Today's Paper News Sports Features Business Opinion LEARNS Guide Newsletters Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

OPINION | BRUCE PLOPPER: When music dies

Who is old, and what is cool? by BRUCE PLOPPER SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | December 16, 2022 at 3:03 a.m.

A fairly new adage, currently available on T-shirts, bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets, reads, "I may be getting old, but I did get to see all the cool bands." While simply written, the adage's meaning varies according to one's definitions of "getting old" and "cool."

"Getting old" probably refers to people heading toward 60 or beyond (primarily baby boomers), while the definition of "cool" is open to interpretation. For now, one stipulation for a band to be considered cool is that it has at least one Billboard rock 'n' roll Top 40 hit, although having such a hit does not necessarily make a band cool. Other music genres (gospel, folk, country, etc.) will need to be addressed separately.

Despite definitions, many original members of well-known rock 'n' roll bands, as well as some famous individual rock performers, die every year.

As an extension of musician-related death, Don McLean's 1971 "American Pie" single proclaimed the music died when Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) and Ritchie Valens died in a 1959 plane crash. Reference in the song to the newspaper story covering the crash rightfully implied that the soundtracks of our lives lose a bit of their vibrance when the news segments of music awards shows commemorate the musical artists who died within the past 12 months.

The music awards shows in 2023 will be no different, and the years when popular music touched people's souls will, for those people, primarily define the cool bands that have lost members. As a rule, many preteens have some sense of contemporary music, and thus their rock 'n' roll preferences could begin to form earlier than age 10.

For example, most baby boomers (by many definitions, those born from 1946 to 1964) might identify the cool bands as those that were popular in the first 20 years of rock 'n' roll history (1955 through 1974). From that era, music-maker deaths in 2022 that added slices of finality to rock music's legacy included Jerry Allison, drummer and background vocalist for The Crickets, the band featuring Buddy Holly before he went solo in 1958.

Among others from that era who were lost in 2022 were Gary Brooker, vocalist and pianist for Procol Harum; Kerry Chater, bass guitarist for Gary Puckett and the Union Gap; Dick Halligan, a versatile musician in the original Blood, Sweat and Tears lineup from 1969-1971; Fred Johnson, The Marcels' bass singer on their 1961 hit "Blue Moon"; and jazz keyboardist Ramsey Lewis.

The next generation, labeled Gen X and often defined as those born from 1965 to 1980 (the time frame varies slightly, depending on the source), clearly may be pushing the boundary of "getting old," but would likely think the cool rock 'n' roll music-makers were most popular from 1975 through 1994; however, their perceptions might vary because of parental influence.

Despite the younger ages of this later era's rock music performers, their deaths also are noteworthy. In 2022, they included Barry Bailey, guitarist for the Atlanta Rhythm Section; Manny Charlton, guitarist for Nazareth; Andy Fletcher, one of three synthesizer players for Depeche Mode; John Hartman, drummer for The Doobie Brothers from 1972-1979; Ian McDonald, guitarist and keyboardist for Foreigner; Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac; and Calvin Simon, vocalist for the group first known as Parliament and then as Funkadelic.

As noted earlier, band members were not the only music-makers lost this year. Many individual artists and lead singers gaining fame in the baby-boomer and Gen X eras also died in 2022.

From the baby-boomer era, losses included Inez Foxx (who, with brother Charlie, originated the hit "Mockingbird"), Jerry Lee Lewis, Sandy Nelson (whose "Teen Beat" [1959] and "Let There Be Drums" [1961] were the first drum-based instrumental hits of the rock era), Bobby Rydell, Jim Seals (of Seals & Crofts) and Ronnie Spector (lead singer of the Ronettes).

From the Gen X era, deaths of singers with Billboard rock 'n' roll Top 40 hits included Irene Cara, Mickey Gilley, C.W. McCall (who had a 1975 No. 1 hit with "Convoy"), Meat Loaf and Olivia Newton-John.

Although not everyone considers all these deceased artists or their bands to be cool, for those who saw them in concert and do think some were cool, the adage linking "getting old" to having seen "cool bands" works.

For younger music fans who think none of the artists and bands gaining fame in the 1955-1994 time frame are cool, the adage will work for you someday.

Bruce Plopper is a journalism professor emeritus in the UALR School of Mass Communication. For an expanded list of music-related deaths in 2022, see

Print Headline: When music dies


Sponsor Content