When John Lennon died in 1980, All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen says he remembers thinking, "Well, at least Lennon lived a long, full life."
John Lennon was 40. At the time of his death, Bob had already lost plenty of other favorite musicians, like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Brian Jones, all of whom died when they were just 27. At the time, 40 must have seemed very old to Bob.
John Lennon at the ripe old age of 40. (Credit: AP)
For most of its existence, rock has been inextricably linked to youth. When a lot of now-legendary artists hit their 40s in the 1980s, they were considered over-the-hill has-beens. Seeing someone like Robert Plant wriggle on stage in skin-tight leather pants seemed like a joke.
But in the last 25 years, something happened: Rock slowly grew up. Our heroes kept making music. Paul McCartney was 55 when he put out one of his best solo albums, 1997's Flaming Pie. Other artists in their 50s and 60s, like Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, are making some of the best music of their lives. Or take guitarist Nels Cline: He's 53 and can shred the hell out of a song better than any twentysomething I've heard.
I started thinking about all of this recently, when it occurred to me that the members of Radiohead are now in their 40s and nobody thinks anything of it. Some of the greatest bands of all time had peaked and faded by the time they'd hit Radiohead's age, but Radiohead is more vital than at any time in its two-decade run.
Still, a lot of people have a hard time enjoying and connecting with rock when it's not coming from a young, attractive artist. I remember showing a Rolling Stone cover photo of a now 60-year-old Robert Plant to a twentysomething friend of mine who wrinkled her nose and said, "Ew."
But why should it matter? Or does it matter? If you see some 80-year-old guy with a guitar playing the blues, it's somehow more authentic. But some old guy jamming hardcore metal seems silly or strange.
What do you think?
Bonus Video: Here's Jimmy Page talking about, in part, his age and ability to still rock. It includes some shaky footage of Led Zeppelin's 2007 reunion concert: