Last night I was watching the Jools Holland show on Paladia and when I turned it on I was very interested to see one of my heroes, Steve Stills, sitting at a piano and being interviewed by the host. Steve related a few stories (how he met Neil Young while on tour in Canada, playing in a small bar) and then was asked by the host to play a bit of one of his songs on the piano – that he’d written on guitar. Steve apologized profusely that he wasn’t really a piano player but would give it a go. He then proceeded to play and sing a verse and chorus of perhaps his most famous song, “For What It’s Worth.” The results were, how can I say?
Awful. And more than a little embarrassing.
But just to keep things in perspective, Steve was followed by a group called Friendly Fires. They too were embarrassingly awful, but in a different way. The primary difference though is that they were…. young.
I’m not sure what this proves other than the fact that studio magic can cover a multitude of sins. There was a time in the early 1970s when I wanted to BE Steve Stills. To me, his soulful voice and unique guitar style, not to mention his cool fringed moccasin boots, were the epitome of rock musician coolness. I tried to sing and play like him but alas, it was not to be. It turned out that James Taylor was more in my league from a purely imitative standpoint. So to see how far my once-hero has fallen was more than a little depressing.
In her recent lesson, one of my newer guitar students, a young woman aged about 23 or so made some quite disparaging remarks about some older people. The circumstances are not important but her implication was that they were so NOT cool even though they were trying to be. Some musicians, even ones with the benefit of fame have fallen into this mindset. Steven Tyler comes to mind. However, there is no question that many older musicians such as the Eagles, James Taylor and many others who are darlings of the Baby Boomers are playing and singing as well as ever, maybe even better.
My opinion is that some older musicians get a pass because they have attained truly legendary status. Pete Seeger falls into that category. Many jazz musicians too.
When I hear younger musicians mocking older ones I have to bite my tongue because I clearly remember being that way. One time I was sitting watching TV with my parents (I think I was college age) and was in my blues stage, thinking I was a pretty bad ass blues guitarist, and the great Ray Charles was performing on some show. “You think that’s blues?!” I remember saying to my dad – a very, very fine drummer with decades of performing experience. He just smiled and said nothing. Now I get it.
Ah, the clarity and certainty of youth! Or as Dylan and the Byrds sang, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
The take-away here is that older players may or may not be worthy of respect – but the same can be said of younger ones, no matter how cool and hip they appear to be (aka, Friendly Fires). The trick is to keep an open mind and accept what you hear on its own merits. Not an easy thing for any of us! But I keep trying.
Peace & good music,