I will now Carbon 14 date myself. John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival made an appearance on Austin City Limits, a PBS live peformance music series a few nights ago and having little else to choose from (code for no good soccer matches on), I tuned in for a little rock and roll nostalgia. Not that I was ever a huge Creedence fan, in fact me and my garage band buddies not only openly trashed them but I remember vividly offering to take up a collection to buy them a fourth chord. The offer still stands.
Of course this concert just was just Fogerty in all his 3-chord splendor and actually, he didn’t suck. He may only know three chords but he plays them pretty damn well and for an old dog, he’s learned a few tricks and more than a few licks since Suzy Q and Center Field.
What really struck me as I watched him gallop around the stage in his too tight leather pants was how much of a member of the Old Rocker Club he was and how these rock icons from the 60’s and 70’s have sort of become a separate genre of popular culture unto themselves. I don’t mean the Stones or David Bowie or Peter Gabriel, whose stars have never really faded and have never really staged “comebacks” but more the likes of Fogerty, Pink Floyd, Lynnard Skynnard (sp), Peter Frampton, the guys who attract families with kids who picnic on the lawns of sprawling, suburban venues. Okay, maybe not Pink Floyd, they still rock and still inspire the same knee-jerk “time to light up a joint” reaction.
So using Fogerty as a poster boy for all rock stars who can also eat off the senior menu at Denny’s, I will now point out their common traits:
First, let me say I don’t mean to pick on Fogerty per se, it’s just that seeing him after so many years was kinda like being dope slapped…I mean his hair was 20 years old, but the rest of him was a member of AARP in good standing .
1. Speaking of…sorry but way too much hair for an old guy. So you haven’t lost your mane, great genes. But hey…50-something men look silly with preacher hair, mullets and pony tails. It may have looked cool in 1972 but now it looks like a pomeranian fell asleep on your head. Take a lesson from Sting, Peter Gabriel or James Taylor.
2. Way too much energy for an old guy. There’s an old adage about acting on stage, if a stage fight or pratfall looks too real it’s disturbing for the audience. Same when a 52 year-old guy in leather pants tries to do the punk trampoline bounce for an hour and a half. Yes, we know the mike’s are all wireless now and you can lunge across the stage at will but please.. for God’s sake John you’re gonna pull a groin, please stop, you’re making us sore just watching you.
3. Change keys on some of those favorite tunes from the 60’s…it’s really okay. Not only will we not know the difference but we really understand that your voice doesn’t have the range it did when you were 20. Again, iminent groin pull warning.
4. Not every guest musician you call onto the stage is the “Best _____Player in the World”. I guess it sounds better than saying, “please welcome a really adequate bass player from Philadelphia…” but geez already…I’m not a rock encyclopedia but if I haven’t heard of ANY of these guys…
5. Stop annoying your fellow musicians during the peformance. You didn’t run around and play in each other’s faces then, why are you doing it now? Again, it’s the wireless mike and guitar phenomenon that’s led to this inordinate amount of old rock guy hyperactivity and invading the personal space of each of his bandmates. Pretty sure for no other reason than well…it’s possible. I never really appreciated the fact that cords were really leashes in a way, restricting movement to the length of the cord. Of course some bands managed not to strangle each other and cavort around anyway i.e. the hair bands and heavy metal bands of the 70’s and 80’s, but the 60’s/70’s rock/folk/psychedellic bands like Creedence were refreshingly restrained while they performed. Now Fogerty thinks he’s Eddie Van Halen.
Here’s the deal…we grew up with and liked, or disliked your music, your art. The artist, your public persona, even your stage presence was less important. I guess MTV changed all that. We’re glad you’ve survived and aren’t selling appliances to make ends meet but what’s really survived is your art, for better or worse, which will never age if it’s any good, unlike you, the artist who will age and get tired and and inevitably become less good, which might takes away from the very cool, iconically cool thing you made in the first place. And in rock and roll school, at least the way I learned it, rock is about youth. Rock and roll “oldies” aren’t really rock and roll anymore, they’re just another form of classical music. Especially when considert that Beethoven, Hayden, Bach were the cutting edge, mad men of their day. Their generation’s Elvis and David Bowie, defying convention, loathed by the establishment.
It’s become a kind of thrill sport to see these relics in concert, scoring them on how much they look and sound like they did. Awarding points if they can play solos as fast and sing in the same key. Which more often than not tempts guys like Fogerty to overcompensate just a little. In his defense however, god knows we won’t let these guys age with diginity. And so my hat’s off to players like Jonie Mitchell, whose voice kas mellowed like cognac and who may not be able to hit those ultrasonic notes anymore but gets around beautifully by simply acting her age.