Greg Tomlin: Maybe aging rock stars keep performing for reasons outside of money

Apr 11, 2024, 10:49 AM | Updated: 1:32 pm

Image: Paul McCartney arrives for the premiere of the film 'If These Walls Could Sing' in London on...

Paul McCartney arrives for the premiere of the film 'If These Walls Could Sing' in London on Dec. 12, 2022. (File photo: Scott Garfitt, Invision/AP)

(File photo: Scott Garfitt, Invision/AP)

Four-time Grammy award-winning rock stars Aerosmith have announced the show in Seattle for this August at Climate Pledge Arena.

The Northwest engagement will be part of the Peace Out Tour, which is an appropriate title given lead singer Steven Tyler is 76 years old.

Who knows how much longer his four-octave range can hold up as he approaches octogenarian status?

I’m fascinated by these aging rock stars who continue to tour late into life, whether it’s The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Heart, Jeff Lynne of ELO (Electric Light Orchestra), Stevie Nicks, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, the list goes on. Life on the road seems par for the course rather than anomalous.

For these towering talents, some of it might be ego and pride. The validation you get on stage playing original music to thousands of screaming fans must be quite the rush, but surely most of them are over that by now. You can get used to almost anything, after all.

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Some of these musicians lived fast and hard in their lifetimes and might need the money still. Pete Townsend of The Who admitted he hates touring but needs the cash to support his family. I’m not one to doubt him.

But for a lot of these artists, they’ve got more money than they could spend in multiple lifetimes.

I’ve seen my music idol, Paul McCartney, play three times in Seattle since 2014. My wife likes to remind me whenever we attend one of his concerts that I call it a “once in a lifetime event.” The fortune that this former Beatle has racked up in his lifetime is near a billion dollars.

So why don’t these musicians do something like, retire to some beach in the Caribbean? Or retreat to a French villa to drink the finest wines and complete their final days of rest and relaxation? Isn’t that the kind of life that a lot of people fantasize about for their latter years, doing nothing, enjoying the finer things in life?

I think there’s a more profound dynamic that’s at play here. As a musician myself, I had pipe dreams of superstardom as a kid and imagined myself on a stage one day touring the world, playing songs to the masses, enjoying fame and fortune. But when childhood fantasies didn’t pan out, my love of music started to wane in my 20s. After I stopped playing, I found myself with a bit of a music shaped hole in part of my heart, which nothing else could really replace.

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I soon realized I had turned music into a means to an end rather than an end in itself. After this epiphany, I returned to playing music anytime and anywhere I could, at home in my office, at church in the form of worship, at dive bars or on stage at some bigger venue. It didn’t matter. The joy I began to derive from the act itself offered a level of satisfaction and fulfillment that no byproduct of music would ever come close to.

I can’t help but wonder if some of these aging rock stars have come to a similar conclusion, which keeps them coming back to the stage after all these years.

In the legendary song “American Pie,” Don McLean pondered, “Do you believe in rock ‘n’ roll? Can music save your mortal soul?”

I don’t know about that, but maybe trying to understand what motivates these artists to keep playing after all these years can bring us closer to the answers.

Greg Tomlin is a producer and a fill-in host on AM 770 KTTH and KIRO Newsradio.

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Greg Tomlin: Maybe aging rock stars keep performing for reasons outside of money