Your Favorite Band Is Better Than Ever (But For How Long?)
Just a couple of days ago, I was thinking about the graying of the '60s music generation -- or more specifically, that we're going to see a lot of unfortunate but timely losses over the next few years, and then news comes that the great Jack Bruce passed away. You may not have been a fan of Bruce or his most famous band, Cream, but I can almost guarantee that his approach to bass guitar rippled across the generations and influenced the bands in your power rotation.
Time is running out for the pioneers of modern music. Those who are left from the first class of rock stars are in their eighties now: Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Elvis guitarist Scotty Moore. The architects are mostly gone, and I never had a chance to see or speak to any of them.
As for the '60s, we're down to two Beatles. Paul's longevity as a performer is amazing -- the guy can still pack a stadium at 72 -- and Ringo remains peace and love cool, but how long until we're down to one, and then none? Also down to two: the Doors and the Who.
The Stones have fared much better. They haven't lost a member to death since Brian Jones drowned in 1969. They're slowing down, though.
Not one member of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience is still with us.
Seventies musicians are in their sixties now, and they're showing their age, too. AC/DC's Malcolm Young is dealing with dementia, and Nazareth frontman Dan 'Love Hurts' McAfferty retired a couple of years ago due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We lost the great Alex Chilton to a heart attack in 2010.
Don't even get me started on the Ramones.
By the time we get to the '80s and '90s, most of our favorite musicians are still with us, with exception to accidents (Jeff Buckley), tragedies (Layne Staley, Andrew Wood), and suicides (Kurt Cobain, Elliott Smith).
Death and illness aren't the only ways we lose great musicians.
Death and illness aren't the only ways we lose great musicians, though. Sometimes we simply lose them in the meat grinder of pop culture, that voracious machine that's always looking for the latest, if not the greatest. These guys may be a little harder to find, but they're still out there.
Artists that filled big halls 20-30 years ago are now playing clubs, county fairs and casinos. Some folks scoff at that, write them off as heritage acts that are over the hill and far away, but that's foolish. You don't play your instrument for 30, 40, even 50 years without getting pretty damned good at it.
Just a few weeks ago the Members played a club in my home town. Their 1978 single, 'Sound of the Suburbs,' was a crucial second wave punk track, and a few years later they had an MTV hit with 'Working Girl':
I don't know if there were even a dozen people in the club, but the band killed it and those 12 people got a night to remember. After the show, the boys hung out, took photos, chatted, whatever. There were probably five other shows happening around town that night, but for my money the place to be was with the Members.
This all seems eerily familiar. When I was a kid I remember reading about '60s artists who sought out long forgotten blues men. My focus was never on what superstar did the seeking, but rather on the old blues guy who somehow came to be forgotten. It made no sense to me: How could these great artists just vanish from the public consciousness?
But it's happening all the time. It's almost as if time is a giant funnel with hundreds of bands tumbling into it daily and only one or two squeezing out the other end for each decade. The diversity of talent from the '60s flattens out to the Beatles and the Stones. Punk? The Sex Pistols and the Clash. Grunge? Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I know you can probably name ten more examples for each of these categories, but you get the point.
All of those bands were great, but there are a bunch of artists out there to whom time hasn't been as kind. They still have a lot of life in them -- lots of songs to play and stories to tell. Sure, they may be a little thicker around the middle and maybe the singers need to drop the key to accommodate the years of whiskey and cigarettes, but they're still getting it done.
Don't wait until the people who soundtracked your life are gone to remember how much you loved their music.
Don't wait until the people who soundtracked your life are gone to remember how much you loved their music -- go see them. You'll get a night of good music and they'll get the appreciation that they deserve while they can still enjoy it.
And rest in peace, Jack. You done good.