Springsteen shows older guys have all the best tunes


The continuing success of Simon, Cohen, Dylan and McCartney suggests many fans have stuck by their musical heroes, writes JOE BREEN

TWO AMERICANS, one well beyond the bus-pass stage and the other within sight of it, have been packing them in with their very different take on rock ‘n’ roll in the 02 and the RDS in Dublin over the past week and receiving rich plaudits for their trouble. Paul Simon (70) and Bruce Springsteen (62) represent just two of the grey elite which continues to prosper at a time when the music business teeters on meltdown in the face of digital change.

There once was a time when popular music was the preserve of the young. Bands came and went. Stars rose and fell to Earth. Fashions changed. New genres were born. The business of music boomed on the enthusiasms of a youth culture and mopped up the easy revenues from the greatest hits of the fading stars.

However, we live in a time of great flux and the music business is no different. The economics have changed.

Where once acts toured to promote potentially lucrative album sales, the opposite is now the case as revenue from recorded music falls.

The figures are staggering and for once the fact that Ireland is at the top of a money list is good news. In 2011, according to Billboard.com, U2 grossed $293,281,487 from 44 shows which were attended by a total audience of 2,887,972. Over the three years of the 360 Degree world tour, the band grossed more than $700 million from concerts. This September U2 will celebrate its 36th birthday.

That kind of money would encourage any ageing great to hit the road one last time. But something else has changed. The youth culture of the 1960s has grown up to become what the Pew Research Institute refers to as “older boomers” (55-64) and “the silent generation” (65-73). These people have stayed the course with their heroes.

Last Friday, at the second of Paul Simon’s memorable shows to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of his Graceland album, the preponderance of older faces, including this writer’s, was quite noticeable.

Yet this was no shallow trip down memory lane. True the importance of memory looms large in understanding what lies at the heart of our affection for certain songs. Sure we love the tune and the chorus jumps readily to mind. But popular songs can trigger recollections and reflections on times past. They become our songs and the meaning we take from them is our meaning.

When, for example, Simon dispensed with his band and plotted a solo journey through that most hackneyed of angst-ridden singer-songwriter tunes, The Sound of Silence, he was reclaiming the song from its trampled past, bridging the years between his youthful self and his seasoned present.

The rapt audience, with the words whispered on their lips, were doing the same, extracting their own meaning, thinking their own thoughts, casting through their own memories.

The audience is central to understanding why acts such as Bob Dylan (71), Leonard Cohen (77), Paul McCartney (70), Neil Young (66), Simon and Springsteen continue to prosper.

On Tuesday night in the RDS, the show dipped when the packed attendance failed to respond to some of Springsteen’s prompts. Interestingly, from casual observation, the age profile was much more mixed, with younger baby boomers (46-55) heavily outnumbered by those born after 1980.

Perhaps they did not know or understand the importance in the Springsteen canon of songs such as Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) from the 1973 album, The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle.

Or maybe it was just one of those nights when he has to push the pedal to the floor on Born in the USA and Born To Run to get the show really motoring.

Springsteen still offers a pulsating rock show, a spectacle for all ages, studded with careful and considered reference to the past he shares with his band and his audience. He also still writes new music – Wrecking Ball, his 17th studio album, was critically acclaimed – as indeed were all the above.

Recent albums by Simon and Cohen could arguably be considered among their best work while the most intriguing of all the grey elite, Bob Dylan, is set to release his 35th studio album in September.

Tempest will feature 10 new songs and will mark the 50th anniversary of his eponymous debut album.

They are, as Paul Simon sings, “still crazy after all these years”, but also more than a little wise and wily – the benefits of age.

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