“Stay aliiiiive, Lemmy!”
I’ll forever kick myself for joining this snarky chant the final time I saw Motörhead live. It was only last fall, at a Toronto music festival. Frontman Lemmy Kilmister, who’d been having health struggles, was giving it his best, thwacking at his bass and snarling like a hellbeast (well, an asthmatic one, anyway). Deep down, I was stoked; I’m a long-time Motörhead fan. But I was among music critic friends — cool ones, who were really there to see bands you probably haven’t heard of yet. And when you’re a Serious Music Fan, aging Dad Rockers are to be regarded only ironically. That is, until they die.
When Lemmy succumbed to cancer in late December, it presaged what’s effectively become The Purge of massive music icons. David Bowie, Prince, Phife Dawg, Glenn Frey — the list of superstars we’ve collectively grieved this year is gutting. Thinkpiece writers are making a killing right now. And yet, as post-mortem tributes flood our newsfeeds, there remains a paradox within millennial media circles: it’s still hip to crap on the old guys presently alive and rocking.
Recently, the OG’s of rock ’n’ roll — the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, The Who, Neil Young, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters — announced they will play a festival in Coachella Valley, called Desert Trip, this October. Almost reflexively, the geriatric digs followed: “Oldchella,” Stereogum dubbed the show. “The official name of Oldchella is actually the Skeletons of Rock,” tweeted a Pitchfork writer. “Bonnarock Music & Old Farts Festival,” quipped LAist.
The sentiment is clear: if you’re old enough to collect Social Security, you don’t get to be taken seriously anymore. Ageism remains one of the last socially tolerated forms of discrimination — at least among the music bloggerati. Nowadays, fat jokes are verboten, but cracks about Axl Rose throwing out his snake hip? Go nuts!
Of course, I’m not denying the existence of the Nostalgia Industrial Complex. I know full well what tickets to Guns N’ Roses’ comeback tour cost ($250, if you’re curious), that reunion tours have become a soulless cottage industry, and that Desert Trip’s “once in a lifetime” tagline is a subtle marketing whisper reminding me Mick Jagger could keel over any day now. And I know all these artists are past their salad days.
But I also know this: Axl Rose, despite looking especially ancient in that wheelchair throne, still sounds surprisingly great (even as AC/DC’s frontman). And since turning 65, Neil Young’s essentially been a human flame emoji.
“I hope I die before I get old,” The Who’s Roger Daltrey famously sneered a half century ago. Sure, he’s 72 now, but just maybe he was referring to a state of mind. As our original rock stars lurch toward the end of their winter years, why shouldn’t they keep raging against the dying of the light? Did anyone tell Howlin’ Wolf to hang up the guitar at 50? Should Johnny Cash not have recorded that amazing Nine Inch Nails cover at 70? Wouldn’t you kill to have seen one of Prince’s spectacular last shows?
Go ahead, drop the dough, enjoy your heroes while they’re still here. I’ll be doing that later this summer, when I see Black Sabbath on their supposed farewell tour, aptly titled “The End.” And I’ve decided: I’m going to chant “Stay aliiive, Ozzy!” Only this time, I’ll yell it with absolute sincerity.