Observing life: Make the most of pop and rock pioneers while you can

The recent passing of Motörhead frontman Lemmy, Eagles’ founder Glenn Frey, jazz star Natalie Cole and Mott the Hoople drummer Dale Griffin, are a sad indication that David Bowie is unlikely to be the only legend we lose in 2016.

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In the past few weeks, watching the outpourings of grief that followed the death of David Bowie, I’ve found myself revisiting thoughts I shared in one of the earliest personal columns I ever wrote.

It was close to a decade ago. I was an eager, aspiring student journalist and had just seen The Rolling Stones in Paris. It was a big deal – I’d been a fan forever and these latest gigs, the band’s first in four years, were, I thought, my first and last chance to see “The World’s Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band” perform live. At the time, Mick and Keith were 63.

Energised by that and similar cultural pilgrimages to see sexagenarians Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Van Morrison perform, the experience sparked me to write. And so, with all the arrogance of youth, I wrote about how these “Old Masters” had become “a sad parody of their former selves, a travelling freak show of nostalgia playing to fat old men in suits”.

I also noted how we were both blessed and cursed that “these pillars of respect still exist tangibly, watching over us, inspiring us, judging us and, just maybe, trapping us”.

My point – naively made but wise, perhaps – was that I was a member of the last generation of music fans with the privileged opportunity to see 1960s and 1970s legends who came to define popular music in the flesh. That, for good or bad, we’d always had these guys around and we had no idea what the world would look like once they were gone.

Turns out I was a little premature, by about 10 years.

How could I have known – or hoped – that six years later I’d see The Rolling Stones return to perform in London’s Hyde Park. Or a year later I’d write a review of their Middle Eastern debut in Abu Dhabi (an experience I treasure most of all). Or, that later that same year, I’d see The Who and Black Sabbath on the same du Arena stage. Or watch Patti Smith read poetry at Abu Dhabi Art, Herbie Hancock headline the Abu Dhabi Festival, and Eric Clapton’s farewell tour in Dubai. Further afield, I clocked my sixth Neil Young concert, and saw pension-age performances from Paul McCartney, Philip Glass, Wayne Shorter, Ray Davies and Sonny Rollins.

All of these acts have one thing in common – pending a medical miracle, they will not be onstage a decade from now. Yes, there’s a danger that I am again being premature in predicting the end of their live careers. But the confused feelings expressed in my adolescent blog have never felt more prescient.

Bowie’s death may mark the loss of the most influential artist yet to “old age”. The recent passing of Motörhead frontman Lemmy, Eagles’ founder Glenn Frey, jazz star Natalie Cole (who sounded so great just three years ago in Dubai) and Mott the Hoople drummer Dale Griffin – all within three-weeks – are a sad indication that Bowie is unlikely to be the only legend we lose in 2016.

A critical mass is building as all the architects of contemporary music who broke through in the 1960s and 1970s are unavoidably approaching the final curtain.

That’s a scary and sad thought – that Bowie’s death wasn’t a one-off, but the first in an onslaught of grief music fans should prepare for in coming months and years.

Or, as I put it in back in 2007, the inevitable deaths of rock’s pioneers “will leave us at a meaningful crossroads in the development of popular music and culture ... we are the final generation who have the opportunity to see the founders of modern guitar music in the flesh and we should appreciate it while it lasts”.