I remember when rock was young . . . just about

 

Septuagenarian stars have new generation rocking out all over the place – it wasn’t like that in my day, writes DONALD CLARKE

EVERYBODY IS just so blasted old these days. That’s not quite right. Most police officers and junior doctors have, it seems, still to complete the journey through adolescence. After reporting a burglary or having a bunion removed, one feels the urge to reward the rosy-cheeked professional with a big bag of jelly babies. “Tell your mummy you’re the bestest dermatologist in the whole world,” you don’t really say.

The median age of the pop star is, however, soaring to vertiginous heights. A few weeks ago Ringo Starr turned 70. Last week Tom Jones, also 70, narrowly failed to grab the No 1 spot with his latest album.

On the last day of July, Leonard Cohen, born as long ago as 1934, warbled his morose ditties to thousands of acolytes in some field or other.

When I was young (come back and listen, you little git), septuagenarian performers came across like Arthur Askey or Percy Edwards. Every time they appeared on television, a pungent odour of mortality spread itself about the dozing living room. Paraphrasing Bob Dylan (now 69), we implored the geriatric comics and bird impersonators to “get out of the new road”. We wanted Noddy Holder (64), David Bowie (63) and Mick Jagger (67). You say nothing to me, Askey. Nothing, I tell you.

Now, you might reasonably remark that properyoung people – you know, the grunty ones who won’t wear warm jackets in December – continue to favour musicians born during the Clinton administration. True enough, but scan images of the crowd at the Cohen concert and, among the grizzled playwrights and arthritic sociologists, you will see a fair smattering of folk young enough to be Leonard’s grandchildren. If, 30 years ago, Perry Como had turned up in a Sligo marsh, you wouldn’t have seen our generation travelling to catch a glimpse.

There is no way around it. Young people like old rock stars. Cock an ear towards that youth playing Guitar Heroon the Wii. That’s the sound of royalty cheques riffing their way towards Jagger Acres, Bowie Island and Van Halen Meadows.

So, what’s new? It’s been quite some time since Keith Richards had to buy a bottle of Clearasil. David Bowie has, for a few years, been allowed to go to the shops unaccompanied. The rock movement of the 1960s – then so proud of its status as a youth cult – has long ago acknowledged its duty to entertain middle-aged men in Clarksonian trousers. Nonetheless, the realisation that the Woodstock generation is closing in on 70 does come as something of a shock. Here’s why. Rock music was, initially, so associated with youth that, as long ago as the mid-1970s, its pioneers were accused of being elderly and out of touch.

Years before punk launched its Year Zero, the likes of The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton had become – pardon the phrase, but it is the correct one – Boring Old Farts. Think back and you realise (with a guilty start, I hope) that, at the time of their premature superannuation, most of the BOFs had barely made it into their 30s.

The treatment of Jagger in particular demonstrates how uneasy commentators were with the notion of pop stars growing old. A famous drawing from a Sunday supplement in the early 1970s speculated as to how the singer might appear when approaching retirement age. Monocle, cigarette holder, cravat: the imagined Jagger could not look more like a louche duffer from an Evelyn Waugh novel or less like the leathery fitness freak he actually became.

As the decades passed, Mick was constantly asked whether leaping around the stage was a fit way to behave for an old bloke. Jagger was decrepit at 30. He was an elderly geezer at 40. He was a bath chair-bound, ear trumpet-using veteran at 50. The result? We became so used to laughing at the suggestion that rock stars were elderly we forgot that one day old age really would catch them up.

Happily, as the musicians were progressing through the decades, western society was allowing its citizens to enjoy themselves more in their middle years. You could, with some justification, argue that in recent times

adults have given in to a degree of infantalisation: reading Harry Potter books, playing Grand Theft Auto, drinking glutinous pink drinks.

But the current accommodation is greatly preferable to the era when, at 30, a man was expected to don a sports jacket, light a cheroot and perch himself at the end of the golf club bar (the situation was even grimmer for women).

Yes, even the most joyless of misanthropes – greetings, readers – would have to admit it is pleasant to live in a world where middle-aged folk can, without embarrassment, enjoy records by sulky youths and gravel-voiced greybeards.

Still, it does a person good to spit bile towards a BOF once and again. Thank goodness for Mark Knopfler. And Barbra Streisand. And Cliff Richard. Get out of my way, daddyo.


Donald Clarke is Film Correspondent with The Irish Times. Sarah Carey is on leave

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