2018 Farewell Tours: Catch Em While You Can: Ozzy, Slayer, Skynyrd, Simon, Baez, Kenny, Elton, The Who

When a heritage artist announces his or her retirement from the road, it marks a passage, a transition, the end of an era, the likelihood there will never be an opportunity to witness that legend again. With luck, their recordings will continue, but there’s nothing like witnessing genius. How many people would have cherished the chance to see the Beatles, Jimi, Janis, or Cream had fate not intervened.

Of course, the artists that recently announced that they were calling it quits are doing so voluntarily, and in most cases, their final booking will keep them on the road for awhile. So clearly, it’s a case of catch them while catch can. Nevertheless, the announcements should serve notice that when an artist decades it’s over, it’s over. Here then is a list of those who are taking to the tour circuit for the final time. Indeed, we shall never see their likes again…

Joan Baez

The poignancy of a final farewell takes on special meaning when Joan Baez, longtime activist, champion of the disenfranchised and spokesperson for those insisting on due justice, opts to call it quits. After all, who will ever forget her impassioned performance at Woodstock, when she turned half a million people into reverent admirers connected to a cause. She recently announced a string of North American dates beginning this fall, followed by a number of UK and European concerts to follow. With a lovely new album, Whistle Down the Wind, to carry her forward, those of a certain generation will miss her soothing presence. And in today’s tumultuous world, that’s clearly needed more than ever.

The Who

The Who first began insisting they were wrapping things up in 1982, five years after the death of the manic Keith Moon. Twenty years later, they continued to tour even in the wake of bassist John Entwistle’s overdose in a Las Vegas hotel room.  While some longtime fans derided the fact that the Who had become the Two, Daltrey and Townshend didn’t let that deter them, continuing to wave the Mod banner, while posing and posturing like the rebellious rockers they once were. Granted, it took a small army of backing musicians to fully vet the fury, but both of the front men were still well equipped to carry on, even though they’re both 70 somethings, and somewhat more sedate and sober (we think). We’re still waiting to see if this current go-round will indeed be Who’s Last (currently tenth last), but even after it ends we’ll find some fond memories with the recently released Isle of Wight 2004 DVD and the scores of reissues and compilations that ensure Who’s still there.

Elton John

Granted, Sir Elton still has his Las Vegas residency to finish before he completely calls it quits, and yet, it’s hard to imagine that this singular showman will ever be able to leave the boards behind. He clearly loves the adoration — last time I saw him, he left the piano bench after every song and took repeated bows to fan the applause. Nevertheless, it’s hard to best those early performances that found him waddling onstage dressed in a giant chicken outfit and or kicking himself up from the keyboards like an acrobat in full flight while pounding away at the keys. These days, he’s not exactly the ideal picture of a real rock star, a bit pudgy around the midsection and bearing both a striking resemblance to his hero Liberace and one of your mom’s mahjong playing partners. However, that’s okay. Elton’s always been both artful and extravagant, and that’s true showbiz stamina indeed.

Ozzy Osbourne

Watching The Osbornes reality show made some of us suspect that Ozzy barely had enough mental prowess to hold it together in his daily life much less managing an extended road trek. Whether it was all an act, or evidence of his deteriorating state of mind, it all added to the impression that Ozzie was little more than a robot who was simply going through the motions. So pity the poor road manager charged with getting Oz on and offstage, and as a result it becomes clear that the challenge may have eliminated any prospective candidates for that position. So it comes down to the question of whether Osbourne has the capacity and capability of carrying on like he used to. So let’s all remember the Oz Man the way he once was — baffled, befuddled and, well hell, just the way he is today.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

It’s an integral part of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lingering legacy, that terrible plane crash that took the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and vocalist Cassie Gaines. For most bands, that would mark the end of the line, but more than 40 years later, Skynyrd are still as driven and determined as ever. The current line-up seamlessly took up the band banner originally hoisted by their predecessors after that horrible catastrophe, and quickly confirmed that they were capable of brandishing the brand with pride and purpose. Credit these archetypical Southern rockers with being the last of their breed, having outlasted the competition while still acting as rowdy role models for all the insurgents that followed in their wake. Here’s another sobering fact — whenever we’re subjected to “Free Bird” in the future, we’ll have to contend with a cover band to do the honors.

Kenny Rogers

You gotta know when to fold them. Know when to hold them, know when to walk away… Mr. Rogers takes the words of his signature song to heart and says farewell after a career of nearly 60 years. Having seen him a few years ago at Bonnaroo, I can attest to the fact that he’s going out on a high note, the way we all wish it could be. As for that circle of fans who followed him through the decades… well, suffice it to say, it’s a sad day indeed in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.

 Slayer

A killer band and an early exponent of the thrash metal genre, Slayer decide to put the final nails in their touring coffin. This last hurrah, featuring opening act Anthrax, brings about the end of an era, and given the physical demands made by the music, it’s probably a good idea to step aside and leave the whiplash rhythms and the shredding sonics to a younger crop of metal-minded musicians. Still, credit them with carrying on as long as they did. Our eardrums will never be the same.

Paul Simon

Simon’s announcement that he’s calling it quits is disappointing for two reasons. For one, he’s an exceptional solo performer whose touring ensembles brought together some of the finest music and musicians of the modern era. That in itself is reason to call it a sad farewell. However it also means for anyone that still held out hope that a final reunion with old friend Art Garfunkel was still a possibility, however remote it might have seemed. Not that we expected it, especially considering the apparent rancor that remains between the two of them, but hey, miracles do happen from time to time. Perhaps Paul and Artie will have a change of heart and reconvene on one of Paul’s final dates to bury the hatchet and put a cap on their career.  What an uplifting emotional experience that would be. Meanwhile, here’s wishing Simon well as he treks homeward bound.

 

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