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Stay Forever Young: Deconstructing the Rock Star Myth

How the stereotype of being a rock star is proven wrong over and over.

“I hope I die before I get old.” From the Who’s famous lyrics to Pearl Jam’s assertion that “all that’s sacred comes from youth,” rock music’s message is clear: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

We’ve all grown up with the idea that a cool, fun life is for the young – old folks need not apply.

This message resonated when we were young; it inspired and united us to stand against our common enemy – growing old and boring like our parents. All we could do was scream with impotent rage at a bleak future filled with jobs, bills and responsibilities that would eventually devour us. Rock let us scream together.  

Yet by sending an explicit message that adulthood sucks, rock stars not only shortchanged us, but also themselves. Because, guess what? The myth that the spirit of rock is just for the young was a big lie and the real rebellion occurred right under our noses. Ironically, the very people who were telling us how bad it would be to get old are the same ones who have now shown us how awesome getting old can be. Modern medicine may have made our lives longer but rock stars are showing us how to make longer life worthwhile. 

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Far from life being over at 30, aging rockers are having an absolute blast into their 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s, finding ongoing success in their music. They are showing that life can be vital, relevant and creative over the long haul. Bono (53) is still the biggest rock star in the world as U2 consistently produces hit record after hit record. Rap’s reigning king, Jay-Z (44), is considerably older than the assumed industry expiration date. Long after his Led Zeppelin days, at age 60 Robert Plant won a Grammy for his blue-grass collaboration with Alison Krauss. And after over 50 years of performing, Bob Dylan (72) won a Grammy in 2007 and was nominated for a Grammy in 2010 for “Beyond Here Lies Nothing.” 

And we’re not talking about old people sitting in a studio recording great records from a rocking chair – aging rockers rule the concert circuit. Rolling Stone magazine rated Bruce Springsteen (64) and the E Street band as the best live concert show in the world with Prince (55) and the Rolling Stones (in their 70s) also topping the list. And it’s not just the critics who are singing praises: fans are voting with their feet. Rockers over 50 bring in the bucks. The number one grossing concert draw in 2013 was Bon Jovi, age 53. Others in the top 15 include Roger Waters (70) and Madonna (55). So, far from being washed up by 30, rock stars showed us that life can be pretty damn cool at 40, 50, 60 and even 70.

A related rock star myth was that you can’t do what you love and be a businessperson. Well, that turned out to be false. Ian Mackaye (51) helped create two genres of music: hardcore punk with Minor Threat and “emo” with Fugazi.  And while doing so, he set a standard in the music industry by creating Dischord Records. He became a multi-million-dollar success based on DIY ethics such as maintaining low record and ticket prices and refusing to work with magazines that advertised alcohol. Now, many artists like Ani DiFranco (Righteous Babe Records) and Jack White (Third Man Records) own their own labels and dictate their code of success. 

In fact, people are coming to see that rock music doesn’t have to be a full-time career to be meaningful and relevant. Not having a “day job” used to be the symbol of artistic success. Now, it’s widely understood that having a day job may actually be a precondition for long-term success. Prior to his death, D. Boon of the Minutemen retained day jobs without losing any artistic creativity or integrity. Steve Albini (51) of Shellac and owner of Electrical Audio has repeatedly stated that he won’t make music a career because it would force him to compromise his music and to approach his band like his job. Scot Devendorf of the National maintains his role as creative director in the graphic design company he founded, Distant Station Ltd., while keeping a regular recording and touring schedule including recently playing Saturday Night Live. And Tim Harrington of the influential New York band, Les Savvy Fav, is an accomplished designer and illustrator as well as author of a recently published children’s book “This Little Piggy.” So it turns out that rock stars aren’t just stoned psychopaths who can’t tie their own shoelaces without help; many are experts at being both a kid and a responsible adult rocker, and they’ve been pulling it off for quite some time.

Denis Leary famously said in one of his rants that MTV should have “no rock stars who look like history professors.” He was wrong – welcome to the real revolution. Not only are the kids all right, but “your mommy’s alright, your daddy’s alright. They just seem a little weird.” 

And that’s because they’re rockin’ out. 

Dr. Mike Friedman is a clinical psychologist in Manhattan and a member of EHE International’s Medical Advisory Board. Follow Mike Friedman at DrMikeFriedman and EHE on Twitter @EHEintl. 

Michael Friedman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist specializing in how social relationships influence mental and physical health
    
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