I could say I don’t remember the argument where the subject came up, but that would be a bold-faced lie. I remember everything that was said before and after; dumb ideas were flying near and far. But for this column, only one statement is applicable: “There should be an age limit for hardcore.” What the fuck?
Here’s how I took it: “Why do these old farts even still try? Don’t they know they’re too old be on stage?!?”
Old as crap. Yeah, I get it. Hard to look at. Yep, all day long. Don’t sound as good as they used to. Meh, maybe. But for me, even taking all the negatives into account, this argument just don’t cut the mustard. It’s 2013…the first generation punk/metal performers are running deep into senior citizen status. And for years now, music fans have used age as a way to gauge whether a band has still “got it.” What a crock.
To make myself completely clear, I’m firmly behind the old farts. Almost 30-something years into my personal music odyssey, I find myself openly rooting for the old and decrepit. When I see a group of old men limp and shuffle onto a stage and then blow the crowd away, I smile, I laugh, I cheer. Heck, sometimes I even shed a tear or two. To me, the amount of years you’ve been around ain’t got nothing to do with the truth or meaning of your performance. Sure, some old-timers are faking it, going through the motions for a fair to middling paycheck. But others still step up and give performances their all, and for some, performing means more to them now than it ever did in their “glory days.”
Below are a few fine examples of old-ass rockers still blasting asses and taking names on planet earth. A couple of obvious choices, and maybe a couple that caught me by surprise.
In June of this year, I attended an all-day music fest sponsored by automaker Scion in Memphis, TN. Five stages of metal, punk and hardcore ran for a full afternoon. One band I saw in this blur of a day was Negative Approach out of Detroit. Made up of old-school punk dudes that released an album in 1980-something, two members recently returned from retirement with NECROS’ bass player and a new guitarist.
The Hard Rock Café stage at the festival included a full selection of today’s touring punk bands. And in a personal era when I find 99 percent of punk is devoid of true meaning, value and menace, these old farts made me happier than a pig in shit. Frenzied blasts of senseless noise made up of choppy guitars, speed-racer drumming and nasty, ugly screams. Going head-to-head with the young punk puppies on this festival stage, these guys stood heads and shoulders above the rest.
Listening to their old recordings, I find myself wishing the music matched the destructive ugliness of their live performance. To me, on the original recordings, the voices are too high, the tempos are too fast and overall the tracks lack maturity and seasoning. Until they release a modern live album, I may end up bootlegging a mix from their newer live videos.
Before you bust my balls for such an obvious choice, this selection is apt because of Lemmy’s recent health problems. If you don’t keep up with the metal press, you may not know that Lemmy ain’t doing too hot health wise. This summer has seen Motorhead cancel a tour and two separate Internet rumors that Lemmy had died. The video above is the band’s abbreviated performance from the Wacken Open Air fest this summer. Just out of the hospital and obviously not feeling well, Lemmy still brings the heat like few – alive or dead – can.
He says during one song break: “As you might know, I’ve just been in the hospital. I’ve been very sick, but I’m getting better now. So I thought we’d come along and see if we could completly fuckin’ cripple ourselves playing for you fuckers.”
People who watched the recent documentary about Lemmy know he has a pretty serious case of the all-day shakes. After a lifetime of booze, smokes, speed and floozies, he’s now battling diabetes. The facts on his recent health scare are scarce, and in this case, the less I know the better. While I’ve seen Motorhead three times over the years, I’m definitely planning a “goodbye” concert if Motorhead ever gets near the Southeast again, and considering the circumstances, maybe everyone else should too.
Another righteous old rocker, another documentary. Victor Griffin has lived a life that most of us milquetoast motherfuckers can only dream about. To make a long story short, after nearly hitting the big time in the 1970s with his band Pentagram, Victor retired to his parents’ sub-basement and became functionally comatose on a mixture of narcotics, including heroin and crack cocaine.
For 30-something years he somehow managed to survive, occasionally recording and releasing Pentagram albums of varying quality. Some were transcendent masterpieces, others were, “Yikes! What is this crap!” Pentagram’s rare live performances were also marred by Victor’s chemical dependency; after massive promotion and publicity, he would often show up and be unable to perform.
The recent documentary, Last Days Here, unflinchingly captured Victor’s everyday life and drug addiction. The movie followed him as he left hard drugs behind, worked to reform Pentagram and eventually moved out of his parents’ house. Nothing was easy, and he went through ups and downs as he tried to piece his life back together. As a Pentagram fan, the documentary was something of a mixed blessing. While I was happy to see Victor come back from the brink of death, I found myself thinking less of him based in part on how he had treated his parents. It was tough to watch Victor as he selfishly laid about while both of his caring parents worried themselves to death.
Real talk, I honestly have no idea how Victor is doing in 2013. I know that Pentagram led by Victor has been able to complete multiple tours in the U.S. and Europe, so I take that as a positive sign. As this 2012 appearance shows, his stage demeanor is all googly eyeballs and creepy grandpa, and I would love to see him perform. Even with my mixed feelings about the past, here’s hoping he stays on the straight and narrow.
Iggy & The Stooges
God bless Iggy Pop – so many decades screaming the light fantastic. Crooked hips, Frankenstein walk, crinkled skin, he’s got the entire checklist needed for a righteous old rocker. The one-man founder of punk attitude, Pop has never really slowed down or followed a commercial path. From the outside, it looks like his approach to life is: another album, another tour, another reason to go wild and scream my fucking head off.
Never at a loss for words, and recently rarely backed up by a band member that’s under 40, Pop has spent the last few years touring the world with different versions of the seminal Stooges. The unfortunate death of original Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton now has the band touring with parts of their Raw Power lineup. This full performance shows Iggy and his partners in crime, including Mike Watt, running through a respectable set of Stooges classics.
Iggy is a step slower, and his antics may be something of an inside joke, but the performance still shows more reckless fury than bands a third the Stooges’ age. The whole set is sloppy tight but fun nasty, and the “Louie Louie” closer with customized lyrics makes perfect sense (to me anyway) as Iggy sits on the stage screaming and shooting birds at no one in particular.
Please come to the Southeast Iggy & the Stooges, please dear God, please!
The Alice Cooper Band
Let’s go directly to the induction video for a premise-supporting quote. “The most disgusting, parent-terrorizing band of all time, The Alice Cooper Band!” And that’s who I’m discussing here, the original lineup, The Alice Cooper Band.
Honestly, I’ve grown tired of Alice Cooper’s schtick. Flying solo for many years, his horror rock glories have turned into some sort of tired, predictable Broadway production. I saw Alice’s set opening for Iron Maiden last year, and there’s nothing particularly scary or even really fun about it. Today, he’s surrounded by young musicians going through the motions, and much like a vampire or spider, he will suck all the life out of them before they move back into anonymity.
So imagine my surprise when, during his Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction, I found myself giddy about the live performance. Alice stomps out on stage surrounded by the original badass old dudes from The Alice Cooper Band. Sadly, Glen Buxton had passed away, but with Alice and the remaining members slapping away at 40 year old tracks, I found myself digging everything about it. Skip-to-do drumming keeping the tempo interesting? Check! Bass player wildly air kicking? Check! A guitarist so round he was probably using two straps? Check!
Seeing the men responsible for those original albums, it all made sense to me again. Two overplayed tracks had my neurons firing full happy again. This is how I remembered (or maybe imagined) these songs sounding live. “Mom and dad’s got me drinking beer!” Aw hell yeah! I’m not sure about your family situation, but my parents got me drinking more beer than ever. True dat!
This is a weird entry, I know. Johnny has been dead for years. But, in my mind, his final six albums were the best era of his career. Birmingham fans were particularly lucky to see Johnny live during this era at City Stages.
While it’s sometimes easy to sling arrows at producer/guru/weirdo Rick Rubin, I will always respect him for what he did for Johnny Cash. As Johnny limped slowly towards death, Rubin set him up with studio time, musicians, songs and an avenue for releasing his swan song works to the masses.
The American I through VI albums were the result, and these albums are some truly heavy stuff – musically, artistically, personally. Perhaps the most public result was Johnny’s cover of ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails. But honestly, all six albums were a highlight. You can hear Johnny’s heart, soul and health slowly dimming through the progression of the albums, and he is using music to wrestle with some powerful demons. By the last album, he knows the end is near and the results are breathtaking and heartbreaking.
Strong in his faith and prepared for his inevitable end, these are albums I come back to again and again when I find myself in dark and challenging times. Johnny’s deep, broken voice speaks to me when few other voices can break through the haze. In the worst of times, I can be comforted by a voice that has seen more than I can probably imagine.
So there it is; old timers all raging mightily against the rising tide. Angry or resigned, their voices speak based on decades of living.
They’ve seen their friends and family wither and die.
They’ve repeatedly seen world pile injustices on the unsuspecting.
They’re no longer pretty, stoned and satisfied, and most have been passed over for young performs full of nothing but stupidity and flair.
As we all trip lightly through the fourth dimension, let their voices, sounds and souls comfort you as everything around you dies and decays.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Phil is a longtime BHAMFM writer & he actually gets paid for it at his day job too! He’s the distinguised gentleman you see with the grey hair and glasses at every metal show in town. Walk up and say hello. He loves that shit.