It is undoubtedly sad when a famous musician, a person who has amassed a following, someone with a respected body of work, passes on to that great stage in the sky. I wonder, though, how many of the Converted ruminate on what their hero/heroine would have gone on to create. Would it have been better, as Neil Young would have it, to burn out than to fade away?
Being a self-avowed Deadhead I sometimes think what would Garcia be playing now, in his late 60’s, and would we still find it inspiring, or dare I say, tired and worn ? When I listen to Grateful Dead music now I prefer, by far, the 70’s decade, when youthful creativity was being driven by a growing sense of professional musicianship. When there was a sense of adventure and exploration in the music they played. Don’t get me wrong. I also find excellent examples of Dead music in the 80’s and particularly, early 90’s, when their ranks were reinforced by the excellent keyboards of Brent Mydland and then Bruce Hornsby. But that consistency isn’t there, for me.
And though I wasn’t there at the later shows you can hear now that Jerry was finding it hard some nights, and more regularly, to stay firing. Several thousand shows in a lifetime are going to take their toll. So, was burning out better than fading away ? Or is it better to know when your body of work is done ?
Quentin Tarantino recently said that he will stop making films when his body of work is done. That is, he’ll stop when he knows it’s time to stop. We’ve had The Rolling Stones for 50 years. I have been a big Stones fan in the past – but isn’t it time to stop ? Or………..
Do something new….. How do ageing musicians/ artistes, always known for a style or brand, keep the embers of youthful exploration flaring once in a while ? It’s a tough call. David Bowie announces his first album in 10 years and I wonder – I hope – that it pushes the boundaries again and challenges us to listen. I pray for the daring of “Scary Monsters” – the energy of Ziggy Stardust is too much to ask, of course.
The eternal dilemma is how do artistes counter advancing years and recognised works with the youthful exploration that brought them their original renown? Reputations are precious, and then again not, if you wish to continue to explore. Ask David Byrne, ask Dennis Hopper (if you could),ask David Lynch… ask Bob Dylan.
Do I want my heroes to stop or play till they drop, if playing till they drop means that they sound tired and uninspired ? I say stop. Let’s acknowledge that what you gave us when you were on fire will stay with us forever and inspire us.
That is, unless, you are inspired again, and we can all go “Wow” one more time.