Classic Rock and the Art of Knowing When To Give Up

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Classic rock artists don’t know when to give up, and to say the least, it’s painful.

They so frequently return after their supposed farewell tours that Rolling Stone has a listicle that breaks down bands returning after saying their “goodbyes.”

I feel the need to preface this all with the fact I wouldn’t actually discourage anyone from making music. As a musician myself, I know the role this plays in the lives of artists. 

Also, they make a lot of money for continuing to tour and make music after what some might consider their “expiration date.”

When I was young, I was exposed to almost nothing but classic rock. My first concert was seeing Sammy Hagar — who I have now seen five times — at Naperville’s 2010 Ribfest. 97.9 WLUP “The Loop” and 97.1 WDRV “The Drive” were the choice radio stations of my youth, the latter of which is still my go-to.

Zack Miller | The Phoenix Assistant Arts and Entertainment Editor Zack Miller backstage at Sammy Hagar’s 2010 Naperville Ribfest performance.

However, I’ve always known these bands were old and knew I might never hear new material from them, but I was excited at the idea. To be fair, a kid can only listen to “Enter Sandman,” “Free Bird” and “Hotel California” so many times before they decide something fresh would be nice.

As an adult, I realize the mistake in my younger self’s wishes. 

Australian rock group AC/DC dropped their 17th studio album Nov. 13. An 11-year-old version of me would be absolutely thrilled to be getting a new album from his favorite band, whose music video for “Jailbreak” I had then seen more times than days I’d been alive.

The version of me that will inevitably listen to this album, though, is not excited. In fact, I dread thinking about listening to it. After hearing the lead single, “Shot In the Dark,” I realize that it may be time for my dream of quality new music from them to be laid to rest.

They are absolutely not alone in failing to concede. AC/DC has recently been joined by other legends of rock, such as Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and Van Halen — just to name a few. 

I mention the last one because this isn’t a new phenomena for me. I haven’t liked Van Halen’s “Jump” since I first heard it (and then heard it four more times that day thanks to how rock radio stations tend to operate). While the track isn’t new by any stretch, it represents a lot of what these bands are trying to accomplish — staying relevant and hip with ever-changing music trends. 

Despite my opinions, the group continued to truck-on for decades after “Jump,” ignoring the many signs (or flashing, neon billboards) warning them that their time as the forefront of classic rock was up. 

In what I could only imagine was divine intervention, the group’s singer, David Lee Roth, hit himself in the face with a baton he was spinning during a live performance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” resulting in him getting several stitches. For those out of the loop, spinning props is a common stage antic of his that seemingly worked better in his youth.

Above is the video of a geriatric rock star abruptly coming to terms with his age, though I will say that things were a train wreck long before the incident. Roth’s vocals are clearly not what they used to be and he talk-sings through several lines he can’t hit, sounding like a dive bar karaoke imitation of himself. While Alex and Eddie Van Halen are both sharp in their instrumentation, it was nowhere near enough to cancel out Roth’s brutal performance.

Look, I’m not blaming them for this. It’s hard enough to play at the level they did in their heyday, and it’s definitely not easier when fending off arthritis and throwing away AARP mail on the regular. However, it’s up to them (or whoever has been granted their power of attorney at this point) to tell them the farewell tour might actually have lived up to its name this time.

I’ve never been a big fan of pop music — though I am starting to come around to it thanks to some incredible mainstream artists — but one thing I’ve admired about them is they fall from the top of the charts with grace. 

I also don’t want to ignore the fact some of these bands have released amazing albums in their later years. Rush’s 2013 album, “Clockwork Angels,” is a prime example of this. 

Geddy Lee works within the vocal range he has left to put some beautiful melodies behind the timeless (or at least compared to David Lee Roth’s sexcapade lyrics) words of Neil Peart to create an amazing final studio album for the group. 

Despite the album not producing any songs to compete with their classics, the record’s closer, “The Garden,” is a beautifully reflective track that leaves longtime fans with a wonderful memory of their favorite band. 

As I await several albums from bands that defined my childhood, I’ll try to keep an open mind. Who knows, AC/DC sans Malcom Young might be what I’ve always needed — but until I hear a modern day “Back In Black” (or even a “Razor’s Edge” for that matter), I’ll hold onto my opinion that bands have expiration dates and it’s their fault if I have to listen to the rock n’ roll equivalent of spoiled milk.

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