Vol. 2, Issue #17 September 14th - September 27th, 2007

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

When Are You Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll?

Age, beauty and rock ‘n’ roll have been on my mind this week. I’m turning forty-six this month and it’s hard not to feel like there are less years to live than there are years that have been lived, but I see no end in sight. As my Grandfather died at the ripe old age of ninety-six from a heart attack brought on from falling out of a sixty-foot tree he was trimming, I’m still feeling lucky, and even more so when I look back at all the people who aren’t here to celebrate with me.

Back in the eighties, KMOD, Tulsa’s classic rock station, had a big campaign about how you’re never too old to rock ‘n’ roll. Aimed at the then-budding yuppie crowd, it showed a guy in his late thirties turning up The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” and doing a Mick Jagger impression as he took his coat and tie off. While I thought that commercial was stupid, I tend to agree with the concept, but the problem is that pop culture is no longer based on the aesthetics of the music, but rather the aesthetics of the body. I keep looking at the Britney Spears photos from this week’s MTV Awards and thinking, “She’s too fat?” Show me one heterosexual man, or for that matter any lesbian worth her salt, who would tell Britney to leave if she showed up at their bedroom door dressed like that, belly and all. But after two children and a summer in the crazy house, was anyone really expecting the precision chorography and goddess-perfect curves of her earlier days? Let the poor girl get old, and let her heal.

People are supposed to age, especially artists. Like the Shakespearean actor who works his way from playing Romeo when he’s young to King Lear in his latter days, many rock musicians have taken a graceful stroll into middle and old age without a personal trainer to keep their bellies tight. David Bowie seems happy as the grand old man of the alternative movement at the age of sixty; Paul McCartney is still able to amaze people as the elder statesman of pop, and even the surviving members of the class of ‘54, like Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis seem at peace with their status as icons of rock ‘n’ roll.

I had the honor of being at two classic rock events in Tulsa last weekend. The first was the Tulsa premiere of “The Nice Lady With The Nasty Voice,” the biography of rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson. I’ve been working with Wanda, so I might be a little prejudiced, but she’s a perfect example of a former sex symbol that is happy to be a grandmother. At the age of 70 there’s still a growl in her voice and that famous sparkle in her eyes. Wanda is a soft-spoken, church-going lady until the spotlight hits her, then all hell breaks loose. She just got back from France where she was honored for her place in rock ‘n’ roll, and she’s off to Branson for a few weeks, after roaming all over Oklahoma with the film this last weekend. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her schedule.

The next day I got to go on a shoot for an upcoming film biography about the late Oklahoma guitarist Jesse Ed Davis. Some of the legends of The Tulsa Sound got together at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame to play a couple tracks for the film and to do interviews, including Chuck Blackwell, Gary Gilmore, Jimmy Markham and Roger Tillison. Blackwell and Gilmore were the rhythm section for The Taj Mahal Band, as featured in The Rolling Stones’ film “Rock and Roll Circus,” and they’re even tighter after 30 years playing together. They did four takes of “She Caught The Katy” and each one, from a cold beginning, could raise the dead. They may have invented their distinctive sound when they were in their twenties, but they’ve perfected it in their later years. Watching these guys, who were heroes from my youth, I realized great musicians don’t get old; they get better.

I feel the same ways about the sex symbols of rock. Linda Ronstadt was my dream-girl in the ‘70s. Forget Farrah Fawcett, Susan Anton and the entire lineup of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, Linda’s photo on the inner sleeve of “Simple Dreams” was the absolute perfection of the female form, in my view. However, I’m glad she gained weight and looks like a schoolteacher; it’s much more preferable than if she were still trying to be a sex symbol in her sixties, like Cher. And is it just me, or is it getting harder to tell Cher from the drag queens who are made up like her?

Chrissie Hynde looks fine with a few extra pounds, Debbie Harry should have gray hair, Ann Wilson doesn’t need a trim figure to sell records anymore, and Marianne Faithful actually looks healthy for the first time in her life, and you can still see her dark soul. Of all the sex symbols of the ‘70s, the British actress Joanna Lumley – another favorite from my teen years – should get special kudos for not only going on with life after being a Bond Girl (in 1969) but especially for lampooning her own image, and all the other models who want to be forever young, as Patsy in “Absolutely Fabulous.” The show vividly demonstrated the brutal and loosing battle of chasing after the Fountain of Youth.

Obviously the blues went through this same process many years ago, but it didn’t take place in mainstream media, so we forget that those old black men we think of as the Mount Rushmore of American music – Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Lee Hooker and B.B. King – were once young. Part of the reason the blues made such an impact after The Rolling Stones reintroduced the form to America’s youth was because they were so powerful in their old age. I’m sure The Wolf was a formidable figure when he was in his twenties, but near the end of his life it was like watching a secular version of a hellfire and brimstone minister laying the truth on you about life, and giving you a look like you’d better listen to him, punk.

Of course the mark of a real fan is whether or not you’d still have sex with your hero after they are old and fat. You know if Elvis were still around, even at the age of 72, women would still be throwing themselves at him. Does anyone out there have Linda Ronstadt’s number?

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