There is a rock and roll adage that goes, “It is better to burn out than to just fade away.” Neil Young wrote that line in his song, “My, My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” in reference to self-destructive 1970s punk rock icon, Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols and perhaps his own lackluster career at the time.
Kurt Cobain, of the extremely popular 1990’s Seattle band Nirvana, quoted this line in his suicide note. Similarly, Pete Townsend’s quip, “I hope I die before I get old” from the Who’s “My Generation” was composed by Townsend when he was 20 years old in 1965. He wrote it for the rebellious British youths called Mods and expressed their feeling that older people “just don’t get it.”
When you’re a 20-something rocker, there really is no foresight into the future and living each day to the fullest is kind of the status quo. “Sex and drugs and rock & roll” was the battle cry in the late 1970s/early 1980s, when I was the same age. I saw many fellow musicians follow this creed, some to the death.
Then one day, you wake up and instead of “sex and drugs and rock & roll, it all became “gardening and cabernet and NPR.” Not that there is anything wrong with that.
While rock and roll loves its late night hours, we musicians, past the half-century mark in age, bemoan the idea of playing music into the wee hours of the evening to finally crawl into your bed around 3 a.m. after you’ve packed away all of your guitars and amplifiers and drums into the garage. It’s not the 3 a.m. that’s the killer.
Once you’re up and performing, anyone can do marathon Bruce Springsteen shows until godawful hours of the night.
No, it’s getting up the next day that’s the killer. Sleeping until 2 p.m. the next day is no longer an option. You have responsibilities of mowing the lawn, attending church, going to a granddaughter’s birthday party or accompanying your significant other to the plant nursery to pick out Jackson-Perkins rose starts.
These would not be the best times to pump your fist into the air, chug from a bottle of Jack Daniels and bellow “ROOOOCKKKKKK & ROOOOOLLLLLLLLL” in your best Johnny Winter-crazed gargle.
It’s not just the musicians who are reluctant to stay out until the bewitching hour. There’s a whole cadre of dancers who also look at their next day’s duties as to whether to go out dancing or just stay home to preserve their energies for the following day’s household repairs, marathon laundry sessions or gearing up for the Tour of the Unknown Coast 50-mile bike ride as promised to the family.
These days, a great many social functions involving a band are beginning at 7:30 p.m. and ending at 10:30 p.m. A wonderful evening is still to be had and you’re tucked away safe in bed by 11 p.m. Sleep, oh precious sleep.
There are bands around Humboldt County who are doing well at attracting crowds during these early hours. A packed house at 9 p.m. isn’t a rarity. The boomer generation who attends these functions are the same folks we would see 30 years ago dancing until the bars closed down.
You’d also see them at Toni’s Drive-In at 3 a.m. when everyone decided to get something to eat to sober up after a night of partying.
Ah, the pitfalls of aging. If I see my peers at Toni’s Drive-In now at 3 a.m., they had better be up that early to go fishing or perhaps their grandson was being born at Mad River Community Hospital and since they are already up... a triple-bacon cheeseburger and a peanut butter milkshake is a great way to celebrate. Sleep would come soon enough.
The Arcata Volunteer Fire Department Valentine’s Dance was just one of these early night social functions. To see that many folks having a good time so early in the evening is no longer strange. When the 11 p.m. buffet rolled around, you knew the evening was over. For the same token, for 20-somethings, the night has barely begun. Boy, do I remember those days.
So, it’s not necessarily better to burn out than to fade away as young rock and rollers are quick to pronounce. I believe it’s better to pace yourself and still be going strong in the long haul. Pete Townsend turns 65 this year. And who played the Super Bowl?
Making adjustments for age, you can still remain popular as a musician and attract crowds, albeit you may be accused of performing at places considered unhip or lame. Those who understand the key to performance longevity are laughing all the way to their beds.
Next installment: Those Pesky, Meddling Young Musicians and Their Way Out Hairstyles.”
Ross Rowley’s rebelliousness these days is mostly confined to creative punctuation.