The behaviour of rock stars is never predictable. And the behaviour of ageing rock stars is even less predictable. In the past month we’ve seen Bono and The Edge from U2 reveal details of a Spider-Man musical featuring their own music and lyrics, while both Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper have decided to start advertising for insurance companies. Is this what we want from our once edgy and controversial idols? Granted, that the only thing edgy about the Edge is his name, but Iggy Pop selling insurance? Iggy Pop is a man who made his name vomiting, injecting heroin and rolling around in glass on stage, representing the immortality of youth, now urging us to protect our future in case we get crushed by a bus.
The ageing rock star has become a typical feature of modern culture, clinging onto their fame with only past glories to support them and deluded in their attempts for further success. It is inevitable that the ripe, young rock stars we have today will one day pass their sell-by-date and soon become part of the ‘ageing rock star’ contingent, doomed to embarrass themselves and tarnish their past work, unless of course they die before this can happen. We should prepare ourselves for the possibility that in the not-too-distant future we could be seeing Amy Winehouse telling us how to spend our pensions- in the world of the ageing rock star, it seems anything, apart from credibility, is possible.
The failure of our Pop’s and our Cooper’s to retain their integrity while being able to ride public transport for free highlights the harsh truth- what to do now that the fans that made them famous could now, perhaps, be six feet under, leaving them with a whole new generation of fans to win over. Obviously the smart thing to do would be to stop releasing records and call it a day, content with the work that they’ve done, or better still, reject money-grabbing advertising campaigns in attempts for publicity. But the common-sense approach never seems to come easily to our rock stars. Countless numbers of them have succumbed to the pressures of trying to remain relevant and have only embarrassed themselves. By refusing to accept their sagging skin, increasing waists and receding hairlines with grace and dignity, our ageing rock stars are making a mistake in trying to fool their audience that they are still the same thing that they were 20 years ago, which they are quite clearly not. Rod Stewart, who continues to pout and gyrate his hips at 64, exemplifies this. I hope I don’t come across as ageist, as I am all for people continuing to do what they enjoy, regardless of age, but in the case of Rod, perhaps its time he swapped the leopard-print pants for some comfy elasticised long-johns and started to enjoy the benefits of old age.
But rock doesn’t have to be just a young guns game. However, only when an ageing rock star admits that they are ageing, and not a ‘young gun’ anymore, will they be treated seriously. These rare self-confessed ‘ageing-rockers’, who have defied the stereotype, include Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and David Bowie. By accepting that they are growing old, these artists have evolved with the times, conscious of the fact that in order to avoid the rock and roll knife you must remain relevant to each new generation, no matter how old you are. These artists, somehow, have achieved this, which only goes to further prove their genius. The Rolling Stones too, although far from accepting their age, are not wholly embarrassing on account of the fact that they haven’t seemed to have changed at all since the 60s, and most people are genuinely shocked and impressed by the fact that they are still breathing, let alone on performing stage.
Unfortunately, the only way our rock stars can realistically guarantee an ever lasting, un-tainted musical legacy is to die. Although probably the least appealing of options, the proof is in the pudding: only the very brave critics badmouth the likes of Buckley, Curtis, Cobain or Hendrix. These artists are remembered in rock history for the thing that they should be remembered for- the great music that they left behind. This is because, for good or for bad, the artists didn’t live long enough to taint their musical legacy. Who can say that if Kurt Cobain weren’t alive today he wouldn’t be advertising cereal, or that Ian Curtis wouldn’t be doing duets with Alexandra Burke? It is a hard decision to make as to which I’d prefer, the artist alive and well but with no musical integrity, or tragically dead but with their music safe from the threat of being tarnished. But this is not the point. The point is what the ageing rock stars we have today and the ones we will have in the future should do to avoid the label of an ex-rocker. For the answer to this, ask Bruce, Bob, or David. Just don’t ask Iggy, unless you want to talk about insurance.