20 January 2023

Only Immortal For A Limited Time

Jeff Beck in concert
Source: jeffbeck.com

I'm writing this the day after the great Jeff Beck passed away at the age of 78. Together with the other two Yardbirds legends, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, Beck played a huge role in expanding my musical palate. Every kid of a certain age came up on Clapton's blues and country influenced rock, though it's his work with Cream and shortly thereafter that caught the attention of us metal heads. Then there's the lick master, Pagey. If you were a Gen X male in the Midwest, Led Zeppelin dominated your playlists. In fact, I often joke that, in 1989, I had a mullet, all Zeppelin on cassette, and a Camaro. No photographic evidence exists of the mullet. The Camaro died of benign neglect. But Zeppelin when straight to CD as soon as that format became available to me.

At the center was Beck. With Ronnie Wood (later of the Rolling Stones) and Rod Stewart, he formed a sort of proto-Zeppelin.But alas, it was Page and John Paul Jones and, eventually, Bonham and Plant, that went for the heavier sound. Beck turned to his true love, jazz, to reinvent rock and roll, with a whole lotta Miles Davis as inspiration.

And now he's gone. So is Bowie. And Neil Peart. And Charlie Watts. Emerson and Lake, leaving only Palmer. Mick Mars of Motley Crue, who thrilled many of my high school classmates (I was a Deep Purple, classic metal kinda guy. No Ozzy for me. Gimme original Sabbath, who sounded like a garage band. A really good garage band.) had to retire because his joints are freezing up. Chris Squire, the sorcerer on bass, and his partner, drummer Alan White, are gone. I mention this to my brother every time we lose another legend. And he always says the same thing.

"We're getting to the age where we're losing our heroes."

In a way, that's sad. I like to point out that there are still three Beatles alive. Paul and Ringo, of course, but also Pete Best, who's still working. Maybe at a less noticeable level than the two surviving Fab Four, but enough to annoy the hell out of Decca Records.

It's funny because I don't respond the same way to the deaths of other artists the way I do musicians. And I'm not a musician. I probably could have been had I gotten an instrument in my teens and practiced, practiced, practiced. Even 76-year-old Robert Fripp still practices and points at guitarists I would consider lesser talents and say, "Another reason I still need to practice." But I'm not a musician, I'm a writer.

I'm sure Stephen King's eventual demise will rattle my cage. But I did not respond to the loss of Robert B. Parker, Philip Roth, or Sue Grafton the way Tom Petty still has me in mourning over five years later. And actors? Anymore, I can't keep up with the younger ones, and the older ones I often catch myself saying, perhaps tactlessly, "He/She was still alive?" (Alan Rickman was an exception. That one hit hard.)

But musicians are a different breed. They shine brightly in the beginning, achieve a certain level of success that lets them do what they really want, then use the original glory to support their music habit well into old age. (Yes, Willie Nelson is still working in his 90s. I suspect the Stones will be the first centenarian rockers. Well, rocker. They are slowly turning into the Keith Richards Band.)

It does, however, go back to living memory. During my childhood, the echoes of World War II still rumbled loudly, even overwhelming the Cold War. Though my grandfather did not serve, he worked for GM during the war, and many classmates' parents and grandparents served in some capacity, military or civilian. Moreover, our reruns and special guests on sitcoms worked in that era. If the president wasn't a WWII vet - Nixon, Reagan (whose eyesight confined him to Hollywood), GHWB - then they served in Korea: Ford and Carter. But that generation is rapidly disappearing the way the World War I generation vanished before my thirtieth birthday. It might explain the confusion and uncertainty of today. Where do we go next?

For Gen X, especially the older Gen X, along with the youngest Boomers, we have music. Music brought rebellion and freedom in the sixties, unexpected flights of fancy and walls of sound in the seventies, complete reinvention in the eighties, and back to basics in the nineties. And now we're losing the ones who made that happen. That's our living memory. Perhaps in twenty years, reality stars will begin to pass on from something other than excess or accident. Old age, cancer, the next great plague will take them. And Millennials and Gen Z will feel it the as acutely as I still feel the loss of Tom Petty and Jeff Beck.


  1. I know how you feel, Jim. As I read this, David Crosby has just passed away, too. I'll be 76 this year, and the only surviving guitar gods I can think of that are younger than I am are Carlos Santana (only four months) and Angus Young. I was at an open mic last night where almost all of us grew up listening to the acoustic blues that Clapton and Page turned us on to, and now play the music we grew up with as ancient history. That music shows up in a lot of my writing, too.

  2. It wasn't just Gen X Males from the Midwest - we California girls listened to Led Zeppelin (The Immigrant Song forever!) too, not to mention everything from Santana to Jethro Tull to CSN&Y, etc. As I've said before, I have some great memories of sitting backstage at the Whisky A Go Go listening to John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, among others, in a haze of joy. And they're all going... Yeah, we're getting older, old, soon to be oldest. But what great times we had!
    BTW, here's the link to Jeff Beck doing Nessun Dorma. WOW.

  3. Are you sure Stephen King is still alive? He might use a ghost writer… or writing ghost. Could we expect less of him?

    A few years ago I spotted a crossword clue that was both easy and clever: The best Beatle. I remember a girl going through a lot of awful stuff in her life but she didn't break down and cry until she heard the announcement of John Lennon's death.

  4. Consider swing band drummer Viola Smith who came of age in the 1930s then swelled into the 1940s and made television appearances in the 1950s… and was playing as recently as as her 102nd birthday. She died less than three years ago at the age of 107, outliving her original fans. She was bloody fantastic in so many ways, and remains one of my favorite drummers.

    Speaking of drummers, you mentioned Cream. Ginger Baker died about four years ago.

  5. Elizabeth Dearborn20 January, 2023 16:05

    I saw Jeff Beck opening for Janis Joplin in the late 1960s, & Led Zeppelin a few years later. I was sitting too close to the speaker & I was hollering at everybody for the next couple of days! My parents tried to make a musician out of me but it didn't take. If it had, the instrument wouldn't have been a guitar.


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