Our rock and roll heroes are dying. First, Eddie Money (Friday, age 70). Then, Ric Ocasek (Sunday, 75). I’m still mourning the loss of Tom Petty (Oct. 2, 2017, 67) and David Bowie (2016, 69) for heaven’s sake.
Could it be the guy who wrote “Hope I die before I get old” back in 1965? Hope not. Pete Townshend and The Who are still out there kicking it, as they demonstrated at Fenway Park over the weekend. Keith Moon (1978, age 32) was likely there in spirit.
Keith Richards (75) has famously been dancing with Mr. Death for years now, but the Rolling Stones guitarist is a survivor against all odds. Same for Jerry Lee Lewis (83), who, as the Item went to press, was alive and we assume as ornery as usual.
Countless others haven’t been as fortunate. We’re talkin’ ’bout my generation here, and too many of my favorite musicians are gone.
We’re all going to die. It’s a simple matter of when, hopefully later. For those of us whose “lives were saved by rock and roll” (lyric by Lou Reed, who died in 2013 at 71), the deaths of our heroes are inevitable, but each affects us greatly. This is the soundtrack of our lives, and for a once-shy misfit like me (age 66), all the memorable concerts and classic albums and perfect pop singles helped shape the person I am today.
As Bruce Springsteen (still with us, age 69) wrote, “We learned more from a three-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school.”
This year alone, we’ve said goodbye to Peter Fonda (79), in the 50th anniversary year of music-packed film “Easy Rider”; The Kinks’ Ian Gibbons (67); Art Neville (81); Dr. John (76); Roky Erickson (71) of psychedelic rockers The 13th Floor Elevators; Leon Redbone (69); Scott Walker (76); the Monkees’ Peter Tork (77); Boston-born surf guitar hero Dick Dale (81); and Marblehead High grad Asa Brebner (65), who was a member of the Modern Lovers, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters and other high-profile local bands. Also dying in 2019 was Elliot Roberts (76), manager of Neil Young and the record label executive who guided the careers of CSN&Y, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, the Eagles and The Cars. Many Baby Boomers will feel the punch in their gut when each of these rock icons pass on.
I am already preparing myself for the day when Ray Davies (75), the Kinks frontman and the greatest songwriter of my generation, dies. I will grieve as if a member of my family has left this Earth, such is the power of his lyrics and the emotions they stirred, and still stir, in me.
For the aging musicians I love, I’ll continue to buy tickets to their every concert, because, well, you never know. I’ve seen Richard Thompson (70) at least 40 times. He’s better now than ever.
A few years ago, Cat Stevens (71) performed at the Wang Theatre in Boston. I never thought I’d have a chance to see him in concert. He goes by the name Yusuf Islam these days, but his voice was just like it was on his albums. When he was halfway through his first song — “The Wind” — I cried like a baby. I was not the only one.
There have been so many missed opportunities through the years. I had a ticket to see Lowell George, shortly after he left Little Feat, at The Paradise in 1979. I didn’t go, and 10 days later he was dead at age 34. I meant to see Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Thin Lizzy/Phil Lynott, T. Rex/Marc Bolan, Michael Jackson, James Brown, etc. and etc. … and then they were gone.
Of the “27 Club” acts — all died at age 27 — I missed Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Blind Owl Wilson of Canned Heat, Kurt Cobain, Pigpen McKernan of The Grateful Dead, Pete Ham of Badfinger. I did see the ultra-talented Amy Winehouse at the House of Blues in 2007, her one and only Boston show. “Back in Black” is this century’s greatest album and she was sensational in concert. In 2011, she was dead at 27.
Sometimes, I got lucky. Warren Zevon gave a free lunchtime show in Boston’s Financial District in the early 2000s (he closed a quick set with “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”), and I convinced my Boston Herald co-workers we absolutely had to go. We did. He died in 2003 at age 53; that was the only time I saw him live. My bucket list is overflowing with wants: headlined by live performances by Donovan (73), Kate Bush (61), Tom Waits (69), Electric Light Orchestra, The Smiths.
Local music lovers are lucky. Lynn Auditorium and The Cabot in Beverly book current versions of rock giants. Recently, Bad Company led by Paul Rodgers (69) and The Zombies, with Rod Argent (74) and Colin Blunstone (74), thrilled their Baby Boomer fans.
Ocasek’s death is the most recent, but many, many more will follow as we all age. The Cars frontman wrote most of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers’ songs, and that first album remains a wonder. Who can forget the brilliance of that MTV video staple, “You Might Think.”
A few months ago, I visited David Bieber’s Archives warehouse in Norwood stuffed with rock memorabilia. Greg Hawkes was there that day and we chatted briefly about the band’s music, success and legacy. I saw the Cars many times, including the 2011 reunion show at House of Blues, without Ben Orr (died at age 53) of course. They were on fire and more animated than they were in their hit-making heyday.
My pal Steve Zisson and I commiserate about Ocasek yesterday. He recalled seeing Cap’n Swing, the Ocasek band that preceded The Cars, at Tony C’s in Nahant circa 1975. Zisson, a Salem native who is about to launch his science fiction/fantasy anthology “A Punk Rock Future,” said “Ocasek’s death hits hard. Not long after seeing them in Nahant, I had my first date with (my future) wife, seeing the Cars at The Paradise. My book’s genesis goes back to my days seeing punk/new wave bands in the Boston area in the ’70s. Probably all the way back to that fateful night in Nahant.”