GETTING MORE TALE #481: Hang It Up
Rock fans are a fickle bunch, aren’t we? We will openly praise our rock heroes, placing them upon mighty pedestals. We will proclaim that our love for said bands trumps anyone else’s; we are truer fans than the average wannabe. Then at the drop of a hat, when our bands take an action we don’t approve of, we suddenly become the authority on what that band actually should have done. We’re the experts after all, right?
Most commonly, we are quick to judge when a band has passed its prime. We have all done it. “They need to hang it up and call it a day, go out with some dignity,” we proclaim, pretending that we actually have a clue of what goes on in their creative or financial headspaces.
Why do we think we know what’s best? Certainly, we are opinionated on what we like and what we don’t. Let’s say a certain band “jumps the shark” a little bit, to use the TV vernacular. For example, Aerosmith. A lot of fans, this one included, feel that Aerosmith’s best days are long behind them. As fans, we don’t want to see the band continue to sink further into a crapslide of mediocrity. Mediocrity, that is, defined by us.
Certainly, Aerosmith have no problems selling out arenas even after several patchy discs and gigs. Go and see them live and you will meet fans who have seen them dozens of times in their lives. They have a blast doing so, and they don’t care if Tyler can’t jump around like he used to. What makes one group of fans (the ones that cry “hang it up!”) right, but the others who will gladly go see them live again tomorrow, wrong?
Nothing. It’s all personal taste. You may fall on one side of fence with Aerosmith, but another side with the Stones, or the Who. Look, I love Kiss. I always have. I loved when they were great, and I loved when they were shit. Now that the original members are down to just Gene and Paul, and Paul’s struggling with his voice, do I think they should hang it up? Absolutely not. I still look forward to whatever Paul, Gene, Eric and Tommy have cooking next. But I don’t necessarily feel that way about Aerosmith, or even AC/DC.
I saw Gordon Lightfoot perform about 10 years ago. His voice is reduced to a quiet whisper now. Years take their toll, but Gordon and his band still played a set of unforgettable music. Was it a harsh reminder of the years gone by? Sure, but I can say I’ve seen Gordon Lightfoot now, an experience I wouldn’t trade in for a cash refund, no way.
To compare an artist to their younger selves is almost universally unfair. I can’t run the 100 meter dash like I used to. Ian Gillan can’t hit the high screams like 1969 either. That’s OK. Ageing is a part of life. It is also a part of music, even rock and roll. Rock music used to be about celebrating youth, but today it is a far more diverse field than it was in the golden years.
On the other hand, take a group like AC/DC. For all intents and purposes, they were still going very strong with the classic five members until very recently. Then Malcolm got sick – irreversibly so. Phil Rudd had his problems and was let go. Now Brian Johnson is gone and Axl Rose is in. At what point does a band become a parody of itself? More importantly, who gets to decide that? I’d prefer if AC/DC were able to continue with Brian; I don’t want to adjust to an AC/DC with yet another new singer. But I don’t get a say, do I?
But we do get to vote on this, in one way: the capitalist way. We vote democratically with our dollars. People who don’t want to see Axl Rose fronting AC/DC are offered full refunds, and by taking the refund, a fan can voice his or her displeasure. If the tour continues beyond these dates, we will still be able to vote with our wallets. There is no deception here. Surely anyone in the market for AC/DC tickets knows what’s going on now.
Speaking personally, I would go see Axl/DC. Who knows how long this aggregation will last? It’s a possible chance to see history in the making. Even if they suck absolutely (doubtful), I would still be able to say “I saw that. I was there.” So, given the chance, even if I don’t like the idea of Axl fronting AC/DC, I would still use my money to vote “yay”. Even just out of curiosity, it would be worth it.
The single instance that I feel is universally appropriate for a band to retire is the sad day they find themselves without any original members. Take Quiet Riot for example. Nobody currently in the band played on the first two Quiet Riot albums. Two of the members who did are now dead, and there is no connection at all to the earliest recordings of the group. In cases such as this, what separates a band from a mere tribute? Call it what it is, in my view.
Who do you think should hang it up? And if they do, how long before the reunion tour? Time will tell!