As editor of Guitar Player, it is gratifying to hear from so many 40 and 50 year olds who are still out there bringing joyful noises to clubs, bars, concert venues, churches, and coffee shops.
But it still pisses me off that older rock musicians tend to collect little bits of bemused scorn when they strut their stuff—even from people who are about the same age. (A 50-something friend once told me, “I know the Stones can still kill onstage, but I just can’t watch Mick Jagger prancing around as an old man.”) I always thought this unfair in the extreme, as jazz, blues, salsa, classical, and world-beat musicians are typically “allowed” to age with respect and grace. Obviously, rock’s foundation of youthful angst, frustration, and revolt seems to work against you when you start wearing more comfortable shoes and looser clothes.
All of this started me thinking of a personal “vibe guide” for mature musicians who rock. My mind kind of works like that. Paranoia and self-loathing trigger strategic action that either inspires me to push ahead with vigor, or proves that I could have spend my ebbing time better by watching reruns of The Ozzie and Harriet Show. Here are a few concepts my tortured brain devised…
Conceal or Surrender
Either celebrate your geezer-ness (as the grey, bald, slipper-clad Mike Nesmith often does on recent Monkees tours), or obscure the effects of age with hats, sunglasses, dark clothing, and hair coloring. (Note to Pete Townshend: Wearing a t-shirt will hide your fleshy bits when your shirt lifts up over your belly as you do windmills.)
Shape Up or Sit Down
It’s absolutely not sexy or cool by any definition to jump around stage and then sing the next verse out-of-breath, huffing and puffing like an exhausted doggy. Exercise, or be still.
Multimedia Hides Sins
If your cool factor flushed down the drain decades ago, some misdirection is an awesome way to confuse and pacify the kids. Project movies or images on the wall behind the stage, or devise haunting light shows that keep you in the dark. Johnny Rotten once performed behind a movie screen with PIL. That was genius.
Reinvent or Rant
Embrace what the kids are doing, and find a way to incorporate trendy elements into your style. Or, become a spitting-angry wolverine, and rage very loudly against the silly crap that younger musicians dare to call “music.” Yell a lot. Watch old Sam Kinison routines for inspiration.