In the past few weeks I’ve found myself revisiting the thoughts I shared in one of the first personal columns I ever wrote. Penned close to a decade ago, as an eager, aspiring student journalist, I’d just been to see The Rolling Stones in Paris. It was a big deal. I’d been a fan forever and the band’s first gigs in four years were, I thought, my only and final chance to see “The World’s Greatest Rock n’ Roll Band” in the flesh. At the time, Mick and Keith were 63.
Energised by similar cultural pilgrimages to see then-sexagenarians Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Van Morrison, the experience sparked me to write. To write with all the arrogance of youth that the Old Masters had become “a sad parody of their former selves, a travelling freak show of nostalgia playing to fat old men in suits.” How both blessed and cursed we were that “these pillars of respect still exist tangibly, watching over us, inspiring us, judging us, and just maybe trapping us.”
My point – naively made, but wise, perhaps – was that I was a member of the last generation of music fans possessed with the privileged opportunity to see the 1960s and ’70s forefathers who came to define popular music in the flesh. That, for good or bad, we’d always had these legends around, and we didn’t know what the world would look like when they were gone.
Turns out I was premature, by around a decade. I had neither the idea nor hope that six years later I’d be watching The Rolling Stones return to London’s Hyde Park, nor a year later be reviewing their Middle Eastern debut in Abu Dhabi (an experience I treasure most of all for its incongruity). Or, that later that year, I’d be watching The Who and Black Sabbath on the same Du Arena stage. Or catching Patti Smith read poetry at Abu Dhabi Art, a third Herbie Hancock gig at Abu Dhabi Festival, or seeing Eric Clapton on what he claims will be his final tour, in Dubai. Or, for that matter, catching my sixth Neil Young concert, and banking pension-age performances from Paul McCartney, Ray Davies, Philip Glass, Wayne Shorter, Deep Purple, Sonny Rollins, George Benson and Jimmy Cliff.
All these acts have one thing in common – pending medical miracles, they’re not likely to be onstage ten years from now.
Premature, perhaps, but the confused feelings expressed in my adolescent blog have never felt more precedent than today. David Bowie’s death may mark the most influential artist lost to “old age”, but the recent passing of Motörhead icon Lemmy, Eagles’ founder Glenn Frey, jazz star Natalie Cole (who sounded great just three years ago in Dubai) and Mott the Hoople drummer Dale Griffin – all within a three-week period – suggest Bowie might not be the last legend we lose in 2016. A critical mass is building as all the architects of modern music who surfaced in the 1960s and 1970s are unavoidably reaching life’s end.
That’s a scary and sad thought – Bowie wasn’t a one-off, but the first in an onslaught of grief music fans should prepare for in coming years.
Or, as I put in back in 2007, the inevitable deaths of rock’s pioneers “will leave us at a meaningful crossroads in the development of popular music and culture… for good or for bad, we are the last generation who have the opportunity to see in the flesh the founders of modern guitar music, and we should appreciate it while it lasts.” Amen.