Music is many things, including – yet by no means limited to – amazing, exciting, moving and powerful. Subsequently, everyone who enjoys music can attest to that wonderful feeling when you discover an artist whose work you truly love and find yourself wishing that they could keep making music forever. And ever and ever. Or do you?
As AC/DC announce the release of another album, the Rolling Stones continue to tour, Kate Bush makes her comeback and Dolly Parton attracts the masses at Glastonbury, I find myself pondering exactly when our favourite “mature” artists will hang up the mike and call time on their lengthy careers? And exactly how overdue will their decision be? Of course, I have to be careful not to allow my personal preference to cloud my judgement – while I roll my eyes at a 71-year old Mick Jagger prancing along the stage to “Start Me Up” or Paul McCartney struggling to hit the notes of “Hey Jude” at the Olympics, I dread the day that Morrissey (now mid-fifties and plagued with health problems) stops touring and even I felt a surge of admiration when I saw Dolly wowing the Glasto crowd on TV. However, even in regard to the artists who I personally admire and whose gigs I continue to enjoy, no matter how good a show they put on, it remains undeniable that the quality of the performances these artists are continuing to create simply does not match that of their younger years. It seems we go to these concerts not to hear new music or feel the thrill of fresh talent but to catch a glimpse of a legend, whether it’s to spark old memories or to be able to say that you saw a particular artist perform. So when do we draw the line and argue that someone is too old to continue their musical career and should consider retiring? The obvious answer is when they’ve lost their musical ability and are clearly squeezing each performance for every penny it’s worth. Alternatively, what about fan demand? Should artists be willing to continue for so long as they can gather an audience, despite their fading musical talent? The stalwart and undying loyalty of fans is a force to be reckoned with and is seemingly capable of stretching an artist’s career way past the peak of strong musical ability. But what effect does this have on the quality of music? Let’s face it – no matter how much admirable energy and zeal The Rolling Stones and AC/DC pack into their performances, their work will never match the quality of its original release and rise to popularity. Would we not prefer to remember artists as they once were – in their prime and at the peak of their musical success? I personally hate to think that quality and true musical capability is being replaced by a money-grabbing mentality which places ageing artists on a stage for so long as they can sell tickets.
At this point, you may be asking why this is such a big deal? And to be honest, if artists are still capable of performing and their fans are still enjoying their music, then it isn’t! But I can’t help but wonder what this trend of ageing artists will do. If the old legends never die, how do we make room for new ones? How can new artists ever compete? Will this pattern of ever-expansive careers become the norm with fans insisting that almost every popular artist continues their career – even if it’s with their Zimmer-frame in tow? Ultimately, it’s a subject on which I feel particularly torn – do ageing artists demonstrate a powerful dedication to their art and an admirable commitment to their fans? Or are they simply a means of milking the cash cow and throwing the value of real musical ability to the wind in exchange for a handsome pay cheque and ongoing publicity?