Today’s rockers neither
burn out nor fade away,
says Roger Ratcliffe

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I’m still thrilling to an online stream of Macca’s 2 3/4 hour set at Glastonbury. If Elvis were here he would probably have played the Pyramid Stage too. Actually, plenty of people believe the King faked his final curtain and is still alive. He’s possibly riding Shergar around the same remote ranch where according to rock mythology John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison play jam sessions late into the night.

But back in the real world a fair number of 1960s rock dinosaurs are still drawing breath, which is remarkable when you consider their legendary consumption of pharmaceuticals. We’re now in the age of octogenarian superstars, and far from being residents of Dunrockin’ Care Home they’re spending this summer on tour and playing to bigger crowds than ever.

For lots of reasons Paul McCartney’s Glastonbury gig has to be one of the greatest ever rock concerts, from his virtual duet with Lennon and that spine-tingling closing suite from Abbey Road to the pyrotechnics of Live and Let Die, but most of all because of McCartney’s phenomenal energy and undiminished mastery of pop.

That same night, over in California it seems an 80-year-old Bob Dylan filled the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium for a show on his Rough and Rowdy Ways World Tour, which is scheduled to end in 2024 when he’ll be 82. Meanwhile, Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson, who turned 80 in June, is currently singing his surfing songs across the USA.

My catalogue of what used to be dismissed as Zimmer Rock continues with mentions of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – no spring chickens at the age of 78 – also strutting their stuff in Hyde Park this summer, while another septuagenarian, Diana Ross, warmed up the crowd for Macca at Glastonbury.

Yet a decade ago Paul Gambaccini, the self-styled Professor of Pop, sounded more like its undertaker when he proclaimed the end of the rock era. “It’s over,” he said, “in the same way the jazz era is over.”

I was sceptical of those words at the time because I know how easy it is to say an old order has had its day. I did just that back in 1977 when asked to tap out a newspaper article about the birth of punk. The Sex Pistols, I wrote, made the so-called great unwashed of the 1960s (think Rolling Stones) look like Moss Bros window dummies, and I declared that the youthful vitality of punk was poised to sweep away rock royalty like the Stones, Pink Floyd and Queen.

What did I know? The appeal of these acts got bigger than ever and they ushered in the era of stadium rock, soon joined by bands like Dire Straits and U2 who, incidentally, both started their careers playing in punk venues.

Who, I wonder, will headline Glastonbury in 2032? On current form I wouldn’t rule out any one of the above-named rock dinosaurs. And maybe they’ll be joined by The Who, despite guitarist Pete Townshend, now aged 77, writing “hope I die before I get old” in his 1960s youth anthem My Generation.

Those words may have come to symbolise the sex and drugs and rock and roll lifestyle of bands but – the Elvises, Lennons, Hendrixes et al notwithstanding – plenty of them have thankfully survived to keep wowing audiences.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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