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This article can be found in Issue 5 of Vhcle Magazine.
2011: Growing Old in a Young Man’s Game...
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In Mick’s case, he fell in love with American blues and R&B as a teenager in England and hasn’t tired of playing it in the 50 years since then. Sure, he gets paid handsomely for it, but he stopped needing the money long ago. He must still enjoy it on some level or he wouldn’t do it.
Dylan had an interesting take on his own lack of retirement in 2009 when asked about his supposed “Never Ending Tour,” as critics sometimes refer to it. "Critics should know that there's no such thing as forever,” he said. “Does anybody ever call Henry Ford a Never Ending Car Builder? Is Rupert Murdoch a Never Ending Media Tycoon? Critics apply a different standard to me for some reason.”
Dylan and the Rolling Stones are two quintessential examples of the journeyman’s rock n’ roll career. Cynics might point out that both artists have released as many terrible albums over the years as great ones, but if it bothers either artist, they don’t let on to it. Neither seems to spend any time contemplating their legacy, but it doesn’t matter much either way. When they are both long gone, they will still be remembered as all-time greats.
The drawback to hanging it up early as a band is that you often spend the rest of your career trying to live down or live up to what you are best known for. I see this as a potential problem for Jack White. Besides the White Stripes, he is also a member of the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather, a producer and a label head. But 20 years down the line, I have to believe most of the requests he is going to get at concerts will be for White Stripes songs. And if he is going to play these, would it not be best with his faux-sister, Meg?
Another drummer could certainly handle her parts, but it would not have the same mystique. To see the two ex-spouses share goofy looks while performing on stage adds an element to the songs another drummer could not. The odd relationship between the two is what made the White Stripes “beautiful and special”.
Also, there is one question that inevitably trails a musician the rest of his career after leaving the band he is primarily known for - "Are you guys ever going to reunite?"
Whether it is Roger Waters and Pink Floyd, Morrissey and the Smiths or Stephen Malkmus and Pavement, the primary fan base is always wondering when that fine day will come when their favorite band finally decides to get back together.
Many of these musicians' fans continue to follow their careers in the simple hope that they will be able to re-capture just a little of the magic they once had with their original band, but with a new group of musicians.
This is something bands who stick together long past their sell-by date never have to worry about. They might have trouble "getting their groove back" on any sort of regular basis, but at least the musicians who created the original groove are still standing right across from each other. Unfortunately for Jack, that will no longer be the case. Twenty years down the line, he might be missing the White Stripes as much as their fans.
Marc Ingber is a journalist with Sun Newspapers, based in Minneapolis, MN. He was born and raised in the Twin Cities and attended journalism school at the University of Kansas. His primary interests include rock n' roll, movies, food and drink, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins - probably in that order.
Photo: White Stripes by David Swanson
Read other articles by Marc:
MAN’S GAME: Why Bands Shouldn’t Worry About Their Legacies
Growing Old in a Young Man’s Game: Why Bands Shouldn’t Worry About Their Legacies,
March 2011 Vhcle Magazine Issue 5, Music
When I read in early February that the White Stripes were breaking up, I had mixed feelings. For historical purposes, it was probably a good decision for them. They are one of the few bands of the new millennium to sustain wide critical and audience acclaim over the course of several years and albums, and their decision to quit while they were ahead will likely ensure them a respected place in musical history.
Jack and Meg White’s reason for the band’s parting was vague, but seemed to be along these lines, as a statement on their website said: "It is for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way."
Though they certainly aren’t the first band to make this decision, their type of break up is uncommon. Ruling out untimely deaths or rabid hatred of fellow band members, most bands decide to stop and “preserve their legacy” a good while after they have spent a handful of years putting out sub-par material. Basically, they stop before things start getting really embarrassing.
In Jack and Meg’s case, they didn’t even get close to this level. Perhaps they feel that getting up on stage in their red shirts as an aged and graying divorced couple pretending to be brother and sister would destroy much of the goodwill classic albums like White Blood Cells and Elephant brought them, and didn’t want to chance it.
Maybe I’m just getting older myself, but I find this way of thinking to be flawed. While it makes sense on some level to care about your legacy, making decisions based on how you will be perceived years down the road is a strange way to live in the present. It may give you peace of mind that one day your work will be fondly remembered, but is the fear of future mediocrity a legitimate reason to stop trying?
Is there any amount of sub-standard material that will somehow negate your musical triumphs? Personally, I don’t think so. Bob Dylan has released a multitude of albums far inferior to Highway 61 Revisited, but it doesn’t make that album or any of his other classics any worse.
I understand that, more than any other art form, rock n’ roll clings to a “live fast, die young” mentality. It’s a young man’s game and most of the older artists who are still in it are making a living performing songs they wrote in their early 20s. The Rolling Stones haven’t brought in millions in touring revenue based on the strength of their more recent albums.
The list of rock stars who have found relevance on the wrong side of 45 for something new is pretty short, but what is Mick Jagger supposed to do when he turns 48 – become an accountant? Retire? There are only so many island vacations and trophy wives one man can have. After a while, you have to do something with your time.
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