During two weeks in January, Sir Elton John, Paul Simon, Slayer and Lynyrd Skynyrd all announced farewell tours, while Neil Diamond bowed out due to Parkinson’s disease and Rush confirmed that they were “basically done”, having already quit touring because of chronic ailments. Not all departures are significant — Lynyrd Skynyrd haven’t been creatively vital since the Carter administration. Not all are abrupt — Elton’s typically flamboyant long goodbye will last three years. But never before have so many happened at once.
I’m going to hazard a guess; these guys are all retiring because they’re old.
Touring is a young person’s game. It’s a hard life, hard on the musicians, and hard on their families. When you’re young, the combination of sex, drugs, and music is enticing, but after a while, it can be overwhelming. I’m surprised that some of them have kept touring so long. Take Bob Dylan; he’s been playing about 100 shows a year for nearly 30 years, and he’s going to be 77 in a couple of weeks. For musicians like him – or like, say, the Rolling Stones – it’s not about the money, which could be the case for some of the older, less popular artists. They clearly like performing, and don’t want to give it up. When you get to their level of importance, road life is probably a lot more comfortable, though Dylan apparently still travels a lot in a tour bus.
But they’re old; it’s time for this generation, that has been playing music for 40 or 50 years, to move on. We love them for what they’ve done, but for many of them, it’s really not that great an experience to see them live anyway. Many of these artists and bands have just become official tribute bands to themselves.