Aging Rock Stars

This week we had the chance to catch up with several 50-something rock stars live on the stage here in Boston, which isn’t hard considering that Led Zeppelin, the Police, and the Rolling Stones won’t quit in spite of their venerable ages. No point in reviewing the music here because, well, we’re not qualified to judge.

1207927320But we figure that after two shows we are now fully qualified to comment on the aging rock star aesthetic. So what does a 50-something former punk wear? How does he deal with turkey neck, balding, and the burgeoning mid-section? And does he still rock?

Warning: the following may give the current tattooed and pierced generation pause, because, friends, you too will get old.

1207927329 On Saturday night, Mick Jones, of the Clash and Big Audio Dynamite fame, teamed up with Tony James, of the lesser-known ’70s Billy Idol-fronted punk band Generation X, at TT the Bear’s. Their latest (and perhaps final) incarnation is as CarbonSilicon, a rock-punk band, with two guitars, bass, and drums. As a lad Jones had a certain je ne sais quois—tall and gawky, British dental work, and a decidedly punk attitude, all of which don’t translate very well when you live past 50.

1207927338He’s traded in a full head of hair for a comb-over which, fortunately, moved to the back after 20 minutes of hard rocking and mucho sweat. Jones’ attire — a button-down shirt and sport jacket with a loose tie — was also decidedly un-punk. No more safety pins or ripped t-shirts, but then again, he’s no longer “on the dole.” James, who was always quite pleasing to look at, could have passed for an aging dignitary, though he’d been spotted on the street earlier that day flanked by a younger rock beauty. Jones was gracious (also quite un-punk)— he lingered for an hour after the show to mingle with fans. This was my tip-off that rock n’ roll was dead: the kindest people in the place were the men on stage.

For comparison, on Monday we joined the baby-boomer crowd for a night at the Somerville Theater with Joe Jackson—remember him? If you were over 42” high in the ’80s, you’re probably familiar with his biggest hit, “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” But Joe never stopped, though his orientation has shifted, so now his former songs can be reinterpreted through the man-to-man lens. Not at all punk (he was New Wave, man), Jackson plays a gorgeous grand piano (unqualified comment: his new CD, Rain, is serious ear candy), backed up by bass and drums, and looks even more boyish than he did thirty years ago.

Like his fellow Brit, Jackson wore a blue suit (no tie) and button-down shirt, but sitting at a piano is a bit more dignified for an older man than strapping on a guitar. Jackson certainly did rock—drawing from a 40-year repertoire that didn’t sound a note dated. And the audience totally freaked—up on their feet for three encores, after which Jackson vanished, but with a charming amount of gratitude and humility.

Final analysis? Old guys rock but take your contacts out before you go to the show. And while there, you close your eyes, and remember the stench of cigarette smoke and sweat, you’ll evoke a simpler time when people actually paid for the music they listened to.