REPORTS: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: Why Rock Stars Are Suddenly Retiring
The rock world has never seen a rash of retirements like this. In the past few weeks, some of rock & roll’s most legendary performers have declared they’re giving up the endless highway. Elton John announced his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, the final curtain for the ultimate showman. Paul Simon set a date for his last gig in London’s Hyde Park. Neil Diamond, already well into his 50th-anniversary tour, immediately cancelled the rest of his shows on doctors’ orders, after getting diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson revealed, “We have no plans to tour or record any more. We’re basically done. After 41 years, we felt it was enough.”
The concept of “enough” is always exotic in rock & roll – but it’s definitely a shock for so many legends to say goodnight at the same time. It’s a historic moment where we’re witnessing a sea change in how rock stars face their golden years. It’s not like these veterans have lost their mojo – anyone lucky enough to see Diamond last year can tell you he hasn’t lost a step. And some road warriors still keep peaking onstage as they push 80, from Paul McCartney to Smokey Robinson to Bob Dylan to Fleetwood Mac. But for others, as Simon admitted, quitting feels like “something of a relief.” So these elder statesmen are trying to invent something that’s never really existed until now – the rock & roll retirement.
It used to be that farewell gigs inspired mostly skeptical amusement. High-priced goodbyes are a classic show-biz trick; Cher’s farewell tour is old enough to vote. But this time it’s different. “I’m not Cher, even though I like wearing her clothes,” Elton John said at his press conference. “This is the end.” He’s not kidding. “My priorities in my life are now my children, my husband and my family. I want to be home.”
It’s also the end of the line for Joan Baez, nearly 60 years after her 1959 debut. “Number one: It’s too hard to sing,” she told Rolling Stone’s Jonathan Bernstein in January. “Nobody can really imagine the effort it takes to keep up with these vocal cords. … I can’t do shit in the upper range anymore.” Lynyrd Skynyrd just announced their “Last of the Street Survivors” tour – 40 years after the band got wiped out in a plane crash. (Guitarist Garry Rossington is the only crash survivor left in Skynyrd. Fly high, free bird.) At 87, Sonny Rollins’ pulmonary fibrosis has forced him to put down his mighty horn. Ozzy Osbourne, who quit with “No More Tours” in the 1990s, then surprised absolutely nobody by coming back for his Retirement Sucks Tour, will spend the next few years on his latest final trek – with the tongue-in-cheek title, “No More Tours 2.”
Why now? Of course, the music world has lost too many legends in the past couple of years. But two deaths really seem to loom over this moment. Prince and Tom Petty were younger than most of the new retirees, but both died from the same painkiller – Fentanyl – after years of touring harder than their aging bones could handle. For years we all saw Prince work magic onstage nobody else could do; it wasn’t until his tragic death that the world learned how he’d punished his body. Petty spent last summer on tour before finding out his hip was broken; the day he got the news, just a week after his final gig, he succumbed to an accidental overdose of Fentanyl, oxycodone, generic Xanax and other medications. Their deaths are a wake-up call for both musicians and fans. None of us want to see our heroes go out that way.
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By Rob Sheffield
[Thank you to Alex Teitz, http://www.femmusic.com, for contributing this article.]