On September 16, B.B. King turned 83, just weeks after releasing his latest recording, the well received One Kind Favor, and on the same day, 59-year-old Lindsey Buckingham blessed us with Gift of Screws, thus continuing a run of great music created by rock, country, and blues musicians who could qualify for the senior citizens discount.
Today’s older generation of pop and rock stars — the Bob Dylans, Patti Smiths, and Al Greens — have lived, lost, and flourished. They come from diverse backgrounds, but I believe these traits unite them:
- Adventure. Robert Plant, now 60, could have rested on his laurels after Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980. Instead, he embarked on a solo career that established him as one of the most inventive musicians in rock history, not “the ex-front man for Led Zeppelin.” His work, especially in the 1990s and beyond, has explored the rhythms of North Africa, rockabilly, folk, and a dash of electronica. He doesn’t need the primal scream of Zeppelin days. On the CD Dreamland, he practically whispers folk covers, and he quietly explores blue grass with Alison Krauss in Raising Sand. Could it be that the established rockers like Plant are in a better position to take these kind of risks because they have nothing left to prove?
- Perspective. When Paul McCartney was 24, he could only ponder turning 64 some day. In Memory Almost Full, McCartney, his 60s, could speak from experience. On his best recording in decades, he accepts his mortality but revels in the fact that his life has room for whimsy and joy. Perspective, however, also means pain. In the poignant “Mama You Sweet,” Lucinda Willaims, in her 50s, learns to say goodbye to her mother, who died in 2004. In “The Long Goodbye,” Bob Seger, in his early 60s, ruminates on the ravages of Alzheimer’s (which his family has experienced first hand). Lucinda Williams and Bob Seger have experienced the kind of loss that comes with growing older. I want to know how they feel about that.
- Passion. I don’t particularly care what Kid Rock believes about the war in Iraq. But when Neil Young and John Fogerty vented their anger about Iraq in Living with War and Revival recently, I listened. In particular, Young has seen it all (and protested against it all) from Vietnam to Iraq. He’s earned the right to be a conscientious voice. The older rockers (especially contemporaries of Bob Dylan) came of age at a time when rock and roll meant having a point of view about society and politics. And boy, are they pissed off. John Mellencamp rails against racism in “Jenna,” and the Eagles take on empty consumerism in “Long Road out of Eden.” Whether you agree with them is beside the point. Their passionate social commentary is something sorely lacking today with the exception of rap muscians like Dr. Dre and rock bands like Radiohead.
Rock and roll still means decadence and rebellion. But “hope I die before I get old,” as Pete Townsend once famously wrote, is more myth than reality. The Bob Segers, Lindsey Buckinghams, Lucinda Williamses, and Robert Plants show us that rock also means passion, beauty, loss, adventure, and gowing old. Gracefully.
For further listening, I’ve listed below a partial roll call of excellent music from veterans since 2006: