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Music

Reporter’s Notebook: Enough ageist cracks about ‘Old-chella,’ OK?

The Stones

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards perform during a Rolling Stones’ tour stop in 1999.

(Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

Enough already with the AARP and motorized scooter remarks about the rock show coming to Indio in October.  Dubbed Desert Trip, the weekend-long show is to feature Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, The Who, Neil Young and Roger Waters.

“I heard they signed up there first sponsors: Forrest Lawn,” wrote one reader unclear on the difference between “there” and “their.” “The Coachella Wheel Chair Tour,” wrote another who chose “The Slime” for his or her Internet pseudonym.

“Rockers with Walkers” wrote yet another.              

It’s understandable how some people find it odd that rock musicians might wish to practice their craft into their 70s. But the mean-spiritedness in comments posted about the just-announced show is pretty confounding.

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All I can conclude is that ageism appears to among the last bastions of socially tolerated discrimination. We’ve reached the point where racist insults are considered bad form, sexist comments are to be avoided and ridiculing people with disabilities is insensitive.

But put on a show led by rock stars old enough to collect Social Security and the tirades begin.

Whether any or all of these Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees will deliver performances to further enhance or tarnish their reputations will be known only when each walks off the festival’s stage.

But to pronounce judgment this far ahead of time suggests a degree of clairvoyance probably better directed toward stock market fluctuations.

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“Be my guest if you want to shell out two hundred bucks just to sit a mile away from the stage to witness a bunch of geriatric geezers huff and puff through disappointing versions of their greatest hits,” wrote “anotherwhiner” in response to The Times’ report on the show published Tuesday.

Why is it that veteran rock musicians are chided for continuing to do what they’ve devoted most of their lives to doing?

Some may wish to hold Pete Townshend to the words he wrote half a century ago when he proclaimed “I hope I die before I get old.”  But isn’t it possible that Townshend was referring to a state of mind rather than a date on a birth certificate?

“It’s better to burn out,” Neil Young famously sings in “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),” “than to fade away.” But rather than reflexively deem an artist who has passed 70 a has-been, how about taking into account the quality of what he or she is doing?

Want to hear a 74-year-old singer who can still tear your heart out and then make you want to stand up and cheer? Check out this performance in December by Aretha Franklin at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington.

Electric-guitar innovator Les Paul led a weekly gig in New York well into his 90s -- and at a high level of proficiency, according to those who took in his shows there.

King of Swing clarinetist Benny Goodman continued playing into the 1980s, when he was in his 70s, and I don’t recall remarks about how he should be performing at Leisure World instead of venerated venues such as Carnegie Hall.

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Classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz famously retired four times -- then returned after each to give more concerts and recitals into his mid-80s . “He retained the ability to extract colors of either extraordinary brilliance or extraordinary delicacy,” the New York Times said of those performances.

Frank Sinatra generated plenty of “Hang it up, Ol’ Blue Eyes” as he continued singing in the 1980s and 1990s, and though I saw him give sub-par performances, he also delivered some that left me in awe of his ongoing ability.

Why shouldn’t rock ‘n’ rollers be afforded the same opportunity?

Did anyone suggest that Muddy Waters should have hung up his guitar when he turned 40? Nobody told B.B. King to stop singing or playing when he was 50. I saw bluesman John Lee Hooker play an electrifying benefit performance when he was close to 70 -- and after the concert, when I briefly spoke to him, I couldn’t help but notice the two beautiful young women accompanying him, one on each arm.

Many of the snarky comments readers are posting about Dylan, the Stones, McCartney, Young, the Who and Waters exhibit ignorance, prejudice or both.

“Thank god I saw the Stones, The Who and Page & Plant in the 1990s,” reads one comment. “20 years on, they must not sound very good. I will pass.”

I saw the Stones play a small-scale show last year at the 1,200-capacity Fonda Theatre in Hollywood and they were razor sharp, lead singer Mick Jagger, toned and trim, prowling and prancing across the stage with vigor.

Just last month, I watched McCartney open his new “One on One” tour in Fresno with a two-hour-and-45-minute performance with no intermission, packed with 38 of the best-loved  songs of the rock era. And though his vocals couldn’t always reach the heights of his youth, his performance was undiminished.

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Young was on fire last fall when he was joined by the Promise of the Real, the young band that’s set to back him in October in Indio. Dylan has written and recorded several of the most richly rewarding albums of his long career over the last two decades since his return-to-form album “Time Out of Mind” was released in 1997. And with his periodically evolving touring band, he has delivered viscerally invigorating performances, still polarizing audiences because he refuses to serve up greatest-hits set lists, instead focusing on whatever songs move him in the moment.

“Why don’t you retire?” asked the 73-year-old Larry King to a 65-year-old Ringo Starr in a 2007 interview. At that moment, “the funny Beatle” aptly replied, “Why don’t you retire, Larry? This is what I do. I play music. What am I going to retire from?”

The poet from whom Robert Zimmerman borrowed his stage name, Dylan Thomas, famously advised us: “Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Not rage against dying, or against growing old, but against allowing the spark of life to fade as time goes by.

So, ageist Internet trolls, before you post again remember two things:

  1. Your crack about how the October concert should be sponsored by Viagra is NOT an original thought.
  2. Just for a moment, stop and ponder what Dylan might have meant when, at the ripe old age of 23, he sang, “Ah but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

Follow @RandyLewis2 on Twitter

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