Saturday, October 25, 2008

Extinction-level event

O may I join the choir invisible / Of those immortal dead who live again 
In minds made better by their presence: live / In pulses stirr’d to generosity... 
To make undying music in the world / Breathing as beauteous order that controls 
With growing sway the growing life of man.
       - George Eliot


The next 25 years will see a tragedy of unprecedented scale in human history. Although it will happen incrementally and not all at once, the end result will be devastating, leaving a hole so vast and deep that it can never be filled. An essential resource, a one-time gift that the world will not see again, will be lost forever as the pioneers and architects of loud, electric, passionate, innovative, complex, soul-filling rock 'n roll music face the inevitable end of their time with us, and shuffle off this mortal coil.

These are the musicians who grew up on jazz, blues, and classical music, making their understanding of compositional complexity much different from the kids who grew up to form cookie-cutter punk/alternative bands writing three-minute verse-chorus-verse songs. The classic artists' knowledge and appreciation for music, not just rock music, gave us intricate and immortal headphone masterpieces like the Allman's "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," Clapton's "Layla," Elton's "Funeral for a Friend," the Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," Traffic's "Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys," and Loggins and Messina's "Angry Eyes." All are not so much songs as they are musical adventures.

The evidence for the coming tragedy is overwhelming and irrefutable. Looking only at the rock titans who graced the stage at the original Woodstock music festival, there's The Who's Pete Townsend, 63, and Roger Daltrey, 64; guitar gods Johnny Winter and Alvin Lee, both 64; soul man Sly Stone, 65. Stephen Stills and Neil Young are both 63, as is John Fogerty; Joe Cocker is 64; Carlos Santana is 61. Richie Havens, the first musician to perform at the legendary concert, turns 68 in January. Grace Slick, whose voice fueled the Jefferson Airplane, will be 70 next year.

The same numbers haunt the British Invasion. Led Zeppelin: Robert Plant is 60, Jimmy Page 64. The Rolling Stones: Mick Jagger is 65, and Keith Richards turns 66 in December. Charlie Watts is 67; Ron Wood, the baby of the group, is 61. The Beatles: Paul is 66, Ringo 68. Eric Clapton (Cream) is 63, Steve Winwood (Traffic) 60, Ray Davies (The Kinks) 64, Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds) 64, Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple) 63, Robert Fripp (King Crimson) 62, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) 61. David Gilmour and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd are 62 and 65, respectively. Jon Anderson and Steve Howe of Yes are 64 and 61.

The second wave of Rock Brits is no different. Elton John is 61. Dave Edmunds is 64. Mick Fleetwood is 61 (and U.S.-born Stevie Nicks is 60); Brian May of Queen is 61, Noddy Holder of Slade and Dan McCafferty of Nazareth are both 62, David Bowie is 61, and Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople will be 70 next year. Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi of Sabbath are both 60, and Ronnie James Dio is 66. Lemmy of Motorhead is 63, as is Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music. Brian Johnson, the voice of AC/DC, is 61.

On the American rock scene, we find Tina Turner at 70, Bob Dylan at 67, Iggy Pop 61, Simon and Garfunkel both 67, Lou Reed 66, Steve Miller 65, Alice Cooper 60, Gregg Allman 61, Bob Seger 63, Ted Nugent 60, Joe Walsh (James Gang) 61, Mark Farner (Grand Funk) 60, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith 60. Bruce Springsteen, Gene Simmons of Kiss, and Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top all turn 60 next year. Clarence "Big Man" Clemons of the E Street Band is 66.

Little Richard, who likes to remind everyone that he's "the original architect of rock n' roll," is 75. And Chuck Berry, whose three-chord "Johnny B. Goode" started it all, is 82.

It's amazing that all of these incredibly gifted artists made it to the ages they are, given their legendary struggles with alcohol, drugs, depression, and STDs. But they can't stay with us forever. Dylan gave us a wonderful sentiment:

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young.

But sentiment always gives way to reality. In addition to the holy trinity of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, we've also lost Marc Bolan, Roy Orbison, half of The Beatles; half of The Who and Led Zeppelin; half of the New York Dolls; Dave Peverett of Foghat, Glen Buxton of Alice Cooper.... The list is long and can only grow longer. As Curtis Mayfield sang:

People get ready, there's a train a-coming
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board...

Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner

There's no hiding place from the kingdom's throne.







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