Magazine article The Spectator

End of the Road

Magazine article The Spectator

End of the Road

Article excerpt

Pop music

End of the road

Old, dying and dead rock stars seem to crop up quite frequently in this column, but then many of the musicians I like seem to fall into one of those three categories. It was so much simpler when rock stars regularly keeled over in their twenties and thirties, although a few are now popping off in their fifties and sixties. With the death of three of their four original members in the past five years, the Ramones may now be the deadest of well-known bands. Only Tommy the drummer survives, and he looks like nothing on earth, so they may soon become the first wholly deceased rock group. Apparently, there are only a couple of Canned Heat left, and Badfinger are less than wholly populated, while Lynyrd Skynyrd have a worse casualty rate than an episode of Midsomer Murders. Add the Grateful Dead's exploding keyboardists and the afterlife begins to look rather crowded with jobbing musicians -another good reason, if you needed one, not to believe in it.

What we haven't had much of, though, is rock stars dying of old age. Johnny Cash was the first, the trailblazer in this as in so much else, and last year Leonard Cohen became the first of the 1960s singer-songwriters to hit 70. This is hardly decrepit: Buddhists often go on for ever and I read somewhere that a low centre of gravity is also indicative of long life. But when his latest album, Dear Heather, came out in the autumn some of the reviews suggested it had a valedictory air. I bought it immediately but didn't play it. I wasn't sure I liked the idea of valedictory airs. I didn't even take the plastic wrapper off. I think I was saving it for later.

Winter, though, is a Leonard Cohen kind of season. Just as it seems perverse to play the Beach Boys' early surfing hits in the midst of a hailstorm, so you wouldn't necessarily turn to the old groaner as the August sun beat down and the roads started to melt. Cohen is for darkness, for late nights, for colds and flu, like a sort of auditory Night Nurse. I have friends who swear by the early albums, but I love the second half of his long career, and have been listening to little else for weeks. After his disastrous collaboration with Phil Spector on Death Of A Ladies' Man and 1979's shapeless Recent Songs, the golden years started with Various Positions in 1984. …

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