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Keith Richards Will Live Forever

Les Marcott-Scene4 Magazine

Les Marcott

Hey, hey my, my Rock n Roll can never die.  -  Neil Young

Damon Linker, in an August 2019 article written for The Week  reminds us that not only Rock music as those of a certain age remember it, is dying but also the iconic artists who have written and performed those classic songs are dying too…or will in the very near future.    We live vicariously through these legendary songsmiths.  Just the title of his article, “The coming death of just about every rock legend”, is a stark and sobering wake up call that beloved artists such as Paul McCartney who is 77 years old and wrote a song lamenting old age (When I’m 64), Bruce Springsteen (70), Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel (77), Bob Dylan (78), Neil Young (73), Van Morrison (73), Pete Townshend (74), Roger Daltrey (75), Mick Jagger (76), Keith Richards (75), and many, many more….will not be with us much longer.  Yes, of course Rock music is filled with those artists who have met untimely deaths by their own hand or befell tragic accidents. Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse?  It was Pete Townshend himself who penned the line, “I hope I die before I get old”.

But Townshend along with many of his fellow artists realized at some point of their rock n roll journey that they wanted to live.  Rock could survive reckless youth, destructive impulses, narcissism, crippling addictions, and changing musical tastes.  If they could sing it, we could live it.  We clung to them, just as they clung to us.  Their music to use a well- worn phrase became the soundtrack to our lives.  Eric Church expresses this sentiment so well in his song Springsteen – how a melody can become a memory.   They found a way forward that allowed them to maintain their creativity over the long haul.  They took better care of themselves, meditated or found spiritual outlets, and resisted those destructive impulses of their youth.  They moved on and we did too…but they were never too far away that we couldn’t connect to the music that gave us sustenance. And its not that once they are gone that we won’t have a lifetime of their songs to fill the void.  But still…Linker makes the point that contemplating the mortality of these rock legends inevitably leads us to confront our own.  Actuarial charts are more reliable than weather forecasts.  Will it rain tomorrow? I don’t know for sure, but someone will die tomorrow, perhaps a rock legend or one of us lesser gods.

Another excellent point Linker makes in his article is that once the artists have gone on to that big rock n roll concert in the sky, there will be almost no one to replace them.  Arguably no one could replace them – legends that they are but the rock music as we know it has already transitioned to other genres of music.  Very few bands bill themselves as rock n roll bands anymore and the ones that do generate little hype or excitement.  Classic rock stations flourish in large part due to baby boomer patronage but also to the stunning revelation that nothing new could ever come close to the greatness of 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, and yes even 1980’s rock.

The upside to sustaining a career over several decades is that these artists can revel in richly deserved accolades, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions, Kennedy Center Honors medallions, and perhaps like Bob Dylan achieve a Nobel Prize.  But of course, there is the sad realization that their best years are behind them, although Leonard Cohen kept making great music until his death at 82.  But Cohen is the exception, not the rule.  In other words, we’re happy if these legends can walk onto the stage under their own power.  Just sing the hits.

While Linker exclusively devoted his article to those giants of rock music, country music has already seen its share of those artists who helped shape and define it passing away to that great Honky Tonk in the sky.  Recent years have seen the passing of Merle Haggard, Don Williams, and George Jones to name just a few.  Country music like its rock n roll cousin has seen the ravages of addiction take a toll on its ranks.  And to many country music traditionalists like myself, the genre has all but disappeared replaced by country lite produced by the neo country music industrial complex. 

I recently had a conversation with songwriter extraordinaire Billy Joe Shaver who was instrumental in helping to usher in the outlaw country music movement which gave artists more control over their own music.  Shaver has had his songs recorded by Elvis, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and for everybody who’s anybody in the country music field.  Dylan even namechecked Shaver in his own song, I Feel a Change Coming On.  He reminded me that he just turned 80 but seemed spry as ever with an ever-present quick wit that he is known for.  But deeper into the conversation, we get into various medical issues, falls and spills, and the perils of old age.  He lost a wife to cancer and a beloved son who played in his band to a drug overdose but somehow overcame his own demons.  That he is still alive is a testament to the power of music and the love and adoration of fans.  After getting caught up on talk about mutual friends, we parted ways and I saw him vanish into a foggy night.

So, what is the retort to Mr. Linker’s article?  Nothing really.  Death is certain.  But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t rage against the dying of the light.  And my way of raging against the dying of the light and some meaningful reply to Linker’s sobering reality is to counter with what else?  A song of my own starring the indestructible Keith Richards.

 

    Keith Richards Will Live Forever

    Keith Richards is gonna live forever…forever.

    So, keep on rocking in the good ol’ U.K. and U.S.A.

    They say Willie Nelson is tougher than leather…leather

    That whiskey river ain’t gonna wash him away

    Bob Dylan keeps on moving like a rolling stone

    They say Johnny Cash is dead, but he’s not really gone

    I’m doing the best I can just to keep holding on

    Though love may crash and burn

    I’m in it, I’m in it for the long term

    Old Faithful just keeps being faithful…faithful

    It plays to a packed house everyday

    Billy Joe Shaver keeps offering up pearls of wisdom…wisdom

    He’s been to hell and back, but he’s gonna be ok

    And Miss Dolly Parton will remain forever young

    That Coal Miner’s Daughter has only just begun

    I’m doing the best I can just to keep holding on

    Though love may crash and burn

    I’m in it, I’m in it for the long term.

     

    Keith Richards is gonna live forever…forever       

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Les Marcott is a songwriter, musician, performer and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.  For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2020 Les Marcott
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January 2020

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