2012 has been a vintage year for the music related anniversary: 50 years since 'Love Me Do', 45 years since 'Are You Experienced', 40 years since 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust', 35 years since The Clash debut album, 30 years since the release of 'Thriller', 25 years since the release of 'The Joshua Tree' all events which in one way or another changed a small corner of popular music. It's also of course been the 50th anniversary of the formation and first gig of The Rolling Stones.
The Stones are still going, just about, but the days when you could see them for the price of a pint have long gone and tickets in the region of £200 for one of their 50th Anniversary Tour gigs are out of the reach of most punters, even if it is a once in a lifetime experience. Fortunately (yes I know it's a bit of snobbery) I saw them in 1976 when they were still at their musical peak, just before Mick Jagger decided to become the curator of the Stones museum and the band ceased to produce anything worth listening to for the next thirty six years, give or take half a dozen tracks spread over nine albums (the last of which, A Bigger Bang, was released seven years ago).
It would have seemed unimaginable to my 16 year old self at Knebworth at the end of the long hot summer of 1976 that the band would be out on the road when I was 52. Rock stars weren't supposed to perform for that length of time were they? In truth we didn't know back then, before rock and roll there was jazz and before that the blues where it seemed almost compulsory that you had to be old and grizzled and in a lot of cases either dead, broke or both. Rock music changed that, skinny white boys took the devils music and gave it to the masses, supposedly, but how long were they supposed to perform for?
When The Beatles recorded their final album, Abbey Road (although not the last to be released) in April 1969, they were all under 30. To me that made sense, after all anybody singing pop songs had to be under 30 didn't they, anybody over 30 singing pop songs had moved from popular music into light entertainment. Mick Jagger reached thirty the year after they released Exile on Main Street (1972), their last truly great record, the difference between The Beatles and The Stones being that the former wrote mainly pop songs whilst the latter were a dirty, in your face, rock and roll band.
A whole combination of factors seem to have conspired to create music careers that now stretch from almost the beginning of modern rock music to the present and beyond. The argument for has always been that the great artists of the past weren't constrained by age when composing or creating their masterpieces, that may have been true a decade ago but in most cases it no longer applies. Mick Jagger was 69 this year. Beethoven was 57 when he died, Rembrandt 63, Hemingway 62.
Rock and roll has created its own rules, its own guide book, this year has seen new albums by Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and two new albums by Neil Young all of whom are older than Mick, Keef and Ronnie, and Pete and Roger have announced that a new album by The Who could be forthcoming.
When I was a teenager growing up I always imagined, wrongly as it turns out, that rock bands, like footballers, would reach their mid thirties and call it a day. Unlike footballers however musicians have a talent (or talents) that are not restricted by age, just look at B.B King, the guy's 87 and is still taking Lucille on world tours, and which each year attracts new fans, new devotees. Whenever I think about bands longevity or 'legacy' I remember the Bill Wyman story from the mid 1980's when The Stones were touring the US and a fan approached the band for some autographs. "I've loved you guys for ages," the fan said, Wyman looked at the teenager who he reckoned was about 16 or 17, "That's great," he said, "How long have you been listening to us?" "Oh, way back, from at least 'Some Girls'. That was the album the band released in 1978!
The bands of our youth can still entertain us, mainly when listening to old albums, and frequently embarrass us, but that's how it should be I suppose.