March 2008

Can honest and impassioned art truly thrive when the pursuit of personal gain is so pervasive in American society? These days, so many musicians babble on about their bling, their clothing and hair care lines, or their various investments, that I can’t help but laugh at the oft-repeated cliché of “keeping it real.” Those words have little to do with street cred when you’re managing a portfolio that puts you in the same arena as Donald Trump, because your lifestyle is now linked to profit, product marketing, and corporate management. How many aspiring musicians would bother with the biz hassles if their wealth potential sank down to the pre-Beatles level? And I often wonder if today’s athletes would pursue pro sports if the multi-million-dollar paydays evaporated, and they were looking at a career that paid so little they’d have to find jobs in the off season—just like many of the sports legends of the ’40s,’50s, and early ’60s?

Which brings me to the tricky subject of big reunion tours. Do the musicians sign on for these media expositions because they yearn to expand their old band’s musical legacy with players they love, or are they more seduced by the stratospheric wages offered by promoters? Does the artist’s motivation matter to audiences who desperately want to see their heroes onstage again, or do the “original” fans wish the memory of the band wasn’t being tarnished by the sight of middle-aged men and women busking through pale versions of once-powerful hits—kind of like Roberto Duran still throwing punches at 49 years old.

Well, there’s always the old trooper’s argument that as long as people are willing to come see you, you’ve got an obligation to give the audience what it wants. One should also consider the fact that it might be incredibly dumb to pass up piles of money just because you fear your reputation might be injured if you limp onstage with somewhat dissipated skills.

But, then again, classic rock was youthful music that typically celebrated rebellion, angst, and sex. The music was also minted during an era of cultural upheaval, and, in fact, the virile, preening musicians who created that music helped birth the 20th century’s only youth-driven, global counterculture. So I don’t believe classic-rock stars can be assessed in quite the same way as fine artists, literary figures, and sports heroes, and society in general hasn’t definitively resolved how to address the aging of baby boomer masses forged by peace, free love, and the “Don’t trust anyone over 30” maxim.

For me, it’s rather wrenching to revisit my musical past way outside of its historical context. But I’m conflicted, because it’s always great to see musicians I respect and adore. However, it’s also hard to see the sexual dynamos of yore struggling to channel the explosiveness, ambition, and discovery that drove them throughout their glory years. So it’s difficult to experience these concerts as comfy homecomings with old friends—especially when the shows are often well-orchestrated, Broadway-like productions of human karaoke bought and paid for by corporations looking to sell things to a target demographic. I miss the messy, unscripted roar of beautiful noise that was once silly enough to think it could change the world. But that’s me. What’s your view on heroic reunions? Please click to the forums at, and share your thoughts.