It's always sad to watch our favorite performers retire, but when these guys think they still have what it takes - and they don't retire - it becomes tragic. In sports it happens all the time, where baseball, basketball, and football players well past their prime keep stepping out onto the field and can't keep up. It's embarrassing and at times, quite pathetic.
For musicians, it's different. There is no coach or manager to sit these has-beens on the bench. A musician is up there all alone - every word and every note is heard by the audience and they have nowhere to hide. You wish you could just whisper in his ear, "Dude, you need to let it go. You were great - I have ALL your records! But you are embarrassing yourself up there."
Thanks to YouTube I have now seen what I prayed I would never have to: one of my idols, Lou Reed, is now a shuffling old man. He stumbles over his lyrics while singing incredibly off-key in a cigarette-lacerated growl. It also appears that he can't stroke the guitar like he could even a few years ago. The beginning of Lou's decline was evident at Leonard Cohen's Rock & Roll HOF induction. It was a rambling, stumbling wreck of a speech. At first, I thought it was eccentric Lou just being eccentric Lou...but alas, no. Long pauses, page-flipping, losing his place..it became more about Lou's lack of focus than about Leonard. Here is a clip that mostly edited out all of the embarrassing stuff (Lou starts around 3:00):
That was in 2008. In 2011, though, Lou has set out to tour some songs he hasn't played in decades. It started off well - on 1 July in Wolverhampton, Lou was on fire: his voice was in decent form (for him), and even though he appeared a little lost at times, my friend let me know it was undoubtedly a fantastic show. A mere day later, Lou "sang" Femme Fatale at the Hop Farm Festival:
At the very end of the clip, you hear a fan say, "What would Nico say?" I know what she would say: "You should have put the microphone on my tombstone - I can still sing it better." But, that ain't the worst. Here is his rendition of "Who Loves the Sun," which Doug Yule so wonderfully crooned on the Loaded LP:
I love Lou - his music will always mean something to me and no matter how he performs it now, or 5 years from now, I will still listen to all those records. I just wish he'd realize he can't do it anymore. It's very sad, but he should retire with dignity.