Dear Mick: It’s time for you to die.
I say this not out of hate, but out of love. The Rolling Stones were and always will be an inspiration to drug-addled dropouts and rebellious lovers, denim-clad delinquents and flippers of the middle finger. When the Beatles came back from India strumming their sitars and singing about waltzing horses, you stuck to your guns: three chords, the truth and copious amounts of cocaine. For that, we thank you. Every rocker who ever wore a leather jacket thanks you. Punk thanks you and metal thanks you; Kurt Cobain thanks you and Jack White thanks you; hipsters and bros alike thank you. And now, in return, we ask one thing: We ask that you die.
Watching the Rolling Stones take the stage today is like watching someone take apart the Parthenon stone by stone. Every Stones show erodes their legacy. They perform behind a Botoxed veneer of youth, leaning on their mic stands like canes, trying desperately to inject songs like “Start Me Up” with the energy that they themselves no longer possess. To Mick Jagger, a joint is no longer something that gets you stoned — it’s something that gets arthritis. And when he sings “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” he’s probably just talking about erectile dysfunction. Time, it seems, is no longer on their side.
The Stones are hardly alone. The Who, once famous for their guitar-smashing live shows, have gone just as senile. Their Super Bowl performance a few years ago was as limp as a dead fish inside Keith Moon’s bass drum (he actually did this once, before he had the right instinct to die while the dying was good). It’s particularly pathetic that The Who, whose epitaph will always be the line from “My Generation,” “I hope I die before I get old,” have failed to do just that. The list goes on: The Allman Brothers now tour with exactly one founding member, while The Stooges were in the midst of their reunion when guitarist Ron Asheton came to his senses and dropped dead.
It all raises the question: Why continue? Maybe these bands simply can’t bring themselves to quit the stage, or maybe they’re just in it for the money. It’s a tough life to leave behind. But the years they spent as England’s newest hit-makers, taking the world by storm, continue to fade more and more. They were some of the best to ever do it because they embodied the rock ‘n’ roll ethos and expressed it as well as anyone else. They drank too much and smoked too much, played too loud and pulled all-nighters in the studio, and were loved for it. The longer they continue to impersonate their old selves, the farther they get from the real Rolling Stones. The same is true for The Who, for Van Halen, for any other band that lives in denial of its own mortality. After all, the best way to achieve immortality is to die young: Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison will be forever 27, as they said goodbye before they could begin diluting their own accomplishments. When Mick Jagger eventually lets go, our last memory of him will be of someone who overstayed his welcome but refused to see it.
It’s not impossible for rock stars to age with grace; Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan have both done so. Dylan recently released his 35th studio album to widespread acclaim, while Bruce continues to stomp across the stage like a man possessed, even as his band ages behind him. One gets the feeling that these two will exit with poise, as some have done. Despite what I’ve implied, it is possible to call it quits by some manner other than choking to death on your own vomit. But Bruce and Dylan never embraced the wild side of rock like the Stones or The Who did, and so there is none of the sour irony that accompanies a group of 60-somethings who have stuck around for too long. According to Steven Van Zandt, Springsteen has never done a drug in his life, and even early on, he showed an uncanny ability to be wistful about things that hadn’t even happened yet. Dylan may have done a few drugs in his time — OK, maybe more than a few — but he’s been a crotchety old man since the day he was born. The point is, you can’t have it both ways. Rock stars who lived large can’t keep pretending to do so forever, and no amount of Botox is going to change that.