For many younger non-baby-boomer persons used to a boundless satellite entertainment menu, the name Ed Sullivan may not mean much. But back in the days of wooden TV cabinet boxes the size of Toyota Corollas, the one channel black and white universe on Sunday nights was ruled by the greatest TV variety show of all time — The Ed Sullivan Show. Once a week, it was the only place you could see the world’s most popular rock stars, comedians and Italian puppet mice.
When Ed crossed his arms and said we were in for a “Really Big Sheww” and then said, “Here they are! The Beatles!” the world changed. Well mine did anyway.
That very night, watching the Four Mop Tops, I knew music would somehow always be a big part of my life, and right then and there my hair molecules started growing instantly.
Every week Ed brought on band after band, and we watched rock ’n’ roll and pop music inventing itself right before our very eyes. Thing is, many people thought it would never last.
Boy were many people wrong. Recently I found myself at a Burton Cummings concert. For many younger non-baby-boomer persons used to Canadian rockstar names like Avril, Buble and K’naan, good old Burton may be as familiar as eight-track cassette tapes. And although Burton Cummings, along with cohort Randy Bachman and a band called the Guess Who, used to be a very big deal, when I went to his concert, I was worried that father time might have been unkind to his aging offspring.
After all, it’s become quite a trend in the 21st century. I call it Walker Rock. Many famous and once-famous musicians, who are now certified senior citizens, are back, playing the old tunes, on stage, still rockin’ out instead of playing shuffleboard with their mates at the home. Soon they’ll have to hire roadies just to handle all the rockstar walkers, canes and wheelchairs.
Mike Reno, lead singer with the hall of fame ’80s band Loverboy, used to work with a band here in Central Alberta, and when I knew him he was half the size he is now, but still packed twice the ego of anybody else.
Now he is twice the size and twice as rich, but he’s back on the road playing 40-plus gigs a year, at five-figures per. He may not be able to get into his sweaty spandex anymore but he can still hit most of the high notes and the expanded ego is still firmly in tact.
But there are some pitfalls to Walker Rock. Take Walker Rocker Steven Tyler from Aerosmith (please). Many people are convinced he’s actually secretly cloned from Mick Jagger, but Mick he’s not. Although his level of substance abuse is such that he is used to falling down a lot, he recently actually fell right off the stage during a performance, whilst trying some spiffy dance moves. He’s 61 years old, and he bonked his head and hurt his shoulder. As parents used to warn: rock ’n’ roll can be dangerous.
I was thinking about all this as Burton Cummings took to the stage, and promptly fell off. Just kidding, Burton and his band reared back and rocked like there was no tomorrow! The old fella slammed out an hour and a half straight, hit after hit — never sounding better. It was impressive all the more for the fact that Burton is also now a much larger guy who, like many of us baby boomers, never met a meal we didn’t like. And equally impressive: he still has most of his own hair.
And if that wasn’t proof enough that senior citizen superstar Walker Rock isn’t alive and well, there’s the granddaddy band (literally) of them all — the Rolling Stones.
When we boomers all saw the skinny, chemistry-induced Rolling Stone performances on Ed Sullivan, it was clear to most people that the world’s ugliest rock band would last maybe six months. A year tops.
Sure, and Keith Richards is a tea-totaller.
Now they are still the world’s hottest touring band, much to the surprise of everyone including the Stones themselves. We have the permanently pickled and mummified Keith Richards, the perpetually wrinkled guitar troll Ron Wood and the oddly oblivious Charlie Watts, who looks like a door to door vacuum cleaner salesman and still only can play the one drum lick he learned in 1962. And of course there’s the inimitable Mick Jagger (who is the actually older brother of Steven Tyler). Ole Mick turns out to be a vegetarian and an avid runner and still weighs 82 pounds and still frantically ricochets around the stage like a maniac with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And a very young ADHD maniac at that.
But hey, good for them, I say. It beats sitting in a barcalounger getting carpal tunnel syndrome from clicking the TV remote.
But why is Walker Rock so popular? Because the audience is populated by us baby boomers, and the Walker Rockers capture the essence of our youth, when the world was at our non-arthritic fingertips and our whole lives were ahead of us and the possibilities and the potential were limitless. Back when we could fit into those jean shorts and smiley face T-shirts.
And because there’s something strangely satisfying about the fact that these guys are still pretending they are 20 years old. It means there’s hope for us all.
And because no matter how old you are, you got to keep on rockin’. Even if you do fall off the stage once in a while.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, drummer and filmmaker. His column appears on Saturdays.