Saturday, April 12, 2008


Gail Collins, in her column titled The Revenge of Lacey Davenport, in Saturday's New York Times, wrote:

Long, long ago, Mick Jagger used to say that he couldn’t picture singing rock ’n’ roll when he was 40. His message, obviously, was not that the Stones planned to retire, but that Mick planned on remaining in his 30s forever. That which we cannot change, we ignore.
"Lacey Davenport" is a Doonesbury character thought to be based on the late Millicent Fenwick, who was elected to Congress from New Jersey at the age of 64, which at the time (1974), Ms. Collins observes, was considered "a geriatric triumph." She then adds: "These days, of course, as the first baby boomers are pushing 64, it’s regarded as part of the prime of life."

Well, of course it is. We boomers are a cohort of Jean Brodies, all in our prime:
Which, I suppose, is why, when I see a guitar store window, I pause and look longingly at those sleek Fender Strats and Teles, those gorgeous Gibson Les Pauls; why I'm distracted at the dry cleaner's by a poster offering guitar lessons. To quote the Beach Boys, It's not too late... .

Update: Ted Burke suggests (see comments) blues harp as a perhaps more attainable alternative to guitar heroism. Actually, I have an exemplar in that regard: one of my wife's friends' father, a septuagenarian living in the suburbs of Buffalo, who took up harp late in life and now bids fair to be the Sonny Boy Williamson of the Niagara Frontier.

Bonus: Hear and see Ted play blues in G here.


  1. Ah, I hear you. A friend of mine solved his age issue by refusing to have anymore birthdays. The best I can do is play blues harp in sometime bands with musicians of like age, 39-55, and resist the twitchy urge to mime guitar chords.
    The generation that listened to big bands had an easier time with their idols aging than we rock and roll boomers have had; jazz musicians stand there and play great music while the rock musicians, in sound and mythos, is predicated on the promise of youth and rebellion, ridiculous things to strive for when the grey hair and creases and body mass gang up on them.

  2. Here are some notes I made on the Stones' "Bigger Bang" cd of a few years ago: OK. This is a good Stones album. They play with energy and spirit, and sound just fine; you don’t even miss Bill Wyman. OTOH, it doesn't seem to matter to me. Thematically and musically they haven’t gone anywhere we all haven’t been before – and attitudes/concepts that once fascinated simply don’t any more, for whatever reason. The music is alive, but the poses are exhausted, and should be put out to pasture. I know all the arguments about how old blues singers keep doing their material until they simply up and die and how Jagger’s always said he saw no reason why the Stones shouldn’t do the same, and there really isn’t any. I just don’t care about them any more. Blues, though, actually works better as an old man's genre; rock is just the opposite (and that includes blues-rock).

    There's a lot more to be said on this subject about how some musicians never stop stretching themselves (Dylan, of course, and Living National Treasure Ry Cooder come immediately to mind) while others just rehash their successes (even Van Morrison, who is still capable of greatness, spends far too much time vamping predictably). In general, I think the folk-rooted singer-songwriters are handling age better than the rockers, although people like Robert Plant are still capable of surprising us (listen to "No Quarter" or "Raising Sand").