Thought Leadership

A rock legend

By Colin Walls

There seems to be an endless stream of “legendary” rock musicians. They are mostly 10-15 years older than me – i.e. old enough to to know better. From time to time one of them will launch a world tour [maybe with the word “farewell” involved] and start filling large venues with their adoring fans. They play songs originating from the time when they had hair and all their own teeth. They do not play particularly well, but nobody cares, because it is Live. At the start of each song, after just a few notes, people cheer/hoot/applaud in recognition. At the end of the evening, everyone goes home happy. The fans have been in the presence of a legend; said legend is slightly hoarse, but their bank balance is looking good.

It is not always like this …

I have been to quite a few performances by rock legends. I have enjoyed them for the most part, but I do wonder why they do them. Do they need the money? Or is it that they crave the adoration of their fans? To me, it would seem far more sensible to enjoy their twilight years, pleased to have survived the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle, and leave the world with a body of work that they can be proud of and will outlive them for decades or more.

There has been a recent exception. A few years ago, the late, great Leonard Cohen set off on a world tour. He was quite up front: he needed the money. He had spent some time in a monastery and, while he was away, he was swindled out of all his assets. His approach to the tour was simple. He surrounded himself with a bunch of amazing musicians. He set out to perform the music that his fans wanted to hear. When he performed, it seemed to me [we went to one performance and my wife immediately got tickets for herself to see another], he walked on to stage and was just himself. He was humble, addressed us as “friends”, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself and genuinely surprised by the emotional reaction of the audience to the performance – there were a lot of smiles and a fair number of tears. He went on to record a final album that was wonderfully fresh and original – a wonderful legacy.

This week, we went to see another rock legend: Robert Plant [ex of Led Zep] and his new band, Saving Grace. We were amazed to discover, a few weeks ago, that he was performing in the theater in our town. Although we have a wonderful theatre, which draws many visitors to the town, this is quite a small place – not the big city location that your average rock legend selects. As soon as I heard, I went to buy tickets and the place was nearly sold out – even though they had only been on sale for a few hours. There were a couple of reasons why he may have chosen this location. First, he is a “local boy”; he was raised near here and lives is a nearby town. Second, he is trying something new musically – we were [very willing] guinea pigs.

In some ways, Plant was following Leonard Cohen’s lead. His band were superb musicians: 2 really excellent sit-down guitarists, an under-stated percussionist and another brilliant vocalist. A very light-weight team compared with some of the extravaganzas of his past. The sound they made was amazing. Typically they were not new songs, but little-known pieces from the past. All in all a fresh and original performance that got a well-deserved, rousing standing ovation.

If you are interested in history, there is an interview here with Robert Plant that was originally published 50 years ago.

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