The guy who wrote the song
“Too Old to Rock ‘N’ Roll: Too Young to Die’’ has been too old to rock ‘n’ roll and too young to die for a couple of decades now.
Ian Anderson, the creative force and lead singer for the band Jethro Tull penned that song of wisdom in the 1970s about rock and rollers who are washed up and still trying to hang on to their careers.
Thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can watch a youthful Ian and his mates perform that song in 1976 when he had long hair and wore some loud blue outfit. Great stuff. Great song. Fun video.
That was back when he hadsome energy, funny facial gestures and when he could dance and spin around on one leg whilst playing the flute.
Also through the magic of YouTube, there is a performance from 2008 of the same song by some old geezer with a beret with a bunch of wrinkles on his clock. Wait a minute! That’s Ian!
The 1976 performance featured a pretty cocky Ian singing the tune. The 2008 performance is ironic as he is living the life of that song.
Rock and roll stardom is an odd thing. While some of it is based on musical talent, a lot of it is based on image and being cool. Sure, once in a while a not-so-attractive performer, such as Christopher Cross, can make it big. But for the most part, you need to be decent or unique looking and have an air of cool about you.
It’s funny what happens to some of these rockers when they get older. It can run the gamut.
Paul McCartney in his 70s looks like an older version of Paul McCartney from his youth. Mick Jagger looks like an older version of Mick Jagger. Keith Richards seems like he always looked like he was 65 back then and now doesn’t look a day over 66.
Those guys still have it.
While not considered rock, people like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin kept their air of cool through their old age. I think that if you dug up Martin’s coffin and looked at his decaying bones, they would still emit a coolness factor.
Then there are some rockers who morph into old guys gradually.
Billy Joel used to be a hip New York kind of guy who was skinny and marrying supermodels. Over the years, we got to watch him turn gray and lose a lot of his hair. Yeah, he put on a few pounds, too. Now he looks completely different, but we all saw it coming.
Peter Gabriel is another guy like that. The new Rock and Roll Hall of Famer seemed like he was stylized guy who did videos with a sense of humor and the next thing you know, he became grandpa. Others may have noticed the gradual change from “Solsbury Hill” to over-the-hill but I missed it.
And then there are artists in what I call the “Holy-$#%*-what-the-heck-happened-to-that-guy?” category.
I first noticed that phenomenon when Adam Ant started touring again a few years ago.
Ant was one of those guys in the 1980s who was considered sexy and vamped it up with makeup and wild clothing and jumping around to tribal beats singing songs ranging from “Goody Two Shoes” to “Strip,” “Whip in My Valise’’ and “Never Trust a Man (With Egg on His Face).’’
Now he looks old, stiff and wears Buddy Holly-type of glasses although he still wears attention-getting clothes. As a young man, it worked. As an old guy, he looks daffy.
On a more obscure scale, I admire the music of a dude named Bill Nelson who started with a progressive-rock group Be-Bop Deluxe in the 70s, had a stylized spacy new-wave sound in the 80s and avant-garde experimentation for the rest of his career. He was always dressed in suits and seemed to be a little too cool, sophisticated, pompous and above it all.
Once again, through the magic of YouTube, there is an interview of this man from a few years ago and he looks heavier, his hair is short, he has a gray beard and thick glasses while wearing a sport jacket over what looks like a flannel shirt and some brown shoes to complete the mix. The man with such a cool, detached persona back then now looks like your goofball uncle.
Finally, another obscure group from the Chicago area, Shoes, stunned me.
Back in the late 1970s and early 80s, this group from Zion made some of the best breezy, melodic pop songs around, and I think it could have been a huge sensation. But the fellas weren’t all that big on touring and it might have hurt them in the long run.
Their album covers featured young skinny guys with long hair. Now there is a video of these guys playing in Milwaukee last July and it kind of looks like a Karaoke band playing Shoes songs.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that some of these groups are still able to keep their wonderful music alive, but geez it’s a shock to the system seeing them age.
So play on, boys, play on.
Whether you are too old or not, as long as you have some fans and can fill a room, keep it up.
And for Justin Bieber, Bastille, OneRepublic and Aloe Blacc – your time is coming up in a few decades. Will you be like McCartney? Or Adam Ant?