Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Not Getting Tickets to Desert Trip (Or Why You’re a Sucker if You Did)
The Rolling Stones. Bob Dylan. Paul McCartney. Neil Young. Roger Waters. The Who. All on one weekend. Yes, M. is right. Paul Tollett is one hell of a promoter to pull this one off. Dude probably made himself a few hundred grand in the five hours it took for tickets to sell out.
The legacy of each of these guys is unimpeachable. The Stones were a kick-ass rock and roll band. Though John Lennon was the heart of The Beatles, McCartney was undeniably the brain. Roger Waters wrote some of the most challenging mainstream-palatable music that’s ever been recorded. The Who, at their height, were an unstoppable force rarely if ever challenged by any other group. Bob Dylan is the most important musical artist of the 20th century, bar none. Neil Young—well, I’m gonna leave him out of this conversation. I know he’s one of those guys I’m supposed to like. I never have. But I can respect him. Whether he’s done anything worth hearing in the last 40 years, I can’t say. But of the others, I know only one has.
Dylan’s Time Out of Mind (1997), Love and Theft (2001), and Tempest (2012) are late-period masterpieces. That these came out 35, 39, and 50 years after his debut is a remarkable testament to his continued artistic viability (though his recent cover albums of crooner standards suggest even that is starting to slip), and they stand in stark contrast to anything recorded after even half that time by any of the others with which he’s sharing the bill. In any case, the man is a national, even a global, treasure. By all means, go see him. He’s playing at Humphrey’s in San Diego, an intimate little space right on the bay, and the Santa Barbara Bowl, and the Shrine Auditorium. You’ve got plenty of chances.
The Stones haven’t made a solid album since 1973’s Exile on Main Street, and haven’t even recorded a good song since, arguably, "Start Me Up" in, what, 1982? Mick is a self-parody, at least on stage. It’s cool, now that Hunter Thompson is dead, that Keith has become Johnny Depp’s new adopted-counterculture-father-figure/drinking buddy, but have you seen him play guitar lately? Because he can’t, really. At least Bill Wyman had the good sense to be too embarrassed to keep up the charade. I saw these dudes on the Steel Wheels tour in 1989, and they were dinosaurs then. It’s 27 years later, as far removed as ’89 was from the Stones’ very beginning.
Band on the Run was pretty good. Also ’73. And, of course, The Beatles before that. But has Sir Paul done anything noteworthy since, besides marry a one-legged gal and come across as a narcissistic prick on that Anthology documentary? What benefit could you possibly get from seeing Paul McCartney live at this point in his life, other than to say you saw him live?
Roger Waters’ last album was called Amused to Death. Heard of it? I didn’t think so. It came out 24 years ago. It was awful. Arguably, the last thing he did worth listening to was 1984’s The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, but that’s not an easy argument to make, and if you want to say it was 1977’s Animals instead, I’ll concede the point. Why not just go to Laser Floyd at your local planetarium? You’ll save a bundle on parking.
Pete Townshend should have gone full Hemingway after that Super Bowl halftime show debacle a few years back. It made me wish he’d died before he got old. Besides, Pete and Roger calling themselves The Who is akin to Ringo joining Paul onstage and proclaiming The Beatles have reunited. The Who were about sonic fury, and without Entwistle and Moon, they have none of that. They had the good sense, initially, to do a farewell tour. In 1982. Even then, they should have just packed it in after Moon died, like Zeppelin refusing to carry on without their own manic, alcohol-soaked drummer. (By the way, M., Robert Plant is right to be so wary. He knows, and is justly proud of, Zep’s legacy, and I applaud his judiciousness regarding these sorts of nostalgia cash-grabs.)
If you aren’t familiar with these artists, Desert Trip will be a sorry, pathetic introduction. And if you’re a die-hard fan of each and every one, how could it be anything but a disappointment? (Again, excepting Dylan.)
So yes, Paul Tollett has created a monumental event featuring an unprecedented collection of rock and roll royalty. But it’s a mockery of a sham. A façade. Recently, a guy I tangentially know, front man of a local band, wrote this: “Rock n roll is a loud, sweaty, ugly, silly mess that embraces you and tells you that it's okay that you're awkward and that it's okay for you to let loose. It's for the dorks, the losers, the poor, and the lonely. And though I would never want to exclude, it's not meant to be entertainment for the leisure class.” Truer words...