Friday, February 19, 2010

Musing on singers 70 and beyond

Two days ago there was an article in the New York Times about Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band Tribute at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Ono who will turn 77 this month, was accompanied by her son Sean Lennon, who looks remarkably like his father John, and by other musical lights including Eric Clapton, Paul Simon and Bette Midler. Yoko Ono started out as a controversial voice/performance artist, often mocked for her innovation. She's still at it, but now her work has entered the musical mainstream.

Leonard Cohen started a big big (translate as rigorous) world tour last year and will continue it this year in Europe after an injury to his lower back heals. Cohen is 75 and continues to be a moving presence and performer. Here is a clip of him singing his iconic song I'm Your Man, followed by a recitation of his song A Thousand Kisses Deep.

In 2003, British blues rocker John Mayall had a big 70th birthday concert accompanied by Eric Clapton and other old friends from the Blues Breakers and elsewhere. It was smokin'! Wonderful to hear Mayall's voice and artistry in his maturity.

It's inspiring to experience these older musicians' vividness. And one cannot pretend that the show goes on forever. Etta James,(pictured above) one of my favorite blues singers,now 72, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Her singing career has ended in a way that may seem abrupt to us as fans, but her family saw it coming. According to her son at the beginning of February, Etta had become confused and combative and was moving into a nursing home. Art can make our life rich and full of meaning, but so far it hasn't kept us from dying.

What can I say here? I am sad for Etta and for us all. Life is after all fairly brief.

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