When Paul McCartney sat down to record his music-hall ditty “When I’m Sixty-Four,” he was barely 25. It was a lark. Who could imagine the Beatles — the epitome of youth — as doddering old fogeys?
These days, when the (still!) cute Beatle sings the song, he’s looking in the rear-view mirror. Waaay back in the rear view: Later this month he’ll turn 80, just a week and a half or so after wrapping up his two shows Tuesday and Wednesday at Fenway Park.
McCartney is not alone among the growing group of aging rock stars entering their ninth decades and still sincerely not wasting away. Ringo Starr, who was peace-and-loving around the Boston area with shows featuring his All Starr Band last week, turns 82 in July.
Ian Hunter, who is 83, still earns his keep off the youth anthem “All the Young Dudes.” It was written for his band, Mott the Hoople, by David Bowie, when Hunter was already 33 — at the time, kind of old for a rock ‘n’ roller. Before the pandemic, Hunter led an all-star band in a rousing rendition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was 80.
Bob Dylan, a great-grandfather at age 81, had some good advice for the readers of the AARP magazine a few years ago.
“Passion is a young man’s game,” he said. “Don’t try to act like you’re young. You could really hurt yourself.”
In fact, octogenarians are a bit of a theme on the upcoming concert calendar. Eighty-five-year-old Buddy Guy headlines the Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach on Thursday, and he’ll return to New England for more dates this summer, when he’ll have added another candle to the cake.
Willie Nelson, 89, is set to top the Outlaw Fest at the Xfinity Center in September. Tom Jones, who turns 82 today, hits the Orpheum Theatre, also in September. The roots musician Taj Mahal, who just turned 80, plays the Newport Folk Festival and Jimmy’s Jazz and Blues Club in Portsmouth, N.H., in late July.
Retirement doesn’t suit 90-year-old Loretta Lynn, who released her 50th studio album last year. Jerry Lee Lewis, who has defied time and karma to inhabit his 86th year, was supposedly working on a gospel album with T-Bone Burnett when the pandemic struck. Kris Kristofferson, who made a comeback after a Lyme disease diagnosis, will be 86 this month. Dion, 82, has several tour dates planned this summer.
If rock ‘n’ roll was not meant to last, some of its earliest practitioners didn’t bother to heed the message. Of the inaugural class of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Chuck Berry lived to 90, Fats Domino 89, and Little Richard 87.
When Keith Richards was 40, few believed he’d make it to 41, let alone four more decades. None of the current Rolling Stones have watched the numbers 8 and 0 roll over on the odometer just yet: Mick Jagger will celebrate his 79th birthday in July, and Keith will remain a mere 78 until December. (Drummer Charlie Watts was 80 when he died last August.)
The former Stone Bill Wyman, however, is 85. Believe it or not, it’s been nearly 30 years already since he left the band.
Back in 1983, the Who’s Pete Townshend — who’s had a few things to say about the prospect of getting old — wrote an essay for Rolling Stone on the occasion of his friend Jagger’s 40th birthday. At the time, it seemed like quite a milestone.
“I often wonder if Jagger will suffer,” he wrote, “if youthful beauty flees in late middle age.” (When exactly is “late middle age”? And is that a different number than it was in 1983?)
Note to Pete, who is 77: Mick Jagger does not appear to be suffering.
While writing his essay, Townshend stumbled upon a proverb he liked: “Train a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.”
In other words, teach the children the vocation for which they are best suited, and they will keep on doing it. Even when they are Stones-aged.
The Stones just kicked off their 60th anniversary tour in Madrid by playing one of their ‘60s hits live for the first time ever.
That song is “Out of Time.”
Email James Sullivan at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.