Musical icon Billy Joel will turn 65 in May. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the piano man has announced he will perform a monthly concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden for as long as people buy tickets. He’s already booked through December.
Not bad for a guy who hasn’t released an album of new popular music in two decades.
For the past 20 years Joel has been selling out concerts all over the world playing the hit songs he recorded over the previous 20 years.
That has always bothered me. Why, I wondered, would a guy as talented as Joel stop producing new material and basically just put it on cruise control? He shows up, puts on a good show playing all the old songs and cashes large checks.
Seems a bit lazy to me and a waste of his talent. He’s no different than all the other oldies acts making a living playing their 40-year-old hits.
At least some musical giants, Elton John and Paul McCartney for example, have never stopped writing and releasing new music. As a fan of both, I still buy and listen to their new material.
In my opinion, much of the music they’ve released in the years since they regularly topped the charts has been excellent. Some of it has been as good as, or better than, a few of their hits.
Sadly, not a lot of people have heard this music. I would wager that many boomers who consider themselves Elton John or Paul McCartney fans have not heard either artist’s most recent CD.
Those who have seen either artist in concert lately might have heard a new song or two, but most of their set lists are devoted to the hits. Why? Because that’s what the audience paid to hear.
I’m no different. If I spend $150 to see Paul McCartney in concert, and I have, I want to hear “Hey Jude,” “Band on the Run” and “Yesterday.”
Even playing for three hours, as he regularly does, he can’t come close to playing all the songs people want to hear. Can you imagine the audience’s reaction if, instead of “Lady Madonna” or “Drive My Car,” Sir Paul came out and played all the cuts from his last four albums? It would not be pretty.
So maybe Billy Joel isn’t really lazy. Maybe he’s just decided, “Why bother writing new music when nobody wants to hear it?”
Yet Paul McCartney and Elton John, both well past normal retirement age, are still writing songs. Why? Because they still have something to say and something to contribute.
Older rock stars aren’t the only ones who see their former selves more valued than the people they are today.
When the Great Recession hit, many Americans found themselves unemployed. And many found it difficult to find new employment. Many over 50 found it nearly impossible.
Let’s face it, in today’s job market, gray hair can be a liability. That’s a shame.
I believe most people over 50 don’t want to be Billy Joel, coasting on their greatest hits. They want to be Elton John or Paul McCartney, continuing to write new music. And they want that new music to be heard.
I’ve been a Paul McCartney fan since Feb. 9, 1964. And I admire him more now than I did during his days with The Beatles, I admire him for continuing to write and release new music. I admire him for trying new things, like recording with younger artists such as Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. And I admire him for his ability, at age 71, to play three-hour concerts that would exhaust many a man half his age.
Now if we could only get him to quit dyeing his hair and be proud of the gray. He’s earned it.
We all have.