Sunday, June 12, 2011

Don't Wanna Stay Alive When You're 25

I was a huge fan of David Bowie in the 1970's, but gradually lost that fascination as the 80's approached. He seemed to lose his edge and that desperation contained within, just barely kept from erupting. I wonder if rock'n'roll is something reserved for the young.

I still feel that David Bowie was at his best when his young voice was on the verge of cracking and he experimented wildly with appearances. Nowadays, he's a laid-back former champion, behaving and performing with the most attention to being reserved and polished in the manner of British nobibily. Just like Madonna, actually.

He must have felt it, himself. At the last gig of his Ziggy Stardust tour of 1973, he announced that he would never perform again. Then he sang Rock'n'roll Suicide, as seen on this YouTube video (unfortunately, embedding is unabled). He was 26 years old at the time.

But he didn't retire, fortunately. He produced several formidable albums and continued to revolutionize stage performance over and over. But after the release of the Heroes album in 1977, he lost that edge, those shivering nerves, and became complacent. He was 30.

It seems to happen to almost every rock artist. The fire they had within is extinguished. What remain are living legends, repeating their old hits and enjoying the fortunes they assembled mainly during their young triumphs. That money might have something to do with it. They went from hungry to saturated. That's not rock'n'roll.

Some of the greatest rock icons died when they were about 30. The others are retired, even if they don't know it. Nothing wrong with that. Several professions have early retirement. Athletes usually quit in their early thirties. Ballet dancers when they push 40.

Rock is the expression of young underdogs taking on the world. When they become privileged and middle-aged, they should change to music more appropriate for that state of being. Like old showtunes or swing. Well, some of them do.

It's not necessary to suffer in order to produce great art, although it kind of helps. But if you don't even have a gnawing in the soul or noisy thumping in the heart, then you aren't very likely to come up with anything that helps the audience reach catharsis.

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