Classic Heavy Metal Oldies – Cause for Celebration or for Sadness?

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Classic Heavy Metal is a term basically invented by The Hawk to describe a certain subset of heavy metal music – pretty much anything recorded between the 1970s and the 1990s. (And hey, I’m hoping it’ll catch on – we all love a good heavy metal category, so why not?)

But let’s face it, that means we’re increasingly talking about Classic Heavy Metal Oldies – the music itself and many of the performers. ‘Classic’ could easily be seen as a euphemism for ‘Old’. What should we fans make of the fact that our favourite performers are, like ourselves, aging rapidly?

But you’ve got all the top bands in here?!

Classic Heavy Metal? Or just Old Heavy Metal? Let’s face it, ‘Classic’ could easily be seen as a euphemism for ‘Old’. It seems like would have been a pretty crappy name for a blog so there are no regrets on that score. But it got The Hawk thinking that of all the gigs planned to attend this year  (and indeed other gigs and festivals that have been in the news), most of them seem to involve performers that have reached, ahem, a certain vintage.

It’s like that episode of The Simpsons where Homer visits a record store and finds all his favourites in the ‘Oldies’ bin. Prophetic as ever by the writers of that show.

Good or Bad?

Should that be depressing? That many of our beloved acts might not be around (at least as live performers) for that much longer? Or should we see it as a celebration of longevity, with so many Classic Heavy Metal acts are still going strong after all these years? Probably it’s a bit of both, but there’s definitely a sense of see-it-while-you-still-can hanging in the air.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Back Problems

First off, there’s the W.A.S.P. 40 years tour, currently making its way around Europe before hitting more dates in the US in the summer. 40 years is pretty impressive – any band still selling tickets after that length of time must be doing something right, right? But how are they holding up as a live act after all that time?

Well, singer / guitarist Blackie Lawless released a very personal statement on the band’s website recently, addressing concerns that had been raised about his physical condition, and its effect on performances. Long story short, Blackie has been suffering from a herniated disc in his back, which he’s having to manage on tour with a series of painful epidural injections.

Let’s take that in for a second. Anyone who’s ever suffered a back injury, even a relatively minor one, knows how debilitating and painful they can be. So putting yourself through the combined stress of sitting on tour buses / planes, AND having to put on a show for the fans night after night must be excruciatingly painful at times. Read the full post for yourself, but this quote gives a flavour:

It has become obvious to many of you that either watching the shows live or on YouTube that there is something physically wrong with me. There is. I’ve done my best to hide it, but there are times during many of the shows the pain is overwhelming, and it then becomes impossible to disguise.

The injury may not be directly related to age, of course, but as we all know, it’s tougher to bounce back the older you get, and at 66, Blackie is no spring chicken, that’s for sure. But he is still an absolute warrior for carrying on.

Update: Did that injury hamper Blackie’s performance? Check out The Hawk’s review of one of WASP’s recent European gigs here.

Not up to it?

Or what about the current Motley Crue / Def Leppard tour? It’s already taken in Latin America this year, and will shortly hit Europe, before returning to the US later in the year. Most readers will know that Motley Crue have been in the news already this year after acrimoniously parting ways with long standing guitarist Mick Mars, accusing him of basically not being up to the job of performing at his age. Mars hit back with the explosive accusation that other band members have been miming their parts at recent shows – everyone has lawyered up, and now we have the exciting prospect of much dirt being flung during legal proceedings. That all deserves its own blog post, and don’t worry, one is in the works. In fact, if this goes all the way to court, The Hawk will be in clover when it comes to blogging content, so fingers crossed for that.

But let’s stick to the original point here. At 72, Mars was always the old man of the band, but rest are in their 60s (unless you count replacement guitarist John 5, who clocks in at a spritely 51, substantially reducing the band’s average age.)

Def Leppard themselves clock in at an average age of 61, with only drummer Rick Allen still the right side of 60. The Leps are not renowned for infighting, and presumably aren’t going to kick off so close to pensionable age.

All Together

Possibly the best recent example of the aging genre of Classic Heavy Metal is the much-hyped Powertrip festival, a sort of heavy metal Coachella scheduled for the fall in California. Over 3 days, a stream of heavy metal royalty will be gracing the stage, starting with a twin headline bill of Iron Maiden and Guns n Roses on the first night. They’ll be followed by AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne on the second day, before it all rounds off with Metallica and Tool.

What’s not to like about all that (except maybe the prices)? But let’s crunch some of the numbers.

Iron Maiden clock in at an average age of 66, with drummer Nicko Mcbrain quietly hitting a venerable 70 (and indeed 71 by the time Powertrip trundles around). Gun N Roses do better, averaging a mere 53, though let’s face it, that number is flattered significantly by the inclusion of second keyboard player Melissa Reese who is only 33. Besides, after all the well documented self-abuse, they probably have days of feeling quite a bit older.

Moving swiftly on, we come to AC/DC – average age would be over 70 if Malcolm Young were still with us. He’s not, and Stevie Young brings the number down a bit, but singer Brian Johnson will be celebrating his 76th birthday at Powertrip. Strewth!

On we go. Ozzy Osbourne is 74. Metallica come in at a youthful 59. Tool are the babies of the bunch at 57.

Speaking of Ozzy, he was recently in the news with an interview in Metal Hammer magazine, in which he spoke of his reluctance to retire. As noted on here, his last tour was cancelled due to health problems, and Ozzy has accepted that he may never manage a full-blown tour again, but still wants to do shows like Powertrip.

I’ve had to cancel my [2023] European tour but I’m determined. I’ve gotta do more gigs if I have to get someone to wheel me out there. I mean, you can’t retire from this game. It’s not a job, it’s a f***ing passion. I don’t know how to do anything else. The thought of sitting in my house all day… I’m a road dog, you know? I’ve been doing it f***ing 55 years. It’s the best thing to have ever happened to me.

Ozzy Osbourne

The Hawk has already commented on Twitter on the wisdom (or not) of being wheeled out on stage.

That is the Question

But that’s the question posed in this article isn’t it. As said, all these classic acts are getting older, but there’s no end of demand from the fans to see them. Would we all prefer that these guys keep going (even if they’re being wheeled out on stage) so that the magic never ends? Or should they retire gracefully and leave us memories of their best performances? And if they did retire, what would we all do then?

It’s not a job, it’s a passion, says Ozzy, and that’s certainly the case for the fans as well as the performers. But for how much longer? After all, this is the kind of thing we all want to remember.

So what do you think? Does Classic Heavy Metal make you feel your age for the reasons given above? Should these dudes retire, or should they play on if they can still cut it? What if they can’t any more? Comment below.

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