By Steve Ryfle
Nearly 40 years ago, Mick Jagger began a song by musing, "What a drag it is getting old." These days, Mick would probably beg to differ with his younger self.
A 62-year-old, craggy-faced rock elder, Jagger is out-living men half his age. His latest conquest is a six-foot-four American supermodel; he's still riding the Rolling Stones gravy train, with another album and sellout tour; and you can go ahead and call him a sellout for playing the Super Bowl halftime gig -- he's laughing all the way to the safe deposit box.
So what if Mick's probably sung "Satisfaction" about a zillion times, and his stage-crawling antics have gotten a bit dated. It's cool to be an old guy right now: just look at all the dudes pushing sexagenarian status and beyond on the comeback trail.
Back when Barry Manilow, 62, first broke through, his schmaltzy ballads had to duke it out on Top 40 radio with classics like "Kung Fu Fighting" and "Stayin' Alive." He didn't fit in then, and he certainly doesn't seem to fit into today's pop music pantheon. But Manilow's "The Greatest Songs of the Fifties" CD, featuring covers of "Unchained Melody" and Elvis's "Are You Lonesome Tonight," among others, debuted atop the pop charts. (Manilow's label, Arista, enjoyed pointing out that the album was selling better than the debut release by "American Idol" champ Carrie Underwood.)
"I think there is an audience out there that would heave a sigh of relief that finally, there is a melody, and orchestration, production, and a vocalist that is giving them a song that they can just listen to," Manilow told the AP, "and not be annoyed by the vocal acrobatics that vocalists seem to think is impressive."
Old standards and standbys are a refuge for senior singers trying to reconnect with an aging audience. It sure worked for Rod Stewart, now 61, who's "Great American Songbook" series of CDs catapulted the erstwhile rocker to the top of the Easy Listening charts.
But not everyone gets nostalgic in their old age. Some aging legends are keepin' it real, staying true to their now-very-deep roots.
Neil Diamond is 65 and eligible for retirement, but instead he partnered with uber-producer Rick Rubin (the man who put the Beastie Boys and System of a Down on the map -- and more importantly, who produced Johnny Cash's "American Recordings" near the end of the Man in Black's career and life) for "12 Songs," an "unplugged"-style CD critics say is one of the "Jazz Singer" guy's best in years. The CD hasn't exactly put the shine back on Diamond's once-brilliant career, though; apparently, his fans aren't would rather crank up "Sweet Caroline" on the iPod than listen to new songs about reflection and loss.
Neil Young's critically-hailed 2005 "Prairie Wind" album included such jewels as the Grammy nominated "The Painter," with thoughtful lyrics ("If you follow every dream, you might get lost?") in the best tradition of the 60-year-old Young.
The title of Paul McCartney's 2005 CD, "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," was an apt description for the 63-year-old musical elder statesman's current state. On the creative side, the album was considered his best work in years, full of the upbeat charm that characterized his Beatles stuff, yet graced with the perspective that comes with age. On the chaos side, McCartney spent much of 2005 zipping around the U.S. and Japan on a tour schedule worthy of a much younger man; more recently, he and wife Heather have been stumping for animal-rights causes, per usual, risking arrest when they protested the clubbing of baby seals in Canada and trying to stop an animal-testing lab in Arizona.
At 56, Bruce Springsteen is practically a youngster, but his musical influences are the old folkies who sang songs of protest even before it became hip and cool in the sixties. Thus his forthcoming CD, "We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions," a tribute to one of America's great and oft-overlooked singer-songwriters, is an exercise in anti-nostalgia. Just as Seeger used his songs as a political platform in the fifties (which got him interrogated by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who suspected Seeger to be a Communist), now Springsteen his using his pre-golden years to promote his pop-culture and political ideals (remember, he spearheaded the Vote for Change tour in 2004).
Of course, if you can't fall back on the old stuff, and if your new stuff just isn't catching on, there's always the if-you-can't-beat-'em approach. How else to explain 55-year-old Stevie Wonder's appearance on "American Idol," where he'll be serenaded by pop-star wannabes warbling tunes from his myriad catalog of funk and love songs, and feted for the supreme talent he is. What a drag it is, indeed.