Rock Of (Old) Ages

Ben Ratliff, in his New York Times review of the same Marianne Faithfull show that I reviewed last week, partially attributes his indifference and disappointment in Faithfull's performance to the fact that she occasionally needed to rest, and that she had to use a lyric sheet.

Ratliff writes:

Despite a good band... despite the rousing volume, despite the healthy and unhealthy adulation from the crowd, much of the show felt a bit inert. Having finished her part in a song, Ms. Faithfull leaned against a stool or a keyboard or a speaker, smiling into the distance, waiting for the musicians to wrap it up. It didn't help that she kept her eyes on lyric sheets; consequently, many of the songs felt like recitations. She seemingly became truly involved in the music only when she didn't need to be reminded of the lyrics, which happened in some of her old songs.

I know what Ratliff means. I remember being somewhat shocked after hearing that Keith Richards had to use a TelePrompTer to tell him when he should remove his jacket or walk across the stage during late-period Rolling Stones concerts. (Only later did I think that it's a miracle Keith Richards is still standing, let alone reading.)

But should TelePrompTers and lyric sheets be relegated to the world of speeches, last-minute cover songs and group sing-alongs? Is it distracting to have an artist in his or her 60s, 70s, or even later decades needing a little cheat sheet? Should they stand up the entire time they perform? And, lastly, is it a sign of indifference if the musician sits down or leans upon a speaker as a means of support?

The real question here is whether there is an age when someone should stop performing. And, as an audience, should we adjust our expectations to allow for a decline in stage antics, vocal range and memory that comes naturally with old age?

The issue of aging is different than the one of bands staying together for too long (a whole other post, in my opinion). The age and ability of a performer speaks to our own comfort — or discomfort — in seeing someone in a lesser or diminished capacity. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, a fan's ability to view and appreciate a performer who is adjusting to a new mode of showmanship and a new, creative way of approaching the live context.

To put it another way, not everyone can be Iggy Pop.

Please share your thoughts on cheat sheets, TelePrompTers and seeing older artists perform. Is there a point at which you're so worried that someone is going to drop dead that you can't enjoy yourself?

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