Though the year has been hard for its deaths, 2016 also has brought to us a lot of great music. And some of it has come from older artists, not just current favorites.
Take The Monkees, for example. “Good Times!” has been a heck of a return to form. A Tribe Called Quest also came back with the knock-your-socks-off “We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service.”
If you haven’t heard Ian Hunter’s latest record, “Fingers Crossed,” go track it down. It’s excellent. David Bowie had “Blackstar.” Leonard Cohen had “You Want It Darker.”
The list goes on and on.
It makes me think about revivals. About artists who have late-career renaissances. These artists had their hey-days in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, etc. They had their first bursts of fame, they had their times in the wilderness when they no longer had the favor of the charts or critical spotlights to keep them aloft. And they stuck with it. They persevered. They released incredible works.
They did not go gentle into that good night. These elder statesmen kept going. Some have sadly passed (again, 2016 has been incredibly hard … and we just lost Cohen and Sharon Jones, too), but others are still here. They burn and rave at close of day, raging against the dying of the light.
There’s something uplifting in that, something heartening.
As I write this, I’m still searching for employment. I’ve interviewed, I’ve canvassed the area with my resume, and I’ll be applying at part-time gigs. It’s easy to fall into despair, to think that thinks look dark and dire. It’s easy to lose hope, to feel bad about yourself.
But I look at my music heroes and I get some feeling of hope. None of my favorite musicians went unscathed. None were perfectly insulated against loss or fear or career shortfalls.
Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, roller-coaster rides all over the place. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison — all four of The Beatles … I mean, they ALL had peaks and valleys. Freddie Mercury and Queen. Bob Dylan. Weezer. The Eagles. John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Warren Zevon.
Everyone faces hardships. If you have the grit, the talent, the faith, the support of people who believe in you, the second chances come. The third chances.
Life is a continuum, it keeps going. There are ebbs and flows, there are good times and bad, and you just keep going. You have to keep going.
Let’s look at Bob Dylan, for example. Pretty much every good or great album he’s released in the last 40 years is called his “best since ‘Blood on the Tracks.'” So clearly that 1975 classic is a high-water mark of a record. But consider the quality albums released since then. Lots of folks love the following record, “Desire.” I love “Street-Legal.” “Slow Train Coming” and “Saved” are pretty great. How about “Infidels,” for that matter? “Oh Mercy.” “Time Out of Mind.” “Love and Theft.” “Modern Times.” All of those albums are fantastic, essential.
Sure, there are other records of lesser quality between many of those releases, too. And Dylan had to go through a lot of hard living and unhappiness to generate some of those songs. But how often was he counted out? Considered irrelevant? Considered too old. Or overrated. (And you know that won’t go away. If he releases another new album, critics won’t be able to refrain from addressing its quality against the recently awarded Nobel prize).
Paul McCartney has earned lots of flak over the decades for his hit-or-miss releases. And the 1980s into the early 1990s certainly were uneven for him. But starting with the post-Beatles Anthology material, it’s been a pretty solid release of records. “Flaming Pie,” “Run Devil Run,” “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,” “Electric Arguments” (with Youth, credited to The Fireman) and “New” are excellent, with “Pie,” “Chaos” and “New” being some of his finest solo work. And albums I don’t particularly love, like “Driving Rain” and “Memory Almost Full,” have some incredible tracks that make them worth having, too.
Paul only had to deal with the cancer that took away his wife, Linda. He only had to endure a very public divorce from his second wife, Heather. He lost former bandmate Harrison. And this is all just in the post-Anthology span of his career. Go back further and you can pile on the losses, the critical failures, the commercial crashes, etc. Oh yeah, and he endured a band called The Beatles splitting up, too.
Paul Simon’s output is dotted with career obituaries, with failures, with looks back at former glories. Same for Bruce Springsteen. And Tom Petty (and The Heartbreakers).
They’ve all taken their hits. They’ve all done what was true for them at the time. They’ve had their sails deflated. But they kept on swinging. And that’s the important thing. They kept on swinging.
Not every swing is a hit. Not every swing is particularly good. But you can learn from every one of them. You can become stronger from every one of them. You learn a lot about yourself from the failures as much as the successes.
Perhaps this is something of a pep talk for myself, but maybe it’s a pep talk for you too. You will face mountains. Great obstacles will pop up when you feel least prepared for them. There will be days when the dark clouds loom so heavily that the silver linings seem too few, too ephemeral.
But you keep swinging.
You stay true to yourself.
You will find your revival. Your second wind. Your renaissance.
Art imitates life, after all.
If McCartney did it, so can you. If Dylan did it, so can you. If Cohen, if Bowie, if Springsteen all did it, so can you.
The Monkees did it. So will you.
Hang in there.