Musicians we are glad did not die young
April 9, 2013 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Damn you facebook. An acquaintance (at best) posted on facebook that he is glad Jimi, Curt, Hank, etc died young because they would have at some point started being old/fat/lazy/sell out, etc (Fade Away). I want to throw out a few names of people who not only kept making good music but who had a critically better musical period later in life.
posted by kenaldo to Society & Culture (85 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Johnny Cash.
posted by tomboko at 8:48 AM on April 9, 2013 [27 favorites]

Tom Waits.
posted by transient at 8:49 AM on April 9, 2013 [18 favorites]

Elvis Costello continues to grow and explore music, you may not like all of it, but he's not a sell out, or fat or lazy.

David Byrne from Talking Heads is another example.

The Rolling Stones? Debatable.

All those guys in the Traveling Willbury's. (I guess, if that's your bag.)

Why ever would you fuel a fire on Facebook?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:49 AM on April 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Eric Clapton.
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 8:49 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Johnny Cash is the obvious one. His third act is every bit as good as his first.

Gary Moore's blues period was better than his hard rock period, IMO.

BB King.

(Rolling Stones have been a Rolling Stones cover band for decades, but I guess the same charge can be leveled against BB King... I wonder what the difference is).
posted by Leon at 8:50 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kate Bush
posted by ipsative at 8:51 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Lou Reed put out "New York" in his late 40s. It's widely considered one of his masterpieces.
posted by Crane Shot at 8:51 AM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Emmylou Harris
Neil Young
Peter Gabriel
Bruce Springsteen
posted by mkultra at 8:54 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Neil Young.

David Bowie.

Robert Plant.
posted by billiebee at 8:54 AM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Leonard Cohen. Started out amazing, had a sort of saggy period for a while and then started making magic again.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:56 AM on April 9, 2013 [12 favorites]

Tom Waits.

That trumps everything right there.

But just in case: John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:57 AM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

I came in to say Leonard Cohen.

Also Paul Simon.
posted by bunderful at 8:59 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft by Bob Dylan (those were late 90s/early 00s releases).
posted by antonymous at 8:59 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your friend's argument is crappy, but I tend to agree that most artists do their best stuff young. Some prominent ones who break this rule might be:

Brian Eno
David Bowie (kind of a wobbly ride)
Scott Walker
Joni Mitchell
Damon Albarn (from Blur)

All dynamic artists who never let themselves get pinned down.
posted by 0bvious at 9:00 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Paddy Moloney and The Chieftains have created consistently excellent music throughout their entire career of four decades and counting.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:01 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Van Morrison
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:02 AM on April 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Hands down, near the ripe old age of 60, Michael Gira is making some of the best music ever made.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:02 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Lots of good stuff above. I'll throw in David Bowie. (Which I missed had already been said)
posted by General Malaise at 9:03 AM on April 9, 2013

Stephane Grapelli
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:04 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Neil Young. Neil Young. Neil Young. Finally got to see him a few years ago and holy crap can that man still rock the fuck out. Also, he explored a ton of musical styles throughout the 80s (his "genre hell" period) and there are a lot of hidden gems throughout.

FWIW, saw Bob Dylan around the same time and nearly perished of sheer boredom.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:07 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, and Captain Beefheart. Don't forget him!

If you want to move away from Pop and Rock, then Moondog is an artist who completely disrupts the entire age hierarchy. He was making amazing stuff well into old age.
posted by 0bvious at 9:11 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also Paul Simon.

Paul Simon! He's a great example - he was in his mid-40's, his career at an ebb after a really "meh" album that was pretty much in the same style as his old usual style, and then he happened to hear some South African music on someone's mix tape and thought "Damn, that sounds awesome, lemme try that."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:13 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Levon Helm was never a sellout.
posted by k8lin at 9:16 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Mark Knopfler
posted by jbickers at 9:16 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Beethoven. I marvel (frequently) listening to the late string quartets.
posted by CincyBlues at 9:16 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bruce Hornsby.

Though I must say that, as much as I love Van Morrison and bought all his albums throughout his career, he did his best work by far in the '70s and '80's.
posted by tommyD at 9:19 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, Radiohead.
posted by Leon at 9:21 AM on April 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Tom Waits is amazing. Some of his later work is his best work, in my opinion.
posted by Decani at 9:30 AM on April 9, 2013

I'm not alone in thinking that Echo & the Bunnymen's third act is really quite good if more focused on craft than innovation.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:31 AM on April 9, 2013

Willie Nelson.
posted by teleri025 at 9:33 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Loretta Lynn released "Van Lear Rose" in 2004, in which she wrote all the songs (some were cowritten). Wikipedia:

Her collaboration with White allowed Lynn to reach new audiences and generations, even garnering high praise in magazines that specialize in mainstream and alternative rock music, such as Spin and Blender. Rolling Stone voted the album the second best of the year for 2004. It won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album of the Year.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:34 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Trent Reznor's commercial peak, around age 29, was Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral (1994).

But his later film scores for The Social Network (2010) and the US versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2012) garnered more widespread critical acclaim.

Dave Grohl has been involved in a number of cool projects since his young punk heyday with Nirvana.
posted by Boxenmacher at 9:35 AM on April 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Nick Lowe put out The Impossible Bird when he was 45 years old. He was in Toronto with a full band last year and it was wonderful.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:42 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Iggy Pop.
posted by gaspode at 9:44 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Must second Neil Young. The man has two hour concerts, not including the opening bands. And bonus points, he co-wrote the title of your question ("It's better to burn out...")!
posted by Yowser at 9:47 AM on April 9, 2013

I should mention also that he's still churning out new, good material by the bucketload.
posted by Yowser at 9:47 AM on April 9, 2013

Obviously your friends haven't heard the recent Wanda Jackson album with Jack White and band.
posted by eviemath at 9:53 AM on April 9, 2013

If its growing old but not selling out, Iggy Pop doesn't count since he started advertising insurance in the UK.
posted by billiebee at 9:55 AM on April 9, 2013

All of the blues singers who were rediscovered in the 1960s and had a second career: Mississippi John Hurt, Lonnie Johnson, Bukka White, Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Reverend Gary Davis, Skip James, Muddy Waters, Johnny Lee Hooker...
posted by colfax at 9:55 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

because there is a lack of women on the list so far, I offer:

Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, Marie Daulne, Kim and Kelley Deal, Beth Orton, Gillian Welch, Jenny Conlee

Then add- Ry Cooder, Ray Charles, Marc Ribot, Robert Plant, Joe Strummer, (1000x Tom Waits), T-Bone Burnett, John Lennon,

and so on and so on
posted by edgeways at 9:57 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, John Hiatt. Bruce Cockburn. Elvis Costello. John Gorka. Nanci Griffith. Robert Plant. Mark Knopfler. Joni Mitchell.

And yes, absolutely Bruce Springsteen, who is experimenting more now than he's done in thirty years: Wrecking Ball is excellent.
posted by suelac at 9:59 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

jay z
posted by skrozidile at 10:03 AM on April 9, 2013

Steve Earle. His best work to date has come post-prison, post-addiction and post-damn-youth. Bonus points for his small roles in "The Wire" and "Treme," his Grammys, and his continuing flow of great music.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:07 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Warren Zevon had a pretty great late career comeback.
posted by dortmunder at 10:14 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bob Dylan is widely considered to have had a significant resurgence in the quality of his creative output in the 90s and early 00s. His trio of albums (Time out of Mind, Love and Theft, Modern Times) released during this period (1997-2006) is very highly regarded and each album is excellent. Given his output during the 80s, which is widely (thought not universally) disparaged, this certainly counts.

Had Dylan died in 1966 when he crashed his motorcycle, think of all the great music we would have missed. Just the highest of the highlights include: The Basement Tapes, Nashville Skyline, Blood on the Tracks, Desire, the shows at the Hollywood Bowl with The Band, the Rolling Thunder tour, the 2000 edition of The Neverending Tour, and the three albums I mentioned above.
posted by OmieWise at 10:30 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Beastie Boys actively worked on improving their talents and skills over time - every album shows growth.
posted by bleep at 10:31 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I would say Aerosmith, Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Etta James, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Sting...
posted by tracer at 10:35 AM on April 9, 2013

John Fogerty released Centerfield at the incredibly old age of 40, 13 years after CCR had broken up.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:22 AM on April 9, 2013

Lord have mercy YES to Johnny Cash. Also Kris Kristofferson, Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt, Dolly Parton, Paul Simon, Paul McCarthy and Rod Stewart. Lots of bluesmen, almost too numerous to list.

I've got to also toss in Frank Sinatra: as he got older, his voice mellowed beautifully, so it might have been technically better in his youth, but it carried more emotion --- more flavor --- in old age.
posted by easily confused at 11:27 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Paul Simon
posted by BeeDo at 11:50 AM on April 9, 2013

Arto Lindsay: 1981, 1989, 1996 (nsfw), 2002
Yo La Tengo: 1986, 2013
Sonic Youth: 1982, 2009
Caetano Veloso: 1967, 1973, 2002, 2012
posted by hydrophonic at 11:57 AM on April 9, 2013

Despite rumours to the contrary, Cher's still around and making scads of dancey stuff that dancey stuff lovers seem to love.

Nick Cave has been at it since the seventies, and has not only churned out consistently awesome music but has done some fairly impressive work in film, too.
posted by Jilder at 11:58 AM on April 9, 2013

Jerry Garcia.

I know a lot of people don't like 1970s and 1980s Grateful Dead, but it is what introduced me to their music, and I love it dearly. Their live performances were always very powerful, even right up to the end. I consider "Touch of Grey" a really beautiful song, and really encapsulates what I think the Dead were about in a lot of ways. "Standing on the Moon" is probably one of the few songs that can make me cry just listening to it.

Roger Waters, David Gilmour, and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd also come to mind. Everything up through The Wall was wonderful, and post the Waters - Gilmour split, I think Floyd came back very strongly for the last album, The Division Bell. Also, I don't care what anyone says, but even if you consider A Momentary Lapse of Reason a Gilmour solo album, it is still incredible.

Seconding Sinatra - his voice aged like a good brandy.
posted by strixus at 11:59 AM on April 9, 2013

Kanye West, hands down. He turns 36 in June and just keeps getting better. His last full length solo album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is generally acknowledged as the best album of 2010 and one of the best hip hop records of all time. If he'd been a member of the 27 Club, he'd have died as a great producer with that one strong but jokey concept album about failing to graduate college. Think of all the amazing music we'd have missed out on!
posted by Muppetattack at 12:07 PM on April 9, 2013

Mike Ness/Social Distortion
Bob Mould
Linda Ronstadt
John Langford
Alejandro Escovedo
posted by drlith at 12:10 PM on April 9, 2013

Cher and Tina Turner.
posted by spunweb at 12:11 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Leonard Cohen

Steve Earle

Lucinda Williams

Allison Krause

Bob Mould
posted by bobdow at 12:32 PM on April 9, 2013

Seconding Warren Zevon. "Keep Me In Your Heart" is one of the Great Songs that humanity will be able to play to show the aliens that we deserve not to be wiped out.
posted by Etrigan at 12:36 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

because there is a lack of women on the list so far

And I'll add Bettye LaVette. This is her rendition of "Love Reign O'er Me," from the Kennedy Center. Daltrey and Townshend are clearly moved by this performance -- which is one that a younger and less experienced LaVette simply could not have given. Aging has conferred poise and power upon her.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:41 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

John Williams
posted by sexyrobot at 1:08 PM on April 9, 2013

Paul Simon - his most recent album, So Beautiful or So What is incredible
Bonnie Rait
John Hiatt (which reminds me, I need to buy tickets to his July show here)
Robert Plant has been doing some really awesome things now, long after the glory days of Led Zepp. His album Band of Joy is so so good.
posted by PussKillian at 1:17 PM on April 9, 2013

jay-z (although selling out is a weird concept to attach to rap)
brendan benson
dwight yoakam
john darnielle/the mountain goats
gogol bordello
hank williams III
john prine
pj harvey
tom petty
mark mothersbaugh of devo
gram parsons
posted by nadawi at 1:48 PM on April 9, 2013

Jeff Tweedy was already mentioned - but it's actually a pretty radical example. Uncle Tupelo broke up in 1994 when Tweedy was exactly 27 years old. So - Jeff Tweedy, but NOTHING from Wilco, no such band. In any of their incarnations.

An obscure example is Julie Doiron, who was a member of the seminal band Eric's Trip in the early 90s (first non-Seattle signing by Sub-Pop) but continues to make great interesting music into her late 30s. There are a TON of women singers out there who should be paying her a royalty for her vocal style ;->
posted by mikel at 2:27 PM on April 9, 2013

Peter Gabriel was making undeniably good shit into his late thirties. (Beyond that I'm still a fan but I guess there's room for debate.)

Miles Davis recorded Bitches Brew when he was 44 and On The Corner when he was 46.

Danny Elfman was doing good stuff with Oingo Boingo into his 40s, and some of his more recognizable soundtrack work also dates from that part of his life.

Marvin Gaye was still going strong when he died at 43.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 3:39 PM on April 9, 2013

there might be arguments for "selling out," but tim delaughter has certainly found success later in life with polyphonic spree that is arguably larger than the success he had with tripping daisy.
posted by nadawi at 5:00 PM on April 9, 2013

Susana Baca
Mavis Staples
Von Freeman
Dexter Gordan
Peter Brötzmann
Ornette Coleman

Kanye West, hands down. He turns 36 in June

Please. 36 is young, son.
posted by hydrophonic at 5:18 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yoyo Ma
posted by spunweb at 6:27 PM on April 9, 2013

Alanis Morisette (I'm including her because if she'd died after Jagged Little Pill, she'd be a legend, but instead she's still producing work that's wildly different from her work as a younger woman but that's still really powerful)
Donna Summer
Teena Marie
posted by spunweb at 6:41 PM on April 9, 2013

Throbbing Gristle! The tour they did a few years back was amazing, and the most recent stuff they've put out has been genuinely good, not just "oh well for them now this isn't disappointing" "good".

Michael Gira is the ideal answer, as so perfectly put already above (the overwhelming awe we had seeing Swans live twice the past couple years was definitely partly connected to the fact that, as husband put it, "here are all these men kicking so much goddamn ass on stage, more energy here than shows full of musicians half their age"). Radiohead too. Bowie and Waits are general sorts of answers, as evidenced by how many mentions they've gotten already.

Swans reminded me--Dylan Carlson/Earth. The past 3 albums have been great and the shows have been wonderful too.

Husband throws his hat in for Autechre and most of the major jazz musicians mentioned. Combing our music collections, kind of depressed how few we could come up with. I can't vouch for Charles Hayward of This Heat personally, but my husband got an album he put out like last year and swears it's exactly what you'd want a Charles Hayward album to sound like today, not a deflation of his talents (both drumming and songwriting) at all.
posted by ifjuly at 6:46 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

OH!! Natacha Atlas and Stevie Nicks.

I'm done, I think?
posted by spunweb at 6:49 PM on April 9, 2013

Richard Thompson is 64.

Neil Finn turns 56 next month. (Seen there with Paul Kelly, 58, who also remains excellent.)

Peter Murphy is also 56.

Tony Joe White is 70 this year.

Your friend means in rock 'n' roll, one assumes? Because if bebop/jazz is allowed, Bob Dorough (89; best known to many for Schoolhouse Rock!) seems to keep getting better.
posted by Lexica at 6:51 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

In French:
Serge Gainsbourg (provocative to his death at 63 in 1991, here at ~50)
Richard Desjardins (first real commercial success in 1990 at 42, here at 50)
Gilles Vignault (most successful at 46 in 1976)
Didier Wampas (punk, here at 41, still active today at 51)
Alain Bashung (here at 51, active to his death at 61)
Léo Ferré, anarchist singer-songwriter (here at 52, 1916-1993)
Renaud (here at 50, coming back after a period of silence)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:12 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Doc Watson
posted by mule98J at 7:17 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ohohoh, and Portishead!
posted by ifjuly at 7:27 PM on April 9, 2013

Sixto Rodriguez is touring at age 70.
Joan Armatrading continues to tour (and make my heart explode) at age 62.
Seconding Rod Stewart. His disco period was his cringe-worthy worst, but his recent work makes up for it.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:57 PM on April 9, 2013

I would rank the last two Paul McCartney albums among his best ever. (Chaos and Creation and Memory Almost Full. Not the weird recent cover album.) He turned 70 last year.
posted by greenland at 8:42 PM on April 9, 2013

Tom Jones earned half of his gold records after he turned 50.
posted by Ookseer at 8:58 PM on April 9, 2013

Ann and Nancy Wilson.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:05 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Frank Zappa.
posted by quidividi at 10:58 PM on April 9, 2013

PJ Harvey released Let England Shake when she was 40.
posted by chiquitita at 12:11 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Joe Henry
posted by Quonab at 7:46 AM on April 10, 2013

I've been listening to Julian Koster in various bands since the late 80s/early 90s, well before NMH's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Since then he has released some amazing music with The Music Tapes and raised enough money on Kickstarter to bring the Traveling Imaginary to life. (His exact age may be shrouded in mystery, but if you do the math he's 40ish.)
posted by atropos at 12:26 PM on April 10, 2013

Define "die young."

I say this because I do think there is a cut-off around age 40 or 45 where pop musicians often seem to lose their edge. But plenty of musicians have done their best work in their 30s - probably more than did their best work in their 20s, I'd say. The Jimis and Curts of the world are the exception.

There are exceptions to my cut-off - Neil Young, Tom Waits and David Byrne, all already mentioned, come to mind - but I think it's mostly true. Also, jazz and blues artists tend to do better in their 50s and 60s than rockers, and soloists tend to do better than bands.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:32 PM on April 11, 2013

She was always fantastic (I love Crowsdell so much), but Shannon Wright just continues kicking ass non-stop.
posted by ifjuly at 12:09 PM on April 12, 2013

Willie Nelson has been mentioned upthread, but I just want to remind everyone that he turns 80 today, and is touring and recording.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:00 AM on April 30, 2013

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