Somebody who knows his or her stuff should be writing about the music old people make.
I am more moved more often these days by the late music of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Springsteen, Neil Young, Billie Holiday at the end of her life, Lester Young at the end of his, the cracked notes, the in-your-face mortality.
The answer to the question “How do you play music that means something when you’re 60, 70, 80” was right there all the time, of course. The great blues revival of the 60s brought older men onto the stage and they made blues from the perspective of older people.
That we were hearing blues at a remove from what a 25 year old Muddy Waters might sing and play was not so obvious – by and large the music made during the revival was all most music lovers knew of the blues at the source.
(Imagine rap being similarly rediscovered in 20 or 30 years and a 60 year old Jay-Z’s music being what hip hop is for most people. Safe to say it will be cooler and more considered and less dangerous, less certain of where it leads, while more certain of its methods and limits.)
But we were hearing older music then, and are now. This is music that finishes what rock and roll started; it works out how Rhonda and Caroline and the girl in Sweet Little 16 got old, what they held onto and gave up. It’s so close to country or country blues or American song or classic jazz that you file it on those shelves, but the real definition of the music is – on Cash’s American recordings, Holiday’s Verves, Dylan’s magnificent Tell Tale Signs – the performer him or herself; it’s finally Johnny Cash music or Dylan music or whatever. They know how to take what they need, use it and move on with a minimum of fuss.
Most important, (if you’re like me, in a fearful 50s and wondering how it all stays together or falls apart going forward) this music can be your friend, your companion, your solace or inspiration. It can be what rock was then, what’s been missing for a while now for many of us – music for facing what’s next.