Rock ‘N’Roll Heaven on Earth


We are young

So let’s set the world on fire

We can burn brighter than the sun.

By now readers have probably heard this song, which is all over the radio and television, performed by the band .fun, whose members undoubtedly overdosed on ee cummings while in high school.

But some of us, alas, are, how shall we say, not quite so young anymore, and our rock’n’roll heroes have already burned brighter than the sun.  Some, as Neil Young foretold before the members of .fun were even born, decided that it was better to burn out than it is to rust, and they are gone or mere shells of their former selves; some hit the road every few years and perform their old tunes before adoring and appreciative fans; and some – like Neil Young – remain vital and creative despite the passing years.

But imagine, if you will, a new, sensational, trans-Atlantic show in which all of our heroes burn brightly again – together for one more night.

The master of ceremonies of this extravaganza in England will be David Bowie, one of the only performers comfortable just holding a microphone and introducing his friends.  Bowie will sing, of course, but his presence will lend a patina of elegance to the proceedings.

After singing a song or two Bowie introduces the next performers:  the Rolling Stones.  They blast, Mick struts with that androgynous body that never seems to age, Keith looks like death warmed over, as he has for the past, oh, thirty years, and when paramedics come on stage with oxygen, Bowie follows and introduces fellow Englishmen Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend, who threaten to steal the show just as they did ten years ago at the post-September 11 benefit concert at Madison Square Garden.

Bowie then returns and sends the show across the pond, as Americans like to think the British say, to the U.S., where American host Grace Slick, who once said that performing rock’n’roll on a stage after the age of fifty is ridiculous, has agreed to host but not to perform.  Slick introduces the Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson and Mike Love (and the other guys who don’t really matter) serve up a few good vibrations and remind us why we all loved the sounds of the surf created by a bunch of Californians whom we now know rarely even dipped their toes in that surf.  When Brian Wilson starts to look spooked by the large crowd and longs to go back into his room, Grace returns to the stage to escort him off, but not before introducing the next performers:  the Everly Brothers.  After singing “Wake Up, Little Susie” they are joined by Simon and Garfunkel and the four of them together sing “Bye Bye Love.”  The brothers leave the stage to Paul and Art, who lie-la-lie and coo-coo-ca-choo for a few minutes before Simon shoo-shoos Garfunkel off the stage so he can plug in for a few numbers.  When Simon leaves he is replaced by Chuck Berry, who’s about 104 years old and looks as if he can barely stand yet can still play his guitar, can still sing, and can still, incredibly, do a respectable duck-walk.

When Grace returns to the stage she announces that it’s time to hear from a different kind of voice and introduces Linda Ronstadt, who it turns out can still really belt.  Ronstadt then steps toward the rear of the stage so she can sing back-up for Neil Young, who stresses the importance of rockin’ in the free world and then is joined by Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and David Crosby for mellow harmonies that have an energized yet fading audience, well past its bedtime, exclaiming “Ahhhhhhhh.”

When the boys are done, Graham Nash walks off stage and returns with someone on his arm:  a skittish-looking Carly Simon, fighting a moment of stage fright.  Once she gets started, though, she’s fine and enjoys once again tantalizing her audience with the question of who was so vain.

Grace Slick then tosses the show back across the Atlantic to David Bowie, who brings out Rod Stewart, who has been invited to participate only on the condition that he perform neither disco nor anything that might’ve been sung by Rosemary Clooney.  Stewart proceeds to remind his audience that he is at heart a rocker and that when your voice was already gravel, time barely touches it.

Time also doesn’t slow the hands, as the next performer, Eric Clapton, demonstrates to the adoring audience as he rips through some blues, his fingers an occasional blur.  Fingers continue blurring when Elton John, wearing a feather boa and enormous eyeglasses for old times’ sake, demonstrates that he can still make a piano sound like a room full of instruments.

Following Sir Elton, Bowie returns to the stage and introduces another knight of the realm:  Sir Paul McCartney, who energizes his audience by reminding them that the cute Beatle also is a great Beatle.

In the last hand-off of the night, Bowie sends the concert back to the states, and after Carole King nervously weaves a tapestry of great songs, all of the performers on both continents come back onto the stage to join Bob Dylan in a chorus of “Forever Young.”  No one can make out a word Dylan sings, but the others gratefully drown him out.

By now you get the idea:  these are all older performers.  Okay, old performers.  How old?  All of them are eligible for Medicare:  they are all at least sixty-five years old; some are more than seventy.

Did The Curmudgeon miss anybody you’d like to see in this fantasy concert?

If we can repeat this gathering in the near future, the dramatis personae will expand.  Wait another year and Robert Plant, James Taylor, and Billy Joel can join the show.  Wait two years and the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, can join his peers – some would consider them his subjects – and demonstrate that even when you’re old enough that Medicare will pay for your prostate exam, a guy can still crank it out for two-and-a-half-hours and leave his audience crying for more.

Back in 1974, the Righteous Brothers sang about rock’n’roll heaven, lamenting the loss of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jim Morrison, Jim Croce, and Bobby Darin.  Many more, though, are still with us.  They are older – geezers, some may say – but those among them who still perform still fill concert halls and remind us of why we love them.  Some of them even still have the capacity to surprise and delight with new and exciting music, their creative juices still flowing even as their hair grows gray, their voices grow soft, and their partying ways become a thing of the past because they have finally reached the point in life where the price they pay the morning after far exceeds the short-term pleasure of a substance happily abused.

Tonight they may no longer be young, but give them a guitar and an audience and they can once again set the world on fire.  Though some may have burned out, others hold onto their talent, to their magnificence, and fiercely fend off the rust for at least one more night.



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  • Scott  On May 15, 2012 at 7:02 am

    Got excited! I skimmmed the first couple of paragraphs too quickly, and I thought this was news about a real upcoming concert! So disappointed! Other than Grace Slick (REALLY?), I thought it was a superb lineup.

    • foureyedcurmudgeon  On May 15, 2012 at 8:13 am

      Amazing how you picked the one thing in the whole piece that I hesitated about. I didn’t know who to make host of the U.S. portion of the show, and then I remembered hearing her say something about how performing rock’n’roll on a stage past the age of 50 was ridiculous and I decided to go for it.


  • By Another Sign of Aging | The Four-Eyed Curmudgeon on June 19, 2017 at 6:15 am

    […] is looking at a piece The Curmudgeon wrote about older rock’n’roll performers and seeing what has happened to an alarming number of them in the five years since that piece […]

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