Looks like Neil Young got it right when he sang, “Rock and roll will never die.”
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for those who enrich our lives with their rock and roll. Folks of my baby-boomer generation have been forced to stand helplessly by while our music icons have stubbornly persisted in dying.
Some died of so-called natural causes after long and productive lives. (See Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, David Bowie, Glen Campbell.) Others died tragically, their lives and careers cut short whether by the hands of others (See John Lennon, Selena, Marvin Gaye.) or from their own self-destructive behavior. (See Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Tom Petty.)
We hear much about the vagaries of life in the fast line. (See The Eagles.), but it’s perhaps worthy of note that (speaking of the Eagles) at his death Glenn Frey had been married to his second wife for more than 25 years with three children. Cory Wells of Three Dog Night was married to his wife for 50 years and had five grandchildren. David Bowie and Iman were married for 24 years with Bowie insisting it was love and first sight. They worked hard to keep their relationship private and personal, away from the tabloids. Upon Bowie’s death in 2016, Iman vowed never to remarry.
I have a long list of concerts the wife and I have attended, but mention of Cory Wells brings to mind one I missed. I was all set for a Dog concert at the Georgia National Fair, but it was cancelled at the last minute because of Wells’s health. It was pretty bad indeed; he died a few days later.
Mention of Three Dog Night dates me, I know, but did you know that at one stretch the group had 17 consecutive number-one hits? I’m impressed.
But I do understand that I have reached the age when I am a walking anachronism. I suspect most folks feel that way when their years accumulate faster than the national debt. Much about these times we live in now has simply passed me by, and, trust me, I feel no urge to catch up. It’s not worth the trouble.
Nevertheless, I try not to be too hard on today’s pop music. I really like Rag and Bone Man, for instance, and as far as I’m concerned, “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons is about the most creative and imaginative song I’ve ever heard. And Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” is just about perfect. (Has anybody seen the video in which Sheeran sings “Perfect” with Andrea Bocelli? Talk about perfect!)
But to prove that I’m an anachronism, I feel no guilt or shame in admitting that Roy Orbison remains my all-time favorite singer, and he’s been dead since 1988. Here’s a weird and wonderful fact: My wife and I saw Roy in concert. About a year ago. How is that possible? Holograms. Perfectly synchronized with a 40+-piece orchestra and background singers. Weird but wonderful. After a song, the audience, including me, applauded, and I caught myself wonderful what the heck we were applauding. After all, it’s not like he was there.
The pattern for the early decades of our lives, wonderfully enough, is that of addition. For some time, we add: education, experience, a spouse, children, material things. At some point on our timeline, however, we reach and step across a tipping point. It’s impossible to identify exactly when this momentous event occurs; we can only look back one day with the somewhat startling realization that we have been there and done that.
Once the tipping point is crossed, sadly enough, the pattern of our lives becomes subtraction. We start losing things: our health, our parents, our pets, our energy, our hearing, our enthusiasm. Mostly, though, we lose people as our circle of life seems to become smaller: friends, acquaintances, and family. The final bit of subtraction, of course, is ourselves.
We can all still enjoy and sing along to the subtracted musicians’ work, but it’s just not the same somehow even with an astonishingly produced hologram with an orchestra. And there will never be any new music.
So it’s up to us to make our town new music, though not necessarily with a keyboard or an electric guitar. We make our music by the love we spread, the joy we share, the service we render. Once again, some rather talented old rock and rollers had it right: The love you take is equal to the love you make, the closing line in, appropriately enough, the song “The End’ in the Beatles’ Abbey Road album.
The author is a man “of a certain age” who lives in Christiansburg with his wife and son and a crippled cat.