Written by Bill Leebens

Back at the dawn of the grunge era in 1991, Perry Farrell dreamed up Lollapalooza as a festival that would serve as a grand farewell tour for his band, Jane’s Addiction. Over twenty-five years later, Lollapalooza is still around, having adapted and morphed to survive changing times and markets. Like many musicians who seem to be touring, touring, ever touring, Lollapalooza just won’t die.

But those perpetual-tourers do age, and as we saw recently in the sad and premature death of Tom Petty, they do die.

Around the same time as the first Lollapalooza, there began the first major wave of, let’s call them “Classic Rock” tours—giant tours of bands that have ceased to have major hit records (or cynics like me would say, any relevance whatsoever), but can draw upon their back catalog and fan bases to fill massive arenas and stadiums in spite of astonishing 3-, 4-, and 5-figure ticket prices. These days, think Springsteen on Broadway—but bands like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac break up and make up like that troubled couple you know who fight continually and repeatedly threaten to divorce—but somehow just hang on, to the dismay of their friends and families, who wish they’d just be done with it.

But I digress.

Way back then in the ’90’s, I first thought of the name “Geezerpalooza” to describe those tours of aging and aged bands that just refuse to go away, and somehow still manage to draw crowds of ever more elderly fans. Looking back at that era, those bands and their fans—meaning, us— were just spring chickens. Look at the artists touring these days, and it’s hard to not think, “oh my God—he’s still ALIVE??”

Thus, my alternative name for such tours: “See Them Now Before They Drop Dead on Stage at Some State Fair in the Midwest”. Harsh, but accurate, I think. From my own admittedly-jaundiced perspective, it just seems unreasonable to expect the road to go on forever, in spite of Robert Earl Keen’s song to the contrary.

Charlie Watts is 76, and so is Bob Dylan. Can they reasonably be expected to be touring at 91, like Tony Bennett? Would we want them to? If they are touring in 2032, would we go see them? Maybe Rubinstein was still a vital artist in his 90’s, but most performers—especially singers—experience a diminution of their abilities and capacities. A certain pragmatism is inevitable in both the performers and in their audiences.

For example: I’m 61. When I was an adolescent in Carbondale, Illinois, REO Speedwagon played dances there at Southern Illinois University. Presumably, those guys were sorta-adults then; how old must they be now? How many times can they play “Keep On Lovin’ You” without becoming utterly comatose? And who will still want to hear them?

Going back to septuagenarian Bob Dylan: my older brother Chuck has been a Dylan evangelist since, oh, 1964. Chuck has heard Dylan at all manner of venues from small halls to stadiums, from minor-league baseball parks to big festivals. Somehow, I’ve never seen Dylan perform, and neither had my girlfriend.

When a local Dylan show with Mavis Staples was announced, we both thought, “we should go see them”. Following Petty’s death, the conversation shifted to, “we should go see them before they die.”

Then that “certain pragmatism” I mentioned came into play. I know that my younger colleagues (and these days, most of my colleagues are younger) seem to favor experiences over material goods, but given the frangible nature of my memory, I’m fine with stuff. Couple that with the fact that after adding the $40 per ticket handling fee—and wasn’t Pearl Jam’s suit against Ticketmaster supposed to end such extortion?!?— two tickets were $400.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s probably not an immense amount of money. And yet, my mind went back to the days when an LP and a concert ticket cost about the same amount. Finally, neither of us thought the experience was worth that much money to us— especially if Dylan decided to croak his way through “Stardust” and such. Oh, well.

I’ve tried to extrapolate from this experience, figure out some protocol that would enable me to determine when an artist is too far gone or too damned expensive to prevent me from buying tickets.

I can’t.

So I guess I’ll muddle along like every other human being, trying to make sense out of the choices that are presented to me, every single day. Fun, no?

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