What makes a legend?

What makes a legend?

27 February 2013 | 7:30 am

As legend after legend announce tours of Australia (Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young), I take a look at legends with enduring coolness vs. dudes who got daggy.

I have often pondered the ins and outs of what goes into the making of a music legend. Well, obviously an artist’s talent and songs puts them on our radar in the first place. However, I am more interested in what it is that allows some artists to stay cool and relevant while others gradually transform into massive dorks.

Let’s look at some case studies…

Cool

Bruce Springsteen: The Boss is still fit, still writing great songs and still rockin’ out stadiums. He hasn’t turned to piano ballads and attributes his youthfulness to a lifelong avoidance of drugs and alcohol, combined with regular exercise.

Tom Waits: Mr. Waits is still doing the same kind of stuff he’s always done, only his voice is croakier these days. His last tour of Australia was 32 years ago. Is his elusiveness contributing to his coolness?

Bob Dylan: Bob has been touring non-stop since the ’80s and tours Australia every couple of years and he’s super cool. There goes my elusive theory.

David Bowie: Bowie may be cool, but don’t go thinking it’s effortless! He makes pretty conscious, unveiled, consistent attempts to remain relevant. He gets photographed with The Arcade Fire members backstage after their show. He hires edgy graphic designers to make bold decisions with his album art. He makes confusing low-budget music videos.

Uncool

Rod Stewart: It may be hard to believe, but Rod was super cool back in the day. As his dorkiness goes back as long as I can remember since the mid-’80s, I am not sure at what point he turned uncool. Singing “All for love” with Sting and Bryan Adams in 1994 was probably the nail in the coffin though.

Elton John and Billy Joel: Look, I’m gonna put Elton and Billy in the same boat. I never thought Billy was cool, but lots of people do. They are just two of the many casualties from the ’80s. When they teamed up and did those tours together in the ’90s, it was tailor-made for Mums. They became proponents of the Mum-pop genre i.e. lame.

Paul McCartney: Now this is controversial, I know. How dare I criticise a Beatle? Well, he’s just not cool any more, okay? For one, he sure ain’t hiring the cool graphic designers that Bowie’s been using, and his music ain’t cutting the mustard like it used to. But really, maybe he used up all his cool in the ’60s and ’70s. That would be a reasonable explanation.

These are just a few quick case studies. We need to dedicate years and much funding to getting to the bottom of this. I do believe that a person’s coolness longevity relates to reinvention, constantly challenging oneself as an artist and just general inherent coolness that one is born with. Some people are capable of faking coolness with youth and funky threads. Age shows up the uncool.

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