By Daniel Paiz
Over the past year I’ve had the good fortune of witnessing some of the best musicians of past decades come through the Mile High City here in Colorado. In 2019 alone I’ve witnessed Elton John, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, and George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic live. Each show had its highlights, its unexpected moments, and a twist or two that made the night. However, during each performance I had an epiphany where it felt like the group on stage showed they were past their prime. It then led me to the following question posed as the headline of this article.
Why are these guys still touring?
Music unites people from across all kinds of backgrounds. But, it feels like there might be a time when a successful beyond belief group needs to hang up their equipment and go home. This is of course obscenely subjective, but hear me out.
It feels like there are three benchmarks every musical artist aims for. It starts with proving to the audience you’re worthy of their attention and can hold onto it. Second, your contemporaries and field must recognize your talent. Third and finally, an act must accept how far they have come and what their limitations might be, especially when it starts showing after numerous years on the road.
That last one is the kicker, because some musicians are road warriors and its what they know. It might be draining to do 200 shows a year, but some artists do it because to them that’s what a musician’s life is. It also feels like there are a few artists that are intricately interwoven with their instrument of choice.
Is the musician or the music in charge
Both Billy Joel and Elton John use their pianos as musical translators, connecting with audiences across generations. For the former, it feels like an old friend who amplifies the man behind the keys. For the latter, it is the chance to truly express who the pianist is, and what kind of story he has to tell. It’s an experience not many will get to encounter, but it does feel like two kinds of nostalgia are at play simultaneously.
The good kind of nostalgia has an audience reminisce on the impact of the music and the times it reflects. The bad kind of nostalgia surfaces when an artist cannot or will not accept that time moves swiftly, and one’s skill set isn’t the same. It’s an absolutely jagged pill to swallow, but it offers valuable insight.
To really answer the above rhetorical questions, the question isn’t actually whether a musical act should keep performing, but rather what their motivation is. If it’s due to poor financial management and a band member or two needing to pay for multiple properties, then it seems like an unnecessary cycle. But, if it’s their passion, their calling, they’re doing it for the love of music and whatnot, then play away.
There’s no reason not to follow what makes someone feel alive, even if it’s decades after that person first started. That’s also how you might be able to tell the difference during performances. Let’s briefly examine George Clinton during his recent stop in Denver on August 15th, 2019.
Clinton is 78 years old, and while he absolutely gave his all to get the crowd excited and involved, he was sitting down for long periods of time. He was still present throughout the show, but it felt different with him not moving to and fro. That doesn’t mean I think he should stop, and it also doesn’t mean older folks shouldn’t tour or perform or create. What it tells me is that while the soul is willing, his body is not able to keep up at the capacity to which we’re used to experiencing Clinton.
By all means Clinton should keep going (although it appears this current tour is his last). But it does make me wonder what the cost becomes when one keeps pushing their physical limits like that. The other artists mentioned at the top of this article are all in similar predicaments. At age 72, Elton John seems to also realize it’s time to wrap up touring, as he plans to spend more time with his young children after this current “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour ends.
It doesn’t feel like Billy Joel is going anywhere at 70, but perhaps this current string of touring Major League Baseball stadiums might be a hint at his touring also coming to an end. Lastly, one would think The Rolling Stones would be satisfied after a 50 year career, but with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards working on their health recently it’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps it’s that passion to perform. Perhaps, they just don’t know what else to do with themselves. Either way, let’s hope its for the right reasons.