I hadn't seen Steven Tyler on SNL a coupla weekends ago. It was painful to watch.
posted by raysmj at 11:45 AM on July 9, 2001

Why can't we let rock stars age like we do great jazz musicians?
posted by Zombie at 5:02 PM on July 9, 2001

He hates Patti Smith, which pretty much removes him from serious consideration in my book.

Why can't we let rock stars age like we do great jazz musicians?

Why can't we let rock stars age like we do steak?
posted by rodii at 5:58 PM on July 9, 2001

rodii: Well, Patti Smith pretty much owes her musical career, such as it is, to rock critics and journalists. Or at least that's how the story is usually told, and usually by gushing rock critics, most of whom happened to be based in New York, as was she. Also she sidelined as a rockcrit herself, knew some of the folks writing about her. That "Horses" is still often listed in the Top 100 albums of all time is at least partially a case of "who you know," not what she does or knows. One can say that without making a judgement on the record itself, even.

In any case, this guy's hardly the only one to think she's overrated. I've seen her name used as a symbol of all that's wrong with taste-making critics more times than I can remember, especially in more recent years.
posted by raysmj at 7:31 PM on July 9, 2001

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