One of the aspects of rock and roll that gets little general attention is the Sisyphusian life on the road. Ideally the band gets a tour. The tour commences. If things go really well, then (a) the tour gets extended or (b) another tour is established hard on the heels of the first. There is no visible end. Until the end. Then it isn’t pretty.
While touring is certainly a good thing vis-à-vis “making it” (and, presumably, making money), there is a price to be paid for this by the participants. When starting out, travel is fairly primitive and grim. Beat-up vans that have a tendency to break down or buses with a toilet that is dysfunctional on better days. Maybe a motel where the carpet is such that shoes stay on.
If it is a band that has made it, then, certainly, the level of accoutrements is elevated. And while it may seem, initially, exceedingly wonderful to be staying in hotels that had only otherwise been seen while thumbing through a lifestyle magazine in a dentist’s waiting room, that sense of wonder soon dissipates.
Just consider a simple aspect of this. Life on the road means life not spent at home. Not with family. Possibly with friends (but this is no lock, even if a bandmate is family). No possibility of doing “ordinary” things, like going to a favorite restaurant or taking out the trash.
But it is the job. The life.
Somehow the rock musician is elevated in the minds of many who would consider the life of a traveling salesman to be sad, possibly tragic. And how is that different from playing in a band?
A band that has been touring for what could be the definition of “forever” is the Rolling Stones. The extent to which the band is on the road would make the road normalcy and home something unusual.
Although the Stones undoubtedly travel in a way that few people can even conceive of, they are still flying in long, noisy cylindrical tubes and residing in places where their collected “stuff” (the things that are part and parcel of our lives, even though we may not pay attention to it until we have to move it) isn’t.
So Mick, who is said to be one of the healthiest performers going, gets ill and needs to have heart valve surgery. Presumably performed by and at the best in the world. Given the amount of work he’s done, he’s earned it.
The tour gets postponed.
To fill in at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, Fleetwood Mac gets slipped into the bill. Stevie Nicks gets the flu. The Fleetwood Mac tour (which is another marathon) needs to get rejiggered, and Mac is out of that event. If you were to get the flu, would it mean a few days off of work, or something far more extensive? You can crawl into the kitchen and make a cup of tea or a piece of toast. Stevie gets room service. It isn’t the same. It probably was wonderful. The first few times. But year after year?
The road is a cruel mistress.
Mick is 75. Stevie is 70.
When you’re that age do you plan to be working?
Yet there they are.
Bob Weir, another road wanderer, age 71, is launching “Grateful Bod,” an exercise app. He wants to keep on going. [Turns out this was an April Fool’s joke. Nevertheless, Bobby persists. -ed.]
At some point the road ends.
For some, it seems, it won’t be a relief. It will simply be the end.