Icons / August 2016

Let There (Still) Be Rock

As our hat-tip to grey eminence – to experience over youth – takes off, we consider why the elder statesmen of popular music still rock harder than their youthful successors.
Keith Richards by Hedi Slimane

“The strangest thing I’ve tried to snort?” Keith Richards said to an NME journalist in 2007. “I snorted my father. He was cremated and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow.” Richards Senior had died five years previously, when Keith was 59. Last year – by which time the Stones guitarist was a septuagenarian – he gave official permission for his daughters to follow suit, and dispose of his own charred remains nasally too, with the quip, “I’ll give them a straw.”

The Who’s bassist John Entwhistle died, at the age of 58, from a heart condition brought on by cocaine and shenanigans with a Las Vegas stripper. Lemmy, in his latter years, responded to the onset of diabetes and hypertension not by ditching the fags and booze, but by cutting back a bit - “dogged insolence in the face of mounting opposition to the contrary,” as he put it.

Now compare this to the peccadillos of today’s younger popular music icons. In the same year an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator was stitched into Lemmy’s chest, Justin Bieber caused outrage by writing in the guest book of the Anne Frank Museum, “Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” Another time, he was caught on camera peeing into a restaurant's mop bucket. The nearest the modern-day rock star gets to a meltdown is crying because the back-stage smoothie maker has packed up.

"The Who’s bassist John Entwhistle died, at the age of 58, from a heart condition brought on by cocaine and shenanigans with a Las Vegas stripper."

Even when they have a brush with narcotics – such as when two members of baby-lotion pop puppets One Direction were filmed smoking a joint while on tour in Peru – it can generally be assumed to be a choreographed, innocence-pricking publicity stunt (“What about filming it in Peru, guys? Pot’s not even illegal there, so you’ll be fine…”)

The simple fact is, however much the fire in their creative bellies turns to embers, the more the crevices in their foreheads deepen the cooler than their younger contemporaries rock stars from a bygone age become. And what they have in common is a kind of existential sprezzatura – or to put it another way, not giving a fuck.

And I’m not just referring to debauchery. Richards’ band-mate Charlie Watts still likes to build on his vast collection of vintage cars, despite having no driving licence, and having a suit tailored to each vehicle’s character.

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