Saturday, November 24, 2012

Stoned after all these years

With their upcoming shows in London (the first tomorrow) and the New York area, with the possibility of more not ruled out, it seems an opportune time to ask: Should the Rolling Stones still attempt a tour in 2012, fifty years into their career? Artistically, probably not; their best songs and performances are well in their past. But is there something vaguely optimistic about the notion that somehow they not only lived long enough to still tour but have their faculties sufficient enough to at least perform on a tour? I suppose I have to think there is.

I've never seen the Stones live, and there's no way I will go see them for this latest effort (even if I could afford it). It's not that I dislike their songs; I was more of a Beatles fan, but I enjoy many of the tracks they put out, with Exile on Main Street and greatest hits discs plus assorted other tracks in my collection; I just downloaded some of December's Children last week as a matter of fact. (The opening of "Gimme Shelter" is undoubtedly the greatest beginning to any rock song ever, and the rest of the song is fantastic.) They absolutely deserve their spot in echelon of rock history.

If I could go back in time and see them in their heyday, I might consider doing that, but to see them now doesn't interest me. But do I begrudge any fans who want to go see their favorite band, presumably again, and quite possibly for the last time? Absolutely not. Had I seen the Stones back in that aforementioned heyday and had those fond memories I certainly can understand wanting to ride that nostalgia train one more time. And it's not like the band is oblivious to what they're providing nor that the fans are oblivious to why they're going.

Rock and Roll is a young person's game—always has been, always will be; the majority of bands never make it beyond one decade, much less five—but for those who don't die before they get old the opportunity to recapture those days is almost priceless. As long as the performers aren't actively embarrassing themselves on stage—which would then work against the reason the fans pay so much for tickets and instead remind them how old those in the audience are—I'd say there is comfort to be found in the fact bands can still get out there five decades on (even if there's that part of our minds which considers that to be so antithetical to the definition of rock we developed in our youth).

That said, there's definitely no justification for a young person who never saw the Stones before to go to the show; almost certainly that would only reinforce every suspicion the youth have about how lame old people are when they try to rock. They have a lifetime to come to grips with the relative lameness; they're not ready for that when they're in the midst of the fantasy that youth affords them.

The good ol' days probably weren't as good as we remember them, the current days of being older aren't bad like we feared when we were young and thought of the distant future, and the middle is still a period of relevance, but a good concert is a window of time that operates outside of any of those. It is a time that never really existed.

That's why we go.


It's not like my generation hasn't jumped on the nostalgia bandwagon. Recently I saw the Old 97's tour in support not of their latest album but to honor the 15th anniversary of their major label debut (Too Far to Care), viewed by many fans as their finest work. Of course, they're only in their late 30's/early 40's, and they still put on a phenomenal live show, but clearly they acknowledged there was a need to be filled even among their (relative to the Stones) tiny fan base to celebrate this favorite a mere decade and a half later. That, however, wasn't a reunion tour, as the band has never broken up, and has continued to record new material (albeit after a return to smaller labels).

A few years ago we went to the Pixies reunion shows, which was an unabashed trip down memory lane and a chance for the band to finally cash in on their material from the late '80s and early '90s that proved immensely influential and is regarded highly now (two decades later) but which never got them the popularity they deserved at the time.

I did see Black Francis and company live once back in (I think it was) 1989 (on a bill with John Doe solo), but that was before I was a big fan. The reunion show allowed me to really appreciate what I didn't back when I was in my theoretical heyday.

I didn't see the Afghan Whigs during their recent reunion. I do recall thinking a show of theirs I saw at the now-defunct Club Lingerie (Hollywood) circa '91 was really good and I do like most of their catalog, but I didn't find myself compelled to recapture that.

Sometimes it's better to let the past that's already good be undisturbed by revisiting.

That's the beauty of middle age: the perspective to know it's okay to let some opportunities slide. The knowledge that we could still see these bands from our past is sometimes good enough. Also, getting a full night's sleep is vastly more important than a 22-year-old could possibly imagine.

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