Thursday, November 03, 2005

Redefining 'old' in rock 'n' roll

Can you still rock 'n' roll at 40? How about 50? Can musicians who qualify for the senior citizen discount still fill arenas and put new albums on the charts?

Well, some aging rock stars have been answering those questions in recent months with a resounding "yes."

Original baby boomer stars who have refused to retire include Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Rod Stewart. Don't forget the touring titans-- The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney-- all over 60. Ironically, this is the rebellious generation, which in their youth, prompted kids not to trust anyone over 30.

Aerosmith, only slightly less curmudgeonly than the Stones, just released a new album, "Rockin' the Joint," coming 32 years after their "Dream On" smash hit. Formed in 1970, it took Aerosmith until 1998 to score a No. 1 hit in "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing."

60-year-old Stewart, a member of the Small Faces eons ago, is on his fourth volume of the "Great American Songbook" series. While not exactly rocking out, Stewart is selling scads of CDs by concentrating on interpreting old standards.

You may wish to see a little less of Ozzy Osbourne, frontman for hard rock pioneers Black Sabbath. Still, he has his heavy metal Ozzfest tour and "Osbournes" TV program. With a new album of cover songs out this week, you may argue whether he is aging gracefully, but he is aging.

Bob Dylan took America by storm as a young musician and poet more than forty years ago. Although the hits stopped coming almost four decades ago, Dylan-- at age 64-- continues to tour and release new material. He remains a cultural icon although contemporary radio would never play his songs (although maybe they should).

Clapton, regarded early in his career as a guitar god, turned 60 this year and celebrated by releasing "Back Home," a new studio album. A former member of the Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers, Cream, and Derek and the Dominos, Clapton has been indulging his blues persona in recent years.

He released two CD's of material written by Robert Johnson, covering all known recordings of the revered 1930's bluesman. Clapton also finally teamed with his hero, B. B. King, for a well-received collaborative effort. In working with King, who turned 80 in September, Clapton was a mere whipper-snapper by comparison.

In fact, while rock audiences adore their youthful hit-makers, blues fans seem to appreciate the elder musician who has honed his playing and singing over a lifetime.

The prolific Neil Young, who survived a brain aneurysm this year, continues to take his fans on a wide-ranging musical journey. He is so busy with recording new songs he can't find the time to prepare long-promised retrospective packages. The 59-year-old Young recently issued a disc called "Prairie Wind."

Even some stars who dominated the music business in recent years aren't quite so young. Madonna is 47. Members of U2, Metallica, Motley Crue and Bon Jovi are also in their 40s. The "Boss" Bruce Springsteen turned 56 in September.

The Sixties were a long time ago, but so were the Eighties. Both decades, in fact, now provide successful radio formats.

Many of rock's original stars survive and continue to perform. Chuck Berry, who brought his irresistible hits to American teenagers in the 1950's is also 80. The Godfather of Soul, James Brown is 72, while Fats Domino is 77. Piano-pounding Jerry Lee Lewis is 70, while Little Richard is 73. Hall of Famers Don and Phil Everly, are 68 and 66, respectively.

While it's unlikely any of rock's founders will return to prominence, the influential Sixties-era stars who survive may be re-defining what it means to be "old" in rock 'n' roll.

We'll wait to hear from Britney Spears, age 23.

No comments: