From time to time we all ponder the mysteries of mortality, the purpose of life and indeed what’s it all about, Alfie?
Overnight I spotted this piece by John Lister using the occasion of Madonna reaching her 60th birthday to salute those female musicians/artistes past the first flush of youth – still ‘taking it to the public’ – see here – on the website of – THE INDEPENDENT
(I’m not going to use the word ‘genius’ today but) occasionally great talents in the world of music – whether the classical variety, mainstream pop, jazz, blues, rock & roll, whatever other genre you care to think of or mention – arrive or emerge seemingly overnight … and/or achieve a degree of fame and fortune after years of hard practice and slog.
Several complicating aspects immediately spring to mind here, not least that of ‘true talent’, ‘what constitutes success’ and who just ‘got lucky’ … in terms of being discovered, getting a break, getting taken on by a sympathetic and caring ‘manager’, somehow having an early ‘big hit or success’ out of the blue.
Wasn’t it the case that Vincent Van Gogh sold just one painting in his own lifetime, or was it none at all?
How many Mozarts, Bachs or Brian Wilsons have there been in history whose music has never been heard by more than their own family circle, never mind by the global public at large?
Indeed, can musical success ever be judged merely by popular success or numbers?
Here are some artistes who appear in the list of ‘Top Fifty Best Selling Musical Artistes Of All Time’ as published by Business Insider UK:
Britney Spears and Queen – level at Number 47, with 24.5 million units sold; Bob Dylan at Number 45 on 36 million units; Rod Stewart at Number 39 on 38 million units; Santana at Number 34 on 43.5 million units; Kenny Rogers at Number 28 on 47.5 million units; Celine Dion at Number 22 on 50 million units; U2 at Number 21 on 52 million units; Whitney Houston at Number 19 on 58.5 million units; Maria Carey at Number 17 on 64 million units; Madonna at Number 16 on 64.5 million units; Bruce Springsteen at Number 15 on 65.5 million units; the Rolling Stones at Number 13 on 66.5 million units; Barbara Streisand at Number 12 on 68.5 million units; Pink Floyd at Number 9 on 75 million units; The Eagles at Number 5 on 101 million units; Led Zeppelin at Number 4 on 111.5 million units; Elvis Presley at Number 3 on 146.5 million units; Garth Brooks [“Who he?” I hear you ask] at Number 2 on 148 million units; and The Beatles at Number 1 on 178 million units.
We can all remember lyrics that celebrate the uncertainties – and also perhaps the certainties – of youth, here are just three examples that come to me as I sip my expresso coffee at the dead of night: –
“Hope I die before I get old …” [from My Generation by The Who];
“… Cos summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy/But what can a poor boy do/Except to sing for a rock and roll band …” [from Street Fighting Man by the Rolling Stones]
and, of course, the seminal:
And don’t criticise what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly ageing
Please get out of the new one of you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’ …“
[from The Times They Are A-Changing by Bob Dylan].
A myth has grown up that twenty-seven was (and is) a good age for a pop/rock legend to die – think Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison of The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana … and Amy Winehouse – in terms of a career move on the way to legendary status.
There was a time (the late 1950s and early 1960s) when home-grown UK white Anglo-Saxon pop stars didn’t need much talent. More often they just needed to ‘look the part’, sing the songs they were given, do as they were told and leave the rest to the old Tin Pan Alley-style exploitative managers and agents who would make money out of them for two or three years until they ‘went out of style/fashion’ and then got dropped in favour of ‘the next Big Hope’ or Hopes.
Even today there are sixty-five to near eighty year olds who are still ‘going out on the road’ in their wheelchairs, corsets, dyed hair or wigs – as part of authentic (or even inauthentic) versions of their former bands and making half-decent money being part of 1960s Greatest Hits Review shows, probably far more than they ever did in their (very brief) heyday.
Well, why shouldn’t they … if they still can?
There are relative youngsters – the 1980s bands, for example, now in their late fifties or sixties – who are doing similar with 1980s Greatest Hit Review shows and making good money thank you by tapping into the nostalgia and ‘reliving their youth’ (former fans) markets.
Separately there were others who flashed, probably as Nature intended, like meteors across the firmament of stardom for three or four years – all the while accepting that it was going to come to an end one day – and simply went off, picked up jobs or careers (serious or not) and simply got on with life when ‘all that’ came to an end.
I remember my days of idyllic youth in the 1960s when the British Blues Boom became the fashionable thing.
Bands such as John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, Savoy Brown, Ten Years After and Free – and guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Paul Kossoff – championed the black man’s Blues music and gave new celebrity and monetary success to artistes like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Otis Spann and the three Kings (BB, Albert and Freddie), all of whom had been toiling for decades with but minor ‘cult’ success whilst playing the music they loved.
Thus I find myself sitting upon the horns of a dilemma in 2018.
Do I begrudge – could I find it in me to begrudge – supposed clapped-out old farts like the Rolling Stones still touring the world in their dotage, peddling their greatest hits to the masses. By which I mean the masses who turn out to pay £125-plus per ticket in massive stadia – and then afterwards drive home in their £60,000 SUVs to their well-to-do middle class homes for upmarket BBQ parties with their friends and then nothing more planned for the weekend than perhaps the prospect of attending the Arsenal v Man City match at the Emirates the following day?
(What’s any of that got to do with the rock and roll lifestyle as it used to be – and was loved by us all in theory – when the Stones were at the height of their notoriety?)
And do I resent the Sensational 60s Experience UK national tour going out on tour this autumn and featuring such superstars as … er … Chris Farlowe and former members of The Searchers, Herman’s Hermits, The Swinging Blue Jeans, Amen Corner and the Fourmost?
(For those that are interested, they’re appearing at The Churchill Theatre in Bromley on 12th October (tickets priced from £32) amongst other venues).
The arts critics and sometime jazz singer George Melly once wrote a well-received book entitled Revolt Into Style analysing how the supposed creative watershed and ‘changing of the guard’ of the supposed 1960s counter-culture revolution – like all new creative movements in history – was always going to morph into some sort of mainstream media gloop.
Because that’s human history and human kind in a nutshell.
So do I recoil at the news that these days some former female musical icons are still out there ‘strutting their stuff’?
Not really. But then, you see, I’m an old fart myself these days.
It doesn’t stop me feeling that it might have been ‘cooler’ for me to have been an all-time musical legend and then snuffed it at 27, like those other ones that did.
That said – and my point is – I’m sixty-six now.
And if I could go out this autumn and play Stoke, Bromley, Barnstaple, Weston-Super-Mare and Torquay on 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th October to near-packed audiences … as the Sensational 60s Experience troupe is going to be (amongst other dates, folks!) … I’m sure I’d be setting off downtown today to get my corset, wig and costume fitted …(!)