When I went to the CSNY concert last year, I could see even from afar that time is not a healer. Crosby, Stills, and Nash stood there, hair receding, grey beards, tummers hanging over belts, looking their ages and compensating for their lost power with new arrangements and limited choreography. Neil Young is in better shape, but no spring chicken. It was wonderful to hear them, especially Neil Young, who I think is a true genius, but it was somewhat depressing at the same time. Where have all the flowers gone? For me, it felt like what a man must feel looking at Judy Collins as a grandmother.
But have you seen Mick Jagger up close lately? I went to the Rolling Stones concert last week, and I was amazed by how this sexagenarian (let’s see, he’s sixty, but more than that he’s sexy) can still make all the moves. Admittedly, almost anyone can get up on a stage these days and look good with a twenty-foot projection screen behind him, an arena sound system, and a million digitally colored lights, but the only way you can tell how old Jagger (or Keith Richardson for that matter) is, is by getting a closeup of the time-stamped faces. Mick’s face shows every drug he ever ingested, every night he didn’t sleep, every woman he ever mesmerized. His body, however, is as lithe and agile as ever, and he doesn’t appear to be short of breath during an hour and a half of jumping around and singing his lungs out. Neither does Keith, who still smokes onstage. How come they don’t have chronic back pain, asthma, arthritis, heart palpitations, or any of the other stuff that makes doctors’ offices overflow with people of their generation?
The Rolling Stones epitomize people of my generation, who were brought up with a work ethic that defines a person by what he does rather than who he is, and who therefore won’t be pushed into retirement. We didn’t save enough for retirement because secretly we don’t want to retire. Retirement isn’t a stage you reach with pride if you’re a Boomer. It’s an admission of defeat: I can’t make the moves anymore.When you retire, you lose your power (see “About Schmidt”). Mick and Keith don’t need the money, but they do need the currency. If they retired, they wouldn’t get anymore girls.
Never mind. Forget I wrote all that. The next night I went to see “Shakira,” this century’s belly-dancing answer to Madonna. I have now revised my opinion. Compared to Shakira, Mick Jagger looks like he’s in a wheelchair.
Shakira works very hard on stage, while singing in two languages. She also writes her songs and produces her shows. She has a huge mop of blonde hair that she uses like a weapon–she shakes it around, throws it at you, flings it back…I wonder how her cervical discs will be in twenty years.
She also got up on a huge crane and was lifted over the audience at American West Arena during the finale of her show. Singing and dancing away in mid-air, she appeared fearless and triumphant –the modern Latina.
Music is always an indicator of the state of the culture. The past twenty years were about rap. The next twenty will be about Latin sounds: salsa, mambo, and all the signs that America is no longer white anglo-saxon protestant, but a true multi-lingual, multicultural society. It’s not like when the last century’s immigrants landed at Ellis Island, desperately trying to learn English, embarrassed by Italian and German accents.
We’re not a melting pot — a goulash — where all the ingredients blend together. We’re more like a bouillabaise, where each little shellfish keeps its shape and identity while contributing its own flavor to the dish.