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“Golden Years” for Older Rockers?



The venue was packed with an audience that displayed their age, both by the color of their hair (or the lack of hair), the less-than-trim bodies and the gusto with which they brought their cups of beer or mixed drinks to their seats. It was a night for celebrating or recapturing a moment in their youth and they had their smartphones at the ready to take photos or videos and shoot them out to the world via the social media of their choice.

Air conditioning, a must in the steamy 90+ weather, was, unfortunately, not so responsive to their needs and the auditorium began to heat up with the swelling crowd’s presence. “We’re working on it,” the woman in black attire murmured back when questioned about the increasing discomfort. Sure, they were working on an AC unit that had just been installed the previous summer but someone forgot to account for body heat in addition to square footage.

No, the AC wasn’t up to the job and it limped along so poorly that one performer had to remove his jacket on stage. The unit reflected, in some sad way, some of the performers who would be on the bill that night. But who would complain? These were “stars” of the 60s and 70s who were in their 70s and 80s. They were the original rockers who had inspired a generation to “turn on, tune in, drop out” but the only turning on now was provided by the legal liquor in their plastic cups.

A friend and I decided to go to the show because, as she said, “You want to see them before they die.” Die? Well, I wanted to see them and I didn’t want to think about their dying, but so much more stirred up in my mind once the show began. It wasn’t just the profusely sweating audience, the over-their-use-by-date dancers in their seats or the raucousness of the drinkers.

The one thing that stood out for me was the performers and how different they looked. Juxtaposing them in front of huge videos playing behind them only served to reinforce the changes. The youthful images with the mops of dark hair and British-styled suits made an impression that was far from what they wanted. The underscoring of the ravages of aging was not entertaining.

Watching one very famous rocker, I didn’t know whether he was an old guy setting up or getting ready to perform. Perform he did and in fine style, but as he walked with a hesitating gait, possibly indicating hip joints or arthritis, off stage at the end of his set, it was evident that he was not doing well.

What was he getting paid for this final tour and was it a final tour at all or would he have to endure more? One group even joked that they were refused entrance to the tour because they didn’t have their Medicare cards yet. Now they did and they were, once again, playing before small houses all over the country.

The tickets weren’t cheap, but this was a pretty significant group to share the receipts with and that might mean he wouldn’t get too much of the pot. Now, of course, “pot” was money.

This group was fortunate, however. A well-known “girl group” from the 60s saw anemic ticket sales for their show, which was then cancelled. So these women in their 70s had to deal with yet another slap in the face. I would have thought their audience was still there, but who knows in the music world? And, to add insult to injury, their ticket prices were really, really low. A trip to a diner for lunch would have been the equivalent of a ticket price.

How many of the icons of rock & roll have been denied their royalties, been duped by unscrupulous managers or their record companies so that they live from small gig to small gig just to pay the freight? Are they not deserving of the dignity of a reasonable income based on their past stellar song sales or are they like so many used-up prize fighters who are relegated to be punching bags for the up-and-comers?

Forget about health insurance. These guys probably don’t have any insurance and who paid into their Social Security to insure that some small sum from the US Government might come their way? Oh, I forget. A good number of these bands were not American citizens, so they don’t qualify for SS. Has the UK done something for these song writers and singers? I don’t know.

But dear old rockers, even if you’re not a US citizen, you may qualify for Social Security Disability but you do have to be over 72 and living in the USA, I believe. Well, many of these guys are fast approaching that age or have seen it in the rear view mirror many moons ago. Who’s out there trying to help them?

I remember reading about one famous film star, Mickey Rooney, and how he was Mickey Rooney treated after his career was just one of his distant memories.

The news wasn’t good and it wasn’t good for a lot of other 40s stars who appeared in road dinner shows with autograph signing sessions.

Rooney, who made a comeback in “Night at the Museum,” claimed he had been a victim of elder abuse and that his money had been siphoned off. Some people have sued the music industry because of price fixing and have taken their cases to court. They allege that the industry has gamed the system to result in their paying too high a price for the music they purchased, but what about the artists who didn’t get paid fairly, too?

Today’s artists (Pharrell Williams and The Eagles) are more conversant with their rights and less dependent on those who are supposed to protect their rights. But what about those who have given up the fight and slipped into the haze of drugs and alcohol in an effort to keep themselves going?

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be on the road in even a half-decent tour bus crammed with other entertainers, hitting one town after another. How do you get up night after night in front of an audience and try to keep it “real?” Who’s there for you when you need them?

I always remember that famous line from the now somewhat elderly Mick Jagger who, in his pre-30s years, said, “I don’t want to be 40 singing

Mick Jagger ‘Satisfaction.'” But you are, Mick, and you’re a great-grandfather (right?), you are and you are still making money.However,

you are the exception, not the rule. With all that money I guess you can forget a lot of things but do you sometimes remember the musicians who came up with you and are now in need? A bit of charity, I suppose, might be in order.

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DR. PATRICIA A. FARRELL