Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Signs of Aging in the Music Business

Having spent 30 years participating in and observing the business of music I have watched and witnessed many friends and strangers address the event of aging. It became a very personal issue for me last summer when I had booked a live performance with 3 songwriter friends and had to replace 2 of them: one to be with his daughter at the birth of a grandchild and the other because the date conflicted with his hip replacement. 
Signs of aging in the music business are obvious, sad, amusing, pathetic and ironic. The irony is readily apparent in that the saddest and most obvious signs are the actions people take to appear younger. Lots of men get really big, really white front teeth. When I say white I am not doing the color justice. This is a white unlike any white I have ever seen. Glidden should have a trim color called Big Fake Front Teeth White – available in flat, satin and porcelain finish. The first time I noticed this dental phenomenon was 20 years ago when a country artist friend of mine walked into an awards dinner and flashed a big smile for an array of photographers. It was like staring at the grill of a ’75 El Dorado with its high beams on. These extra-white choppers are ubiquitous in Nashville – although not so much in the rural areas of Tennessee.
Hair, both on the head and the face, is another area in which aging entertainment folks make bad choices. For men, shaved heads have become as common in this decade as shoulder-length hair was in the 60’s. It seems to mean something but I don’t know what. The only thing I can figure is that many aging men begin to lose their hair and I suppose they figure it’s easier and hipper to simply get rid of it all. Fair enough. Other men have subjected themselves to the excruciatingly painful process of hair plugs. In a recent conversation with an old pal we fell upon this topic and he suggested that these ‘plugged’ heads remind him going into an attic and finding a doll from which the hair had fallen out. Other men have turned to product. Some, it appears, have covered their hair with Vick’s Vapo Rub and then spent hours in front of a mirror spiking it into bizarre and random patterns reminiscent of a child’s diorama of The Swiss Alps. Patches of unnatural, light coloring depicting, I suppose, the snow on the peaks, often accompany this spiked sheen. Other streaks of unexpected color show up everywhere on both men and women. And then there is the ponytail, the Fu Man Chu, the muttonchops, the monkey button and all other manner of facial embroidery. 
Tattoos and piercings are further and clear indications of age panic. Clothing is another I’m-getting-older-but-refuse-to-admit-it flag that some people fly. This area is not gender specific but appears a little sadder in women. Fish net stockings, low-cut tops, really high heels, ripped, ragged and studded jeans and too-short dresses – ‘Oh darling, you look…old…and…stupid.’
Now, I am the first to admit that this is a business built for and marketed to young people – teenagers, actually – ‘tweeners, actually. (Note the remarkable recent successes of Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers.) It’s always been like this. What do you suppose was the average age of the folks filling the dance floors in Brooklyn or Atlantic City when Benny Goodman was playing a show in 1938? I’m guessing it was 19. But there is another sign of aging in the music business that is sadder and most obvious of all: we have been quietly dismissed. There is no tattoo that can cover up that kind of heartache. 


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