Rockers are mortal, after all

eagles-glenn-frey

It wasn’t always this way for me, but within the past couple of years the deaths of people I don’t know have taken on a whole new dimension. Whether I knew the person or not–and particularly if they were somebody famous for one reason or another– the first thing I want to know is how old the person was when they passed on.

Age is only a number, in death as in life, but it can serve as a measuring stick against our own mortality.  The wide majority of deaths in the news are still thankfully older than my age, as was the case with Glenn Frey’s passing today at 67. I’m still literally decades away from that number, so I can’t feel too bad for somebody who lived that long. And, to put a different spin on it, living one day as Glenn Frey must have been better than anything I could imagine, so spending a few decades in his shoes must have been out of this world.

But Frey’s death comes on the heels of David Bowie’s passing just a few days after his 69th birthday. Having been inspired by an article written by Neil McCormick about the inevitable passing of rock’s gods in the days and years to come, I looked at three groups of rock musicians:

  • Those who were born in the 1940s and were older than Bowie was when he passed away,
  • Those who were younger than Bowie but older than Frey when he passed away, and
  • Those who were younger than Frey but were still born in the 1940s, and are thus at least 65 years of age.

The findings were quite interesting. I’ve never inserted an excel spreadsheet into a post before, and I hope it works out. I’m going to insert the link to my findings after every paragraph, to make it easy for anyone who wants to see the full listing of musicians and their birthdays. The source of all birthdays is The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock, Third Edition, published in 2005. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, and in the event that I left out someone who belongs on the list, well, that’s what google is for. Birthdays before 1940 and after 1949 were not considered for this piece, so Tina Turner (born in 1939) and Peter Gabriel (born in 1950) are excluded.

First, the group that was older than Bowie has to be hearing the footsteps of Father Time, if they weren’t already. Living the life of a rock star probably has some multiplying effect that is impossible to quantify, but I can’t imagine that a year in the life of music legend is anywhere near the equivalent of 12 months for anyone else. It might seem to have a shortening effect on a someone’s life span, but Keith Richards is still going strong, so who knows what the story really is? And Mick Jagger’s onstage dancing have probably added years onto his life in exercise value, alone.

Rock Birthdays

But everyone who was 69 years or older when David Bowie passed away last week had to wonder how much longer they have left. For instance, Jimmy Buffet just turned 69 last Christmas, making him a couple of weeks older than David Bowie. The same can be said for Robby Krieger of the Doors, Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead, and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, all of whom reached age 69 in December of last year. David Bowie’s death has no direct bearing on any of their mortality, but I’m certain that each of these soon-to-be septuagenarians sat up and took notice, anyway.

Rock Birthdays

Others in the rock world who have reached 70 already include Bob Dylan (who will turn 75 in May), Paul McCartney (who will be 64 plus another ten years in June), Jagger and Richards (who are both 72), and Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, Pete Townshend, and John Fogerty. The rock pantheon is aging at the same pace as the rest of us, but their numbers will inevitably thin out over the coming few years.

Rock Birthdays

But those who are approaching age 69 later this year must have been thinking of their own mortality when Bowie’s death was announced. And now, the realization that Glenn Frey was even younger than they were must feel like a 1-2 punch. Many of them knew Bowie and/or Frey already, but they’ve now entered into what I call the Bowie-Frey Zone, which as of ten days ago didn’t even exist. They’re approaching their 69th birthdays–which is all the time that David Bowie got on this earth–with the realization that they’ve already outlived Glenn Frey by as much as a year and ten months.

Rock Birthdays

The names on the list of these rock stars is quite impressive:  Elton John, Queen’s Brian May, no less than three members of the Eagles (Don Henley, Don Felder, and Joe Walsh), Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Brian Johnson of AC/DC, Sammy Hagar, Meatloaf, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Robert Plant, and Jackson Browne. If David Bowie’s death didn’t rattle them–from a sheer numerical standpoint–it’s likely that Glenn Frey’s did.

Rock Birthdays

And the final group of musicians I looked at can take some comfort from the fact that Glenn Frey was older than them: Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Gene Simmons, Paul Rodgers, and both Hall and Oates. A majority of ZZ Top is on this list, as well.

Rock Birthdays

So what does all this mean? I’m not sure, exactly, but I can give one short story that seems a bit relevant here. Last summer, I was having some work done on my teeth, and as I was laying there with my mouth wide open, and nothing else to do, my mind started wandering to death and rock stars. I began with the Rolling Stones, and the death of Bobby Keys at the age of 70. He wasn’t officially in the band, but he played on some of their most well-known songs, and that’s a pretty significant thing.

I then started to mentally go through different bands, as bits of my tooth were flying through the air, thinking of who had passed on from each of them. I came to the realization that most bands have experienced death in one way or another, and that rock and roll does appear to extract a toll from those who live the life, whether onstage or out in the audience.

Neil Young once sang that it’s better to burn out than fade away, and after seeing him tear up the stage at Farm Aid 30 last summer, I can confidently state that he’s not fading away anytime soon. So maybe age is just a number, in some sense. It’s true that rock and roll can never die, but its principal practitioners aren’t getting any younger, either. I’m afraid that none of us are.

 

Marilyn Monroe and Jack Daniels

tumblr_l7mgw9QNrO1qb6fhx

I’m a big Lincoln fan, as I’ve shown in this space time and again. But for some reason, I haven’t yet read Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln books, The Prairie Years and The War Years.  I’m in the process of rectifying that now, and reading these works makes me understand that the man certainly had a way with words.

Today is Carl Sandburg’s birthday, and I wanted to find some words of his to post onto social media. He said lots of very worthwhile things, and it was difficult to pick just one, at least until one phrase caught my eye. I did some research on the quote, and a very interesting story began to present itself. And that’s the reason I write this blog, to tell interesting stories like this.

The phrase “a candle in the wind” is one that’s burned into our collective consciousness, but Carl Sandburg wrote that phrase long before Bernie Taupin ever did. In a poetry book titled The People, Yes–first published in 1936–Sandburg wrote that our lives are like a candle in the wind, and like hoar-frost on a stone. I liked both analogies, but they took different paths after Sandburg loosed them on the world. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

In late 1961, Marilyn Monroe paid a visit to a photographer friend of hers who was also acquainted with Carl Sandburg. The phrase that Sandburg had written decades before was still years away from entering the public’s awareness. After all, there was no reason to say goodbye to Norma Jean just yet. She was still walking the earth, and she paid a visit to one of the most famous American writers alive at that point.

The story goes that, after many photos were taken by Steckler, Sandburg and the others drank Jack Daniels together. I know that Sandburg did many things in his lifetime, but drinking Jack Daniels with Marilyn Monroe had to be one of the most interesting of all. I would think so, anyway.

From that visit with each other in late 1961, the two went their separate ways. Monroe died eight months later in August of 1962, and Sandburg died in July of 1967. And that might have been the end of the story, but then fate intervened, in an odd kind of way, a few years later in 1970.

After Janis Joplin died that year, she was remembered by a newspaper writer–whose name I haven’t been able to pin down–as being a “candle in the wind.” Whether this writer had read the term from Sandburg or not is impossible to know, but the article was read by a young songwriter named Bernie Taupin. Taupin liked the phrase so much that he put it in a composition for his collaborator, Reginald Dwight, to set to music. And I hope that nobody needs to be told what Reginald Dwight is better known as.

So a phrase that Sandburg wrote was thus applied to someone he once met, through the intermediaries of an American singer, an unknown newspaper writer, and a British songwriting duo. And Sandburg’s phrase will forever call Marilyn Monroe to mind, even if neither one could have known this when they met with each other in 1961. I have to believe that they would have enjoyed this story, at least as much as I did in telling it.

Sandburg rightly pointed out that we’re all candles in the wind, and hoar-frost on a stone. And for this reason his words will always live on, in a way that he and Norma Jean never could.

There is no true escape, I’m watching all the time

Judas_Priest_-_Screaming_For_Vengeance-front

Chicago has its annual Pride parade tomorrow, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to go. When I lived in the part of Chicago where the parade takes place, it was always a highlight of the summer. I’m sure that it still is, too, but since I don’t live in Boystown anymore, it’s not the same as it was for me. I have a feeling that the Supreme Court’s decision this week to strike down DOMA will add a little bit extra to this year’s festivities, too.

I’ve come a long way on gays in my lifetime, as many people have. And one of the markers on this is Judas Priest. I remember listening to Screaming for Vengeance my freshman year in high school, back in the early 1980s, but never suspecting that frontman Rob Halford was gay. All I knew was that the leather and studs look he introduced into the heavy metal genre was not the way I would ever dress, but it looked sufficiently badass and was therefore cool. The title of this post is taken from a line in the song Electric Eye, which seemed to be about 30 years ahead of the NSA curve.

When Rob Halford came out in the 1990s, I realized that the leather and all of that was not quite what I thought it was. But he had the same amazing voice, and the same kickass songs that I listened to as an angry and confused teenager. Nothing was any different, except that he told the world about who he was.

The social pressures that once prevented Elton John from coming out, and kept Freddie Mercury and George Michael and Johnny Ray and who knows how many others in the closet–or worse, forced them to present themselves as ladies’ men–have greatly changed through the years. And this is a good thing, because great music is great music, no matter who makes it.

Happy Pride to everyone reading this, in June of 2013 and every month after that as well.