“It’s better to burn out than fade away.”
Do you think when Neil Young wrote those lyrics to “Hey Hey, My My (Out Of the Blue)” back in 1979 that he thought he’d still be recording and touring at age 71? I doubt it. Not to say that he’s faded away, but I do wonder, among his once-youthful and once-cutting edge contemporaries who (are still alive and) occasionally record and tour–Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Eagles, Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon, Robert Plant, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Billy Joel–how many of those guys are still worth seeing live? Because, let’s face it, they have not all aged equally as gracefully.
Last night I crossed another item off the ol’ musical bucket list and saw Paul McCartney at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. My friend and I had seats so high up, we were able to look down toward the nosebleeds. And they cost almost 100 bucks a pop. But hey, it’s a Beatle. I’d heard good things about his recent live shows too, but I guess I’d still set the expectation bar a bit low. I was worried he’d come out looking old and frail and we’d all patronizingly cheer him on, occasionally reminding him of lyrics all while he light strummed on a guitar that the roadie had purposefully not plugged into an amp.
But that was not the case at all. Quite the contrary, actually. What struck me was just how charming and funny and joyous he was. He’s lively and quick-witted (not just “for a 75-year-old,” but for anyone). He knows how to put together a setlist and assemble a backing band (a group of talented sessions musicians he’s been playing with since 2001). He knows how many and what types of anecdotes the audience wants to hear. And he has more energy than I do at age 30. He has not lost “it” one bit.
On the flip side there is Bob Dylan. I have not seen Dylan live, but have heard from friends who have seen him in the past 10 years, and have reported that he is no longer…good. This pains me to know, really. I fell in love with his music from the ’60s and ’70s back in high school and some of my favorite records of his are bootleg live albums, including the infamous show where a folk music-loving attendee, who didn’t like that he’d “gone electric,” shouted out “Judas!” at the very end.
Regardless of the shape Dylan is in now, these albums will always be great. But would I pay money to see him live? Absolutely not. In my mind, it seems like when you see the dead body of a loved one at a wake and even though you have a lifetime of memories with that person, your last memory of them–the one that really sticks–is that of your loved one in a casket, painted with makeup by someone at the funeral home. And I just don’t want the sad image of Dylan on a stage, muttering and croaking with his dying frog voice to be a lasting mental image. I mean, we already have the mental image of Dylan walking around suburban New Jersey by himself in the rain back in 2009, when he was mistaken as a crazy person and picked up by the cops. (Nothin’ creepy ’bout that…)
Then there’s Springsteen–a man in a league of his own (as I previous established). He is a fine wine, my friends. In his late 60s he puts on concerts that could rival the shows he put on during the Born in the USA era. It is absolutely insane. And everyone knows this. Which is why tickets to his Bruce on Broadway series are currently going for 3-5k per ticket on StubHub.
Hmm, I could pay rent for 6 months
or I could buy a ticket to see Bruce.
In the last few years, I’ve also had the wonderful experiences of seeing Robert Plant, Tom Petty, The Who, and Billy Joel. For Petty, I was seven rows back (the single most expensive concert ticket I’ve ever purchased. But hey, I was close to the stage and a row ahead of David Fricke of Rolling Stone). All looked and sounded really great. Roger Daltrey, who is currently 73, had maybe one or two buttons done up on his shirt. At first I was like Woah, Roger, do we really need to see that much chest? But honestly, for 73 years old, he looks damn good. If ya got it, flaunt it. Especially in comparison to many of his contemporaries, like, say, Keith Richards, who I can only assume is embalmed on the inside by all those drugs he consumed that inadvertently protected his internal organs instead of destroying them. Prediction: He will never die.
And what about the Godfather of Grunge? Would I pay to see Neil Young play live? Unfortunately, I’d have to say probably not. Though I doubt he’d be as bad as Dylan seems to be, I fear it still would give me a bit of that corpse-in-a-casket experience. I’d rather just enjoy Young on my headphones and leave it at that!