||Not fade away: What keeps the so-called geezers of rock going? It's much more than just the money
BY: Chris Cobb
If we were black, nobody would care how old we are. -- Rolling Stone Keith Richard, aged 59.
OTTAWA - Keith has a point. As the 59-year-old cadaverous Stone and his sprightly bandmate Mick Jagger plan a 40th anniversary world tour, they can only be heartened by the sight of their old rival, 59-year-old Paul McCartney, blazing the 2002 concert trail and doing great business at the stadium box office. But it irritates Keith all the way to the bank that people obsess about the age of veteran rock stars, but when B.B. King, Buddy Guy or other weathered bluesman come up in conversation, the question of advancing age is unlikely to be even mentioned -- except in a positive way.
The Rolling Stones's No Security tour a few years ago was nicknamed the Social Security tour by the band's entourage. The old jokes about getting Geritol as a major sponsor will doubtless be unearthed again when they tour this fall. (Jagger is also a year away from 60.)
So whether it be the Stones, McCartney, Sting (51), Carlos Santana (55), Neil Young (56) or Eric Clapton (56), the question always hangs out there: with all that money, why on earth do they still do it? The answer is not necessarily simple.
McCartney performs in Toronto on Saturday for an Air Canada Centre concert that sold out as quickly as vendors could dish out the $250 tickets. When the inevitable question came his way during a pre-tour news conference, the one-man billionaire corporation dismissed even the suggestion that this is a farewell tour.
"So many people have said they were bowing out and they came back," he said. "Besides, I always thought I would live until about 90 and the estimate is going up. I will probably be wheeled up onstage, and sing 'Yes-ter-daaaaay.' "
Some rock stars who have been around since the 1960s try to cast off the shackles of hits past, largely because they are sick of performing them.
A dozen years ago, for instance, the now 55-year-old David Bowie marketed a whole tour on the fact (fiction, actually) that this would be the last time he performed Space Oddity, Let's Dance, Changes and the rest of the albatross of nostalgia that is his back catalogue.
"Absolutely, without any doubt whatsoever," he said, when asked to confirm this radical departure. "I just don't want to find myself in a position of touting the old songs for the rest of my life."
It was a nice try and, according to many of Bowie's rock 'n' roll kin, totally understandable.
Performing Desperado on a nightly basis is akin to "sharp needles in the eyes," former Eagles singer Don Henley, 54, once observed.
Or, to quote Aerosmith's Joe Perry, 52: "If I have to play Walk This Way on another national broadcast, I'll probably throw up."
Others don't get so ruffled about the old stuff.
Elton John, 55, has taken to apologizing to his audiences for singing new material and even reneged on a Bowie-like promise never again to sing Candle in the Wind, in deference to the funeral adaptation he sang at St. Paul's Cathedral for the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Beach Boy Al Jardine has a different view.
"Beach Boys songs are anchors," he told the Ottawa Citizen. "They are perennial good friends that never changed in a world that is constantly being turned upside down. They are more vital now than ever. We know because of the way people still react to them. They go nuts."
Jardine, 60, who recently lost a legal dispute with singer Mike Love over the use of the name Beach Boys, is touring with a new band called Good Vibrations. The singers in Good Vibrations are his own two eldest sons and Brian Wilson's two daughters. Wilson, still suffering from chronic depression related to excessive drug ingestion, penned and produced the best Beach Boys music.
When he isn't slagging Love's "second rate beach band," Jardine gets thoughtful about life as a touring rock 'n' roll star.
"It's an addiction," he says. "The road becomes an end unto itself, in that reality is a lot harder to face than unreality. We live in the best hotels, in the most beautiful cities. We sample the finest food, the finest hospitality and enjoy all the sights. But we don't live there and have little idea of the trials and tribulations that the people go through every day. It's a beautiful state of unreality."
Jardine, interviewed last week while preparing a private school admissions letter for one of his younger children, says money can protect against reality but nobody can be totally insulated.
"It doesn't matter how rich and famous you are," he said, "when you get home you still have to deal with day-to-day reality. And it's not fun. Reality sucks.
"It's a lot easier to write a song than it is to write to an admissions director telling him why your son should be in his school. And singing to people is such a beautiful, harmonious experience. If you could have that every night of the week, where would you rather be?"
George Pollard, a social psychologist and pop culture specialist, said beneath the glamour and fortune, aging rock stars are just like the rest of us.
"When these guys go out on tour," he said, "it's like some ordinary Joe picking up his lunch pail and going off to work. Work gives us meaning and definition.
"It's about a self worth and self esteem that only comes from working."
GRAPHIC: Photo: AP photo; Paul McCartney, shown here in performance this week in Chicago, comes to Toronto this weekend as part of his Driving Rain tour.