Hung up on hang­ing up

CLAS­SIC ROCK THE GEN­ER­A­TION IS GET­TING READY TO RE­TIRE, SO WHO’S GO­ING TO FILL THEIR SHOES?

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - by Dan Deluca

The news-mak­ing thing to do in 2018 for clas­sic rock­ers of a cer­tain age is to call it quits. Or at least say that you’re plan­ning to — once that one last tour is un­der your belt.

Over the win­ter, El­ton John, Paul Si­mon and Joan Baez all an­nounced they’re hang­ing up their rock-and-roll (or folk) shoes. Taken to­gether, the an­nounce­ments — along with oth­ers, like Ozzy Os­bourne — send a warn­ing sig­nal to the con­cert in­dus­try.

For years, many of the big­gest tour­ing acts have been old re­li­able baby boomer rock­ers like the Rolling Stones, Bruce Spring­steen and Tom Petty, who re­mained huge decades after scor­ing their big­gest hits. Those acts con­tin­ued to com­mand broad au­di­ences in part be­cause they rose to pop­u­lar­ity when the cul­ture was more uni­fied than it is in today’s niche-ori­ented dig­i­tal age.

But those old heads are not go­ing to be around for­ever. That re­al­ity was un­der­scored by the loss of stars like David Bowie, Prince and Petty in re­cent years, and the griev­ing their deaths in­spired. And as the age­ing step aside — if they ever re­ally do — is there a next gen­er­a­tion ready to step up and fill seats in are­nas and sta­di­ums?

Be­fore we get to that ques­tion, though, let’s con­sider an­other: Can mar­quee acts with name­brand draw­ing power ever be trusted when they say they’re go­ing to re­tire? Su­per­star mu­sic-mak­ers have been threat­en­ing to exit since the be­gin­ning of time, it seems, but some­how they al­ways find their way back.

Frank Si­na­tra re­tired in 1971, then re­leased

Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back two years later. Jay-z an­nounced he was done with The Black Al­bum in 2003 but re­turned with King­dom Come in 2006.

And, of course, the most egre­gious of­fend­ers are The Who, who first

claimed they were say­ing good­bye for good in 1982, and Cher, whose “Farewell Tour” in 2002 even­tu­ally be­came the “Never Can Say Good­bye Tour” and then ... well, she never could say good­bye. And for ev­ery act that makes noise about call­ing it quits, there are two that refuse to go qui­etly, such as Steely Dan and Fleet­wood Mac.

Scep­ti­cism abounds. As now 74-year-old Randy New­man told the Tele­graph in 2015, “Mu­si­cians keep go­ing. There is no­body ap­plaud­ing at home.” Neil Young called the trend “bulls***” and told Rolling Stone, “When I re­tire, peo­ple will know, be­cause I’ll be dead.”

And when Rod Ste­wart was on Andy Co­hen’s Bravo show Watch What Hap­pens Live with cur­rent tour­ing part­ner Cyndi Lau­per, he was asked what he thought about “your friend El­ton” an­nounc­ing his re­tire­ment.

“I did email her and say, ‘What, again, dear?’” he said with a laugh. “I’ve never spo­ken about re­tire­ment, and if I do re­tire, I’ll just fade away. I think this whole, ‘Oh, I’m go­ing to re­tire!’ thing just stinks of selling tick­ets. It’s dis­hon­est. It’s not rock and roll.” Lau­per, how­ever, sug­gested they could mar­ket their tour as “For the Last Time! Or, Maybe the Sec­ond to Last Time!”

All kid­ding aside, though, there’s a se­ri­ous­ness to the re­tire­ment busi­ness this time around that has to do with chronol­ogy and im­pend­ing mor­tal­ity. Baez is 77, Si­mon is 76 and John, whose fi­nal jaunt is planned to last three years, is 71. An­other hard-tour­ing at­trac­tion, Neil Di­a­mond, 77, an­nounced in Jan­uary that he too will no longer be hit­ting the boards after be­ing di­ag­nosed with Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

The gru­elling na­ture of tour­ing is bound to take its toll, as it did on Petty and Prince, whose deaths were painkiller-re­lated. So, to bor­row from a Ge­orge Jones song, who’s go­ing to fill their shoes? The ques­tion has arisen dur­ing sev­eral re­cent shows at the USA’S Wells Fargo Cen­tre in which the build­ing had lots of empty seats.

Last fall, Cana­dian band Ar­cade Fire, who have car­ried them­selves like heirs to U2 for years, played the South Philadel­phia arena and put on a ter­rific arena-size show, with one prob­lem: There weren’t nearly enough fans there to fill the arena. More re­cently, both Lana Del Rey and Lorde did con­certs at the venue in which the up­per deck was en­tirely un­sold.

The smaller-than-op­ti­mal crowds didn’t se­ri­ously mar the shows.

All who came got their money’s worth. But it also served as a re­minder that while the con­cert in­dus­try as a whole is go­ing like gang­busters — a record $5.65 bil­lion (Dh­s21b) in global ticket sales came in last year — the need to re­place the old heads on their way out isn’t go­ing as smoothly as might have been hoped.

On one hand, the dearth of true new head­lin­ing acts has been masked by the pre­pon­der­ance of mu­sic fes­ti­vals. At events like Fire­fly in June — with Pulitzer Prize-win­ning rap­per Ken­drick La­mar as one of its head­lin­ers — and Made in Amer­ica in Septem­ber (whose lineup has not yet been an­nounced), 50,000 peo­ple or so can be lured by the value equa­tion of see­ing a dozen or more bands in a sin­gle day, and more in a week­end.

On the other hand, while some acts strug­gle to fill are­nas, there’s a group of next-gen­er­a­tion head­lin­ers that are huge draws. Among those are arena-size rap­pers like La­mar and Kanye West, who re­cently an­nounced a new al­bum and who ap­pears to be ready to tour again. And larger still are acts like Bey­oncé. The list also in­cludes Tay­lor Swift, coun­try star Kenny Ch­es­ney and Swift’s buddy Ed Sheeran.

What all those acts have in com­mon is that they don’t play rock: They’re hip-hop, pop and coun­try stars. After gen­er­a­tions in the spot­light, soon-to-be-on-their­way se­nior cit­i­zen baby boomer stars like John and Si­mon are fi­nally see­ing their epic ca­reers com­ing to an end and are yield­ing the com­mu­nal space to a di­verse group of voices mak­ing them­selves heard.

El­ton John

For ev­ery clas­sic rock act that makes noise about call­ing it quits, there are those like Fleet­wood Mac that refuse to go qui­etly.

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