Young at heart - music′s tireless icons | Music | DW | 14.08.2014
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Music

Young at heart - music's tireless icons

They may be well over 70, but retirement is nowhere in sight. Be it rock god Mick Jagger, chanson legend Charles Aznavour or Schlager rocker Udo Jürgens - they just can't live without the air on stage.

"At 66, that's when life begins," once said Austrian rocker Udo Jürgens, who will turn 80 in September. This fall, he'll go on tour with the motto "Mitten im Leben" (In the Thick of It), performing both old hits and some new tunes.

"I think I've pulled off a couple of unusual songs that deal with current topics. The program look back at some of the most important high points of my career on stage," he wrote on his homepage, making no mention of retiring.

There seems to be little reason. The entertainer feels fit and has plenty of fans both old and new. German big band leader James Last takes a similar view decades into a career that has seen him fill major concert halls from London to Moscow and Tokyo.

"Real musicians don't quit - that doesn't work. At 60, I don't get any more ideas, and then I'm gone, or what? No, not how it is," he said recently. That's part of why the 85-year-old has announced his latest concert tour: "Non Stop Music - James Last - in concert 2015."

Living retrospective

"Music stars have difficulties taking leave from the spotlight and leading a normal life," says psychologist Simone Schiess. "They've spent their lives learning how to portray themselves."

Udo Dahmen, the vice president of the German Music Council and artistic director of its associated Pop Academy in Mannheim, says another element plays a key role: "Musicians don't take up their profession because of money and fame but out of a love of music. That doesn't suddenly go away at a certain age."

And it doesn't hurt when thousands of fans are cheering you on along the way. The Rolling Stones, for example, celebrated their 50th year on stage in 2012. Currently, they're "On Fire," according to their tour motto. Mick Jagger turned 71 in July, announcing at home in England that he doesn't know when he'll quit and adding that everything is still going well.

The Stones' status as rock icons and reputation for a good show mean fans aren't so concerned with whether they're performing new material on stage. Their shows offer a glimpse into music history.

"We're living in the postmodern era, and people like to take a look back at the beginnings of popular art. So, you can't really begrudge musicians for putting a retrospective of their creative work on stage," says Udo Dahmen. Audiences want to hear the classics by their rock idols, Dahmen adds, and this expectation is well-served.

Rolling Stones in concert in Berlin in 2014

Rolling Stones concerts, like this 2014 event in Berlin, draw multiple generations

'Rock pensioners and dinosaurs'

Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan, who went down in music history with his "Smoke on the Water," will turn 70 in 2015.

Nonetheless, he said in comments to "Cicero," a German tabloid, "We have been called old rockers, rock pensioners and dinosaurs. I understand that, of course, if the young ones say: 'Step aside, Grandpa! Die at last!' I just think to myself: 'F*** you.'"

Saying goodbye to the stage is unthinkable for Gillan, who says he still loves the interaction with audiences and other musicians, calling it "pure magic."

But some things do change along the way. One-time rebels who mad headlines for turbulent affairs and drug excesses often end up mild-mannered fathers or grandfathers with healthy lifestyles. They go to bed early and are more likely to be caught pressing orange juice then rolling a joint.

Joe Cocker

Woodstock legend Joe Cocker

Goodbye to retirement

Concert-goers have learned to be more than a bit cynical when rockers announce their farewell tours these days, whether it's the Scorpions or Joe Cocker. Udo Dahmen reminds fans why a farewell to the farewell often comes later: "Of course, it boosts ticket sales when people think they're seeing a superstar's last concert. You want to be there when a musical era is coming to an end."

That's not to say that the twilight tours of rock royalty always go on without a hitch. This spring, 72-year-old former Beatle Paul McCartney had to cancel his Japan tour for health reasons. Meanwhile recovered, the British music legend plans to resume the concert series in the fall. French chanson legend Charles Aznavour, who celebrated his 90th birthday on stage in May, says with a wink that he is taking things a bit slower these days and giving 30 rather than 250 concerts a year.

To cure all ills

Stepping back from the spotlight can also have ill effects on one's health, Greek singer Nana Mouskouri recently proclaimed. Six years ago, she gave her official farewell tour. Now, she's celebrating her comeback at age 79 at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens.

Nana Mouskouri

Nana Mouskouri says a return to performing has boosted her health

Mouskouri told a Greek newspaper that without taking the stage, she felt hopeless and depressed: "I was always at the doctor. My body pained me, and I had back problems."

The onstage air seems to have an addictive but beneficial effect. "It's plain and simple," says Udo Dahmen, "Life without music gets boring fast."

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