With Dignity: When to call it a day

21:04, Jun 30 2013

The suggestion for this topic came from last week's call for you to provide the headlines for my deadlines. But the timing of this - I've reworded it, the suggestion was in fact: "bands who should have called it a day and ended with dignity" - couldn't have been better. You see there was a brand new track released over the weekend by the Pixies.

I'm possibly alone in this - I certainly don't try to be a contrarian (laugh, if you like, scoff if you must) - but I thought this track was dreadful. An awful idea; I'd believe it was the reason Kim Deal left the group if I didn't think her reunion with The Breeders was a better gig to go to and reason enough on its own to walk away.

A few people pointed to the track sounding a bit like a Headless Chickens song. There is something there definitely, and this is not a good thing. I like the Headless Chickens, by the way, but I really don't like this new Pixies song. And it doesn't save it in any way that it sounds a bit like Headless Chickens. That's most likely a (strange) coincidence of course, but still, I thought the track rancid - a sad attempt, way too late, by the band. The problem with the Pixies reunion has been that it's all about milking the same small catalogue. There was a time, once, way back, when I loved that catalogue so much. But I was underwhelmed by seeing the band live. I was enough of a fan, still, to want to see them. But I couldn't just jump on the crazy-fan train and say that I loved it.

Do I then think the band lost its dignity by re-forming? Not as such, but I don't know that anything will be gained by new material - this new song doesn't do it for me, doesn't have me eager and excited for more. To me they were a time and place band anyway.

Also this weekend The Rolling Stones played Glastonbury. Again, I'm a huge Stones fan - have been for years - but I've already mentioned the sadness that is their current victory lap.

But back in 1989 when Pete Townshend inducted the band into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, he ended his speech by saying, "guy, whatever you do, don't grow old gracefully...it wouldn't suit you".


So I'm not sure dignity is ever such an issue. Really.

I don't want to say that Metallica should have stopped in 1986 or 1994 because it was never going to happen. Nor do I want to suggest that U2 should have stopped in 1984 or 1993 or 2001 but I do think that most bands that reform get the second shot (or third or fourth shot) wrong. It's diminishing returns after all. And at the very least if a band keeps going (as Metallica and U2 have done), power to them. Let them burn out or fade away in their own time.

I do respect Mark Knopfler for never going the way of a Dire Straits reunion. He could have tried to re-form a version of the band - just using the name, even - and played just the material from the first four albums and a couple of the big hits from that ugly monster record that killed the band's credibility but made them stadium-rock superstars. He could have tried to keep it low-key, back to the pub-rock roots. But he doesn't (ever) do that. He'll acknowledge a few hits but he's moved on each time, made a new album, pursued soundtrack work and hey, yeah, I know it's far cooler - apparently - to say you like the Pixies over Dire Straits or Mark Knopfler any day but, really, what has cool got do with it?

I admire Knopfler a lot more than I do Frank Black.

I also admire Mick Jagger a lot more than I do Keith Richards but both of them are looking pretty silly lately with these recent shows. They sound pretty awful all of a sudden, no longer match-fit, not up for it.

But dignity has little to do with it.

That said, I do think David Bowie's much-hyped return was handled with grace, with class. The new album is only okay, not great. But it's still new material from a guy who didn't need to do it, who clearly thought about it and wanted to add some new music to the canon. He didn't disgrace himself. Half the album is close to strong, even.

But rather than give you a list - resembling that speech from the movie Trainspotting - I'm just opening this to the floor today: I want to know what bands you think should have given up when they still had their dignity.

But I will start the list: The Who. I just don't think Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey should have carried on the band after John Entwistle died. I don't see any reason for people to want to hear that version of The Who. Yes, it's still the voice and the writer but it's not really the band. When half your band is dead it's a good reason to call it a day. That's pretty much my theory. To lose one band member would be unfortunate. Any more is careless...

To continue after - well, that's just cold. That's when you need to worry about dignity, karma and pension planning.

So the questions for today are, chiefly: what bands do you think carried on far too long? What bands should have called it a day back when they still had their dignity? But also do you think in the rock'n'roll game there really is any such thing is dignity? Should this ever be a concern around calling it a day?

And also what do you make of the new Pixies song? And what do you think of The Rolling Stones touring to celebrate their 50th anniversary? Good on them - or are they destroying their legacy?

Oh and I finally finished Pete Townshend's memoir.

Postscript: You'll remember that last week I asked you to pick the headlines for my deadlines. With that in mind, tomorrow's blog will be called Albums I Regret Buying. Wednesday's will be A Showdown: 1984, Thursday's will be The Majesty of The Muppets and Friday's will be called The Gift.

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