I’ve been listening to a lot of B.B. King since his death. One thing that struck me is that “The Thrill Is Gone” was released 20 years into his career. It was not only his biggest hit, but his signature song. After it became a hit, it was the one song you would be guaranteed to hear at every show he played. The reason it struck me is because in the Rock world, there is a strange bias against longevity.
Anyone who knows anything about music knows that real musicians get better with experience and practice. At some point they may decline for health/stamina reasons, but barring unusual circumstances, a 50 year old is better than a 20 year old. Which is better, Mozart’s “Twinkle Twinkle” or his 40th symphony? Many people think that Johnny Cash’s American Recordings are the best of his career. Branford Marsalis is way better now than when he played with Sting and lead the Tonight Show Band.
When people start talking about Rock music, though, they act like anything done after the age of 30 is a waste of time. People swear that U2 hasn’t done anything worthwhile since The Joshua Tree. They think that Murmur is REM’s best album. They want to Stones to just play the hits and stop making new music. If those people would actually listen, they might realize that U2 is a much better band than they were 30 years ago. All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb are probably their best overall albums. REM had an issue with their drummer leaving the band in the mid nineties, so their sound changed. But, Out of Time, Automatic For The People and Monster are all better than anything they did for IRS Records. And Accelerate and Collapse Into Now are both fantastic. And the Stones haven’t put out a bad piece of music since Dirty Work, and that was 30 years ago.
Rock ought to learn from every other style of music. Life experience is good for art. Give the old a fair chance and you’ll probably hear something you like.