“Hope I Die Before I Get Old”

The remaining living members of The Who have just announced their 50-year anniversary tour. Pink Floyd have announced their last album release, a good 50 years after their first album. Malcolm Young, one of the founding members of 70s rockers AC/DC, has had to leave the band due to dementia. The point is, rock ‘n’ roll is getting on a bit.
In most art forms – even in most music genres – age is but a number. Classical violinists are allowed to perform right up until they either forget how to play or their hands stop working. Poets can keep trying to think of words that rhyme with “metaphysical” until their dying day. A painter can use his zimmer frame as a paint-brush for all anyone cares. However, Blondie’s set at Glastonbury this year caused a lot of viewers to say something like, “Oof! The 70s were a long time ago, weren’t they?” The idea that former punk sex symbol Debbie Harry is now probably a grandmother perhaps boggles the minds of those of the new wave generation.
So why is it that we find the idea of old rock stars so strange? Why do we get so freaked out by ageing in the first place? In pop music, it is perhaps to do with the Next Best Thing usually purporting themselves to be the voice of their generation. The Next Best Things are always young, energetic, and attractive: young because they have to be naïve or simplistic enough to put their message into a catchy chorus; energetic because this is show-business baby, (and to stand out you have to destroy instruments or jump around in a drug-fuelled frenzy); and attractive because… well… sex sells, dunnit? With metal bands this last point is perhaps less important, but image is still very much a concern for pop, and still a domain of the vain young.
We probably also find the aging rock star a sad, confusing, creature because we idolise these figures so much. We seek to make them seem somehow more than human, and are therefore disappointed when, 30 years later, they turn out to be very human indeed, warts and all. On the other hand, the Kurt Cobains and Amy Winehouses of this world are perfectly-preserved icons; by dying early, they have fossilised their images, instead of doing their 30th anniversary tours and turning into fossils themselves. However, in this way, we disrespect pop stars as human beings. In our shallowness, we won’t even let Miley Cyrus get away with having a not-perfectly-shaped bottom, how then are we ever going to accept her when she’s 50 and shaped like a normal 50-year-old woman?
In Pink Floyd’s recent interview on BBC 6 Music for their last album, their tone was sombre and reflective, with an air of finality. Pete Townsend said of The Who’s upcoming 50th anniversary tour that, “this will probably be the last big tour we do… we’re grateful to still be around.” And somewhere, the Next Big Thing are about to get Big. They are young and pretty for now, but when it gets to the 2060s, we’ll laugh when we see them at Glastonbury.