Question: Should the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in history be history? Or, to put it more bluntly, are the Rolling Stones too old to be rocking and rolling?
By now you’ve read about, heard about or seen photos and video (or heck, maybe you were even there) of the Stones’ performance Saturday night at the Echoplex in Echo Park. A lot of Hollywood types and celebs were there: Johnny Depp, Bruce Willis, Gwen Stefani, Owen Wilson -- you get the idea. Regular folks too, ones lucky enough to snag tickets in a quickie lottery. For a first-hand impression, check out the rather breathless take by Times pop music critic Randall Roberts, with observations such as:
When Jagger splashed some of his drinking water into the crowd, I got drenched -- and then like any true fan, wiped the water all over my head, licked my lips to get some into my mouth. (This morning I feel like I’ve got some of Jagger’s DNA in my system.)
To which all I can say is, Randall, you got off a lot easier than the guy at Altamont.
However, if you want to know what it looked like Saturday night, check out the photo in Britain’s Daily Mail, the one accompanying the article headlined “You look jiggered Mr Jagger!”
Indeed he does. And that’s the point.
Jagger will be 70 this year. So will Keith Richards (God only knows how). Charlie Watts is 71; Ronnie Wood is the spring chicken of the bunch at 65. (Tellingly, Wood told the British daily the Mirror recently that his eyesight is so bad he can barely see the audience.)
So does that mean it’s all downhill for the Stones? In a word: You bet it does.
Now, certainly the band remains popular; its music reaches across generations, as shown by the diverse crowd at the Echoplex on Saturday. And perhaps they’re right; perhaps, as the Stones’ album in 1974 proclaimed, “It’s Only Rock ’n Roll.” If people still want to see them, and they still want to perform, what’s the problem? Or, as my wife, who saw them in concert in Europe in 1973, put it: “They weren’t exactly Hollywood handsome then; why pick on them now?”
Only, only … I just can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right. There are plenty of things one can do late in life. Painting. Acting. Golf. Fishing. Heck, some people can even perform. Think Frank Sinatra. Or Tony Bennett.
But is there anything more painful than aging rockers on stage? Think Elvis. Ouch. Do you really want to go to a concert and worry that one of the guys on stage is going to keel over?
It’s like Hugh Hefner marrying a twentysomething. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
If you caught the wonderful documentary “Crossfire Hurricane” last year on HBO, you saw the Stones as the young rock rebels they once were. And now you see their faces, and they are the faces of us aging boomers. They don’t want to leave the stage -- and neither do we. We want to hold on to the Summer of Love, to Woodstock, to when we were young and were going to rule the world.
But the love beads and Nehru jackets are gone -- along with our hair. Our manifesto today comes straight from Dylan Thomas:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
So the Stones go on raging, and playing, and legions of fans go on watching.
But as Charles Barkley likes to say, “Father Time is undefeated.”
Or, as Jagger himself summed it up in “Crossfire Hurricane”: “You can't be young forever.”
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