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November 12, 2008

Aging Giants

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Mick Jagger reflects a little on what it's like to be 65. If I'm counting right, Jagger is the father of seven kids. Here's a track from one of the Stones' better periods:

Hard to ignore how un-PC the lyrics are by today's standards, isn't it? At the time they were enjoyed not as offensive but as sweetly risque.

* Legendary film composer Ennio ("The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly") Morricone turns 80. In this clip, Morricone conducts some of the music from the film:

What are the odds that Morricone's film scores will be remembered for longer than much of the era's "serious" standalone music? I'd guess they're pretty good.



posted by Michael at November 12, 2008


Being interested in how people – including celebrities – might be “aging” differently in different modern day “eras,” here’s some info I just looked-up on Wikipedia, along with some other thoughts:

Bing Crosby
1903 – 1977 (74 yrs old)
wives: 2
kids: 7 (by his two different wives)
(End of period of “widespread” popularity: late 1950s? – c. 55 yrs old.)

Was 65 years old in 1968.
Still “very” newsworthy to the general public at age 65?: probably not.

Perry Como
1912 – 2001 (89 yrs old)
wives: 1 (married 65 years, before wife, whom he met at age 17, died)
kids: 3
(End of period of “widespread” popularity: c. 1960?, c. 48 yrs old.)

Was 65 years old in 1972.
Still “very” newsworthy to the general public at age 65?: probably not.

Frank Sinatra
1915 – 1998 (83 yrs old)
wives: 4
kids: 3
(End of period of “widespread” popularity: c. mid-1960s?, 50 yrs old.)

Was 65 years old in 1980.
Still “very” newsworthy to the general public at age 65?: Yes!

Mick Jagger
1943 –
wives: 2
kids: 7 (by four different women)
(End of period of “widespread” popularity: c. _______ ?, ____ yrs old.)

Is 65 years old in 2008.
Still “very” newsworthy to the general public at age 65?: Yes!

Actually, the old-time crooners were still widely popular at an older age than I had originally thought. But it still seems to me that due to a sea change in popular culture and a "delayed" aging process these days, they outlived their fame more than current stars do and "aged" earlier than many average folks do today.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on November 12, 2008 11:49 AM

Jagger started out imitating the Chicago bluesmen. Age is an asset, not a deficiency, in the blues tradition. I think that he's well aware of this.

Stating the simple truth, without PC embellishment, is also a blues tradition.

What's really striking about the song to me is that it is pre-porn in its outlook. Hey, I like some porn, but the bitterness and anger that porn has introduced into the kid's sex lives... well, all you have to do is read Roissy to see that. By the way, I can't stand to read Roissy any more. What a train wreck! The fury he and his posters express is more than I want to know about.

Sex keeps getting redefined by every generation into a more public, recreational activity. The losses equals the gains. When I was younger I thought that this process was entirely positive. It ain't.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on November 12, 2008 11:59 AM

The 'era's "serious" standalone music' has already been forgotten, so that's a safe conclusion.

Much of what you say about modern architecture can apply to classical music, although 12-tone music is dead dead dead now so it's a little happier picture. But the bullying & posturing of the avant-garde were the same. Difference is they had to sell records to a public who stubbornly wanted to hear a good tune.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on November 12, 2008 12:09 PM

The "sea change" Benjamin notes is key, I think. Pop culture tastes had changed pretty radically by the time guys like Crosby and Como were in their 60s--but frankly has pop culture changed that much since the heyday of the Stones? It doesn't seem like it to me. A singer singing like Crosby in 1932 was a woeful anachronism in by '72, but a singer singing like Jagger in '72 would probably still be a sensation today.

That plus a ton of shrewd marketing and managing have ensured their longevity.

Posted by: Steve on November 12, 2008 1:00 PM

I agree with Steve; rock music is remarkably conservative. You only have to compare the speed with which, for example, Ragtime became Jazz, became Swing, became Bebop, to see that Mr Jagger represents the tortoise tendency.

Posted by: dearieme on November 12, 2008 4:37 PM

Interesting comments all. I couldn't help focusing on B Hemric's very interesting chronology, esp. on the question marks surrounding the end of Mick Jagger's period of widespread popularity. That time is clearly over for the Lips That Sneered Lust at the Heart of the World, but it really is tough to pin down just when he and the Stones just stopped mattering. Is it because they petered out slowly? Or is it related to the fact alluded to by Steve, that music hasn't changed abruptly enough to provide a fairly clear demarcation line (notice how the older singers were generally shoved aside by rock in various of its early mutations).

The Stones ended for me after Some Girls, the last album of theirs that produced any outrage in people ('black girls just want to get f*cked all night...'), which means, roughly, that punk--or New Wave--did them in as Important Artists. But that may just be my generational blinkers blinking.

Any other takers? How about you Benjamin? Any thoughts on how to fill in those question mark blanks?

Posted by: PatrickH on November 12, 2008 4:44 PM

Rock music is built on and depends on the youth coming of age when it was created. The Stones stop mattering when the youth that initially embraced them were no longer youths and something substantial enough (punk for whites, hip hop for blacks) came along that resonated with the next generation coming of age. By the time Tattoo You, their last (in my opinion) iconic album came out, punk was almost over, so I think that speaks to the staying power of the Stones. Not many acts are able to create top-notch material 20 years on.

Anyway, entire books have been written on this subject. I'd recommend Greil Marcus' "Lipstick Traces" and particularly "England's Dreaming" by Jon Savage.

Posted by: JV on November 12, 2008 5:14 PM

i love morricone. me and a friend flew to new york and saw him at radio city music hall 2ish years ago, which was his first time in america. i like his work with leone films the best but i also have a collection of scores from 60s hippie dippie art films probably not still in print that are pretty cool. his scores for "once upon a time in the west" and "once upon a time in america" are as good as it gets.

Posted by: t. j. on November 12, 2008 5:32 PM

t.j. and Michael


Posted by: Robert Townshend on November 12, 2008 5:55 PM

It was Ennio Morricone who singlehandedly compelled me to go to school and study film scoring. That career path died on the vine for me, but as t.j. said, Morricone's non-Western compositions are sublime, especially the 70's stuff. Although his score for "The Mission" (1986) is one of my favorites.

The Western stuff is a blast too, of course.

I'm not a huge fan of traditionally classical music (and certainly not of most modern 20th century stuff) but for me film scores offer an opportunity for music lovers to enjoy something that is classical in its melody/beauty but still innovative and modern.

Posted by: Tupac Chopra on November 12, 2008 6:31 PM

Also, I wouldn't say rock music is dead or stagnating just because not much has changed in the past 30 years. Up until the 1920's, musical cycles lasted many decades, if not more, most likely due to the lack of recording capability and the relatively provincial reach of music. Once you could record and play back music, particualrly over the airwaves, there was no looking back. People had access to music that wasn't part of their culture and could play it back ad infinitum. Cross-pollination because more frequent and you have the beginnings of todays musical gumbo.

So blame it on the radio.

Posted by: JV on November 12, 2008 6:31 PM

The Stones stop mattering when the youth that initially embraced them were no longer youths

They were enthusiastically embraced by my high school peers in the mid-1980s. Most recognized that their old music was better but their 80s albums all went to #1 or close to it, and were bought by teenagers, like me, at the time. Undercover in 1983, and Dirty Work in 1987 were as popular at my high school as the music of the time.

Having said that part of the reason may have been the competition - Nancy-boyish English bands like the Thompson Twins and Duran Duran along with Michael Jackson and Prince appalled most males. Leaving side the unique headbanger demographic and the small number of 'college' (later to become 'alternative') music scene followers who were usually in their late teens, the classic bands of the 60s and 70s like the Stones were the main alternatives to the MTV stuff for most mid-teenage males. Only after the 80s did they become a nostalgia band whose new albums no longer sold that much.

Posted by: CanadianObserver on November 12, 2008 8:13 PM

PatrickH wrote:

I couldn't help focusing on . . . the question marks surrounding the end of Mick Jagger's period of widespread popularity . . . [A] it really is tough to pin down just when he and the Stones just stopped mattering . . . [B] How about you Benjamin? Any thoughts on how to fill in those question mark blanks?

Benjamin writes:

First, with regard to [B]: I'm unusually ignorant about the rock era music scene, so when I typed in the question marks, I was hoping that others would help out!

Personally speaking, when I was typing up my comment, I was thinking (and again, I’m not that knowledgeable about this stuff) that I don’t even know “if” the Stones have ever really stopped "mattering" or, if they have, if it might be only very, very recently. (See more below.)

With regard to [A]: In terms of my interests in the topic (the relatively longevity of popularity of singers from different eras), I think it’s important to point out that (i) “mattering” should be more than an observer's personal like or dislike – it’s more a question of a performer’s relationship to mainstream pop culture; and that (ii) a judgment, whether a performer “matters” or not, should not be based merely on subjective judgments but on objective criteria (e.g., industry awards, the level of demand for their TV / movie appearances and for their new material as performed on "records" in concerts, etc.).

Along these lines, here’s what popped into my mind (with the particulars being found via a quick visit to Wikipedia) when I wondered to myself whether the Stones have every really stopped “mattering” or, if they have stopped mattering, could it be only very recently?:

1) In 1995 (Jagger is 52), a Stones song is chosen to help launch Microsoft’s new operating system. (I got the idea at the time that Microsoft executives, admittedly Baby Boomers, seemed to think this was a hip and “with it” thing to do – and not a “nostalgia” kind of thing – even though I see from Wikipedia that this is a 1981 song.)

2) In 1995 (Jagger is 52), Stones won a Grammy for Best Rock Album (which to me seems to be a very strong sign that they are not seen as “nostalgia.”)

3) In 2006 (Jagger is 63), Stones were chosen to perform at the Super Bowl (again, it didn’t seem to me that they were chosen as a nostalgia act).

4) In 2006, (Jagger is 63) their Bigger Bang tour (which I assume was mostly new material, and not a nostalgia tour) became the biggest grossing tour of all time. (Don’t know if this is in inflated dollars, although I assume it is. But still this would seem to demonstrate their relevance.)

5) In 2006 (Jagger is 63), prestigious director Martin Scorsese does a film, “Shine A Light,” of one of their concerts.

- - - - - -

By the way, it occurred to me that Perry Como and Mick Jagger are somewhat anomalous in terms how well the people of their generation have aged. Although people of his generation aged more quickly, so it seems to me, Perry Como himself seems to have been very young looking for his age (being in his mid-40s when he was so popular on TV in the 1950s); and although generally speaking people of his generation age more slowly, so it seems to me, Mick Jagger got old looking at a relatively young age (too much sun?).

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on November 13, 2008 8:42 PM

Jagger said two intelligent things in the '60s that I respected. One, that the Stones didn't play rock'n'roll, but rather rhythm-and-blues. It was an important distinction to them, and to me. He also said he wouldn't be singing "Satisfaction" at forty.

They reneged on both those promises. I haven't bought a Stones album since Sticky Fingers came out when I was in junior high.

Not quite 20 years ago, though, I was driving west to a baseball game in Kansas City, going through St Louis. The Cards were out of town that weekend, so I thought I'd check out the darkened Busch Stadium on a Sunday night in a deserted downtown.

Not quite... There were no open parking spaces within a mile of the stadium, and when I approached it, I saw why: "Budweiser presents The Rolling Stones!" I found a bench in a nearby park and heard the concert for free- which was what it was worth. Mick was over 45, and he was singing "Satisfaction".

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on November 14, 2008 12:54 AM

Benjamin, by rock n roll criteria, all of those milestones you mention bring home the fact that the Stones haven't "mattered" in decades. That said, their best music still sounds great, so who cares?

Posted by: JV on November 14, 2008 2:11 AM

I love this Morricone-composed pop song:

Posted by: Ron on November 17, 2008 8:41 AM

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