Why can’t seventy year-olds rock out on stage?

Why can’t seventy year-olds rock out on stage?

There were rumblings last week The Rolling Stones 50th Anniversary tour happening in 2012, and already the snarky comments are surfacing on music blogs about Mick’s and Keith’s ages.  Comments that question the appropriateness of, or ability to, play rock music as a septuagenarian.

Earlier this month I attended a jazz concert where Roy Haynes (the bandleader) was eighty-six years old, and played drums for two hours straight.  Patronsroutinely pay to see octogenarian orchestral conductors and soloists re-visit scores they’ve played for decades.  But bring up the idea of U2 touring in 2035, and it feels odd.  Why might that be?

I posit a few possible reasons for our reactions to “grandpa rock”.  First, only now is the first generation of stadium rockers reaching senior citizen status, as are the fans who first saw them perform as young adults.  Is our ambivalence really about giving ourselves permission to rock out at seventy, coloring our feelings about our heroes continuing to do so?  Are we jealous because Sir Mick or Sir Paul are much fitter and better-conditioned than we are – could we run around on stage, yet alone sing, for two straight hours?

Or maybe it’s the aggressive, rhythmic nature of rock – its origins as a rejection of the previous ideas of youthful decorum and conformity.  Keith Richards claims rock is “all about the crotch” – are we scared of being seventy and sexy?

Leonard Bernstein likely had a different, more nuanced interpretation of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony at sixty-five, than he did when conducting the same piece in his thirties or mid-forties, and music lovers would pay to see him conduct at any age. Shouldn’t Paul McCartney or Keith Richards be permitted to re-interpret classics they themselves composed as younger men?

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