February 10, 2002
Grandfatherly Rockers Smooth Out the Wrinkles
By JOHN LELAND
IN a recent television documentary called "Being Mick," Jade Jagger asks her father for a favor. It's about Mr. Jagger's next love interest. Jade, who is 30, begs, "Nobody younger than me, please."
The documentary, produced by Mr. Jagger's own film company, was part of a marketing blitz that did exactly what his daughter asked him not to: it went chasing after a generation too young to play with Mr. Jagger's older children.
Pitching Mr. Jagger and his new album, "Goddess in the Doorway," to generation Britney, the campaign included a frontal push on MTV's teenage-oriented "Total Request Live" and a Web site featuring photographs of Mr. Jagger with MTV heartthrobs. The documentary made its intentions clear. After a duet with Lenny Kravitz, who is 21 years younger, Mr. Jagger says, "If I were a girl, I'd buy that."
Those of us who grew up with the band may feel a pang at this turn of affections: Mick Jagger, 58, has decided we're too old for him.
Mr. Jagger, whose album spent just one week in the Top 40 last December, at No. 39, is not the only rock geezer facing the question of the second act: what to do when your defining sounds, your screech of triumphal youth, are older than most of the people on the planet? Rock elders have strong brand identity multitudes still pay to see them play the old songs in concert but in corporate terms, their new music has done little to bolster the market. The answer, for many, has been to rework the old product line, for new markets or outlets.
Billy Joel, 52, eight years since his last No. 1 pop hit, made an album of classical music, "Fantasies and Delusions: Music for Solo Piano." It topped the classical charts for more than three months. "I feel bad for Yo-Yo Ma going to No. 2," he told the Reuters wire service. Paul McCartney, 59, reintroduced himself as a poet last spring with a book called "Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics 1965-1999." After Sept. 11, Mr. McCartney reintroduced himself again as a loyal New Yorker; though his new album, "Driving Rain," flopped, Mr. McCartney came through as a symbol of the city's mettle.
More than two decades after its heyday, the disco throb of Abba has new life in the Broadway show "Mamma Mia!" perfect for theater audiences who last saw the Who's "Tommy." And even as Beatles fans continue to grieve for George Harrison, the nouvelle circus company Cirque du Soleil is planning a musical version of the band's "Yellow Submarine." If the acts have lost their claim to relevance, their brand appeal carries on.
Aging rock stars have long chased younger audiences, of course, often hiring producers half their age. But this kind of strategic repurposing the selling of postrelevance is something new.
Rock stars, once ephemeral voices of churn, have evolved into established platforms; the Rolling Stones brand, for instance, will have its 40th anniversary this year. The creases of age, so inconvenient for a performer trying to create new pop hits, are a boon, however, in launching derivative products. Billy Joel's classical pieces or Paul McCartney's printed lyrics, for example, repackage the excitement of the performers' rock work, while flattering those fans who make the short jump into more highbrow shopping sections. The value of these products lies in their connection to an essence that is now golden and beyond touch.
In "Being Mick," the rapper Wyclef Jean, 29, pitches Mr. Jagger to young listeners as their last chance to experience the real thing. "It's not even that many of them left," he says, in a very disconcerting pitch about rock elders. Once a threat to civilization, Mr. Jagger now sells himself as an endangered species.
For acts that have put in their time, this solves the problem of the fickle audience. Listeners may retain their brand loyalty to the Stones but are unwilling to buy their latest album. The Abba show or the "Yellow Submarine" circus musical unlike the usual new album do not need to measure up to the past; just by their existence they bring back some of its glow. And they do not need to compete with Britney Spears for time on MTV or the radio. At their best, these new incarnations move beyond nostalgia, finding new resources in past affections, for audiences ready to be touched in new ways. Mr. McCartney's "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" for example, finds new pluck on the page.
All this rebranding, though, messes with rock's longstanding generational contract. Much of the thrill of the Rolling Stones's music, or even Billy Joel's, was that it screamed for recognition and validation from the figures of authority, even as it thumbed its nose at them. This thrill didn't strictly elapse with adolescence. With a simple turn of the volume knob, you too could tell the killjoy world parents, work, the police, your spouse, your ex-spouse's attorney to get off of your cloud. It is disheartening to see Mr. Jagger now, in his continuing role of generational proxy, begging recognition from the Britney Spears set.
Keith Richards used to say that as the Stones got older, they should emulate bluesmen like Muddy Waters, grinding it out in roadhouses and beer halls, without regard to the latest trends. There would be some value in Mr. Richards's method: sharing the wisdom of one's spry elders with an audience confronting its own senescence. Mr. Jagger never had much use for this method. Even now, he dismisses the path of Bob Dylan, 60, who has found new inspiration in the basics. "I love the new Bob Dylan record," he told USA Today, "but that could have been made 20 years ago."
Mr. Jagger, who has been right about so many things, may prove wrong here. After four decades as a brand leader, he has put himself in the position of continually trying to introduce New Coke. For aging pop stars, a successful second act requires not new anthems, but new uses for the old ones. In this system, it's better to diversify than fade away.
||Coming from New York (the article) I'd say that was pretty fair