Can We Stop Pretending Rock Stars Are Ageless?

There's nothing wrong with getting old, but why pretend it's not happening?

Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones performs on stage during a concert as part of their 'Stones Sixty European Tour' on July 31, 2022 at Friends Arena in Solna, Sweden.
Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones performs on stage during a concert as part of their 'Stones Sixty European Tour' on July 31, 2022 at Friends Arena in Solna, Sweden.
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Classic rock fans may be grappling with the mortality of their heroes a little more strongly in recent weeks after Mick Jagger celebrated his 80th birthday and Robbie Robertson passed away (at that same age) after “a long illness.” The most iconic artists of the ’60s and ’70s are getting old, and in the next few years, we’re going to have to get used to mourning more and more of them as they enter their twilight years.

That’s why a recent Independent column by Ed Power titled “Why Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger Never Seem to Grow Old” is so confounding. Who could possibly look at either of those two musicians and not see signs of age — physical or otherwise?

“Age has become an irrelevance, particularly for top-tier rockers. Mick Jagger recently celebrated turning 80 with a starry bash at Embargo Republica nightclub in Chelsea. There, Leonardo DiCaprio and Lenny Kravitz were among those singing happy birthday,” Power writes. “Just this week, Paul McCartney, still riding high from a triumphant 2022 headliner at Glastonbury, unveiled details of a new tour of Australia at age 81. In the Instagram post announcing the dates, he was fresh-faced and enthusiastic. Macca’s comeback follows reports 73-year-old Bruce Springsteen is to extend his latest tour through to 2024. And it comes amid the release of a new live album by 79-year-old folk queen Joni Mitchell — recorded at her surprise 2022 comeback show at Newport Folk Festival. Mitchell, who had an aneurysm in 2015, remains frail and confined to a wheelchair. Yet at Newport, her voice still had that old hurricane punch.”

First of all, is having a 48-year-old (DiCaprio) and a 59-year-old (Kravitz) at your birthday party really a sign of cultural relevance and youthful zeal? Jagger and Springsteen both certainly look good for their age, and the fact that they’re still touring is impressive, but no one would argue they’re performing at the same level they were when they were in their prime. Jagger has lost two close friends and collaborators in recent years — longtime bandmate Charlie Watts died in 2021, and Tina Turner passed away back in May. Springsteen has gotten his affairs in order and cashed out by selling his catalog for a whopping $550 million, ensuring his family will be taken care of long after his death, and his 2020 album Letter to You saw The Boss paying tribute to late friends Clarence Clemons, Danny Federici and George Theiss while pondering his own mortality. Mitchell has been in such poor health for so long that the Newport performance Power mentions was her first live set in two decades. She sounded impressive, no doubt, but she’s not exactly spry.

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In fact, that’s exactly why it feels so silly to keep ignoring the fact that legends like Mitchell are nearing the end of their lives (or, at the very least, their careers). Fans should be doing everything they can to see and celebrate these aging artists while they still can; pretending they’ll live forever isn’t doing anyone any favors.

Power actually makes a good point in his piece, noting that Jagger and his bandmates have been called old for three decades now. “’Rock ’n’ roll isn’t supposed to be an old man’s game,’ declared the LA Times in an article headlined ‘The Geriatric Stones’, when Mick, Keith and company rolled into California with their Voodoo Lounge tour in October 1994,” he writes. “Reviewing the same tour, Rolling Stone expressed astonishment at the Stones’ ability to ‘defy time.’ Jagger was a decrepit 51 — 12 months younger than The National singer Matt Berninger today. In 2023, nobody makes geriatric gags about musicians in their fifties. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of the Stones and their generation, we no longer think it unusual for musicians to carry on into mid-life and beyond.”

So if it’s no longer unusual for musicians to tour late in life — and in some cases, given the current state of the live music industry, it’s even financially necessary — why pretend that by doing so, these artists have unlocked some sort of fountain of youth? We’re about to enter a painful period where the people responsible for the greatest music of the 20th century all start dropping like flies. To say that they’re not growing old is delusional.

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