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The times are changing for Bob Dylan fans. The occasional pandemic aside, Dylan has toured more or less constantly for the past three decades and has, since the year 2000, played Ireland on 19 occasions.

ut when he steps on stage at Dublin’s 3Arena on November 7 it will be with an air of finality. Aged 81, the great American troubadour is surely, at last, heading into the sunset as a live performer.

Or perhaps not.

Just as the long-haired drug-taking musicians of the 60s and 70s redefined what it was to be a young person (often dying before their time in the process), today the great warhorses of rock n’ roll are upending our concept of old age.

In their youth they faced down the disapproval of their elders, evading boos, hisses and police truncheons. Now they’re taking on time itself.

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Joan Baez and Bob Dylan in 1963. Picture by Rowland Scherman/US National Archive

Having entered his ninth decade in May 2021 Dylan is out front. Others are, however, on his heels. Paul McCartney headlined Glastonbury this summer at age 80 – and was joined by the fresh-faced Bruce Springsteen (72) and the boyish David Grohl (a mere slip of a lad at 53). And at the recent Newport Jazz Festival, 78-year-old Joni Mitchell played her first full concert in a decade.

The Rolling Stones, for their part, spent the summer touring Europe – culminating in dates at Hyde Park in London at which 79-year-old Mick Jagger moved like… well, a rock star half his age. He paid tribute during those shows to Charlie Watts, the Stones drummer who passed away in 2021 aged 80. But if Jagger was feeling the shadow of mortality, this was not reflected in his performance.

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With 205 years between them, Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen at Glastonbury last June

Closer to home, Elton John delighted fans at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork on July 1. And he’s back early next year for dates in Dublin, as he continues his (seemingly never-ending) ‘farewell’ tour.

He was visibly delighted to be in Cork, too, telling the audience that they’d left a deep impression and that he would never forget them. This was not an old timer going through the motions. It was an icon having the time of his life as he took another bend on his victory lap at speed.

Elton John may never forget Cork. But nor will we, the music-consuming public, ever forget the Stones, Dylan, Elton or Paul McCartney. One reason is that they’re touring so often that they are always on the radar. And, as they move into the business end of old age, there is little sign of them taking their foot off.

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 Why do they do it?

The money obviously helps. Despite Watts’ death and the ongoing pandemic, The Stones’ 2021 leg of their No Filter tour earned about $130m. Bruce Springsteen’s 2016 River tour brought in $170m.

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Paul McCartney and his daughter Mary in 2021

Often, a ‘legacy artist’ will receive 90pc or more of the gross from a concert – a far higher rate than performers half their age (among his generation it is believed only Ed Sheeran and a handful of others command such a cut).

And with tickets for Dylan priced from €70 and Springsteen at the RDS next March ranging from €96 to €156, it is obviously worth their while going out on the road one more time.

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Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Picture by Cummings Archives/Redferns

That said, none of these artists is strapped for cash. Dylan has a net worth in excess of $500m – his savings swollen by the sale of his catalogue last January for an estimated $200m (this is why his music has started popping up on beer commercials recently). So, though handsomely compensated, it isn’t money alone that is driving these artists.

“Bob Dylan, in my view, and I think many others would share this, doesn’t do shows to promote himself or his music, he does them, because that is the essence of what he does. He is a live performer,” says Tony Attwood, publisher of the Untold Dylan website

“While other performers might well play their latest album in order to get sales of that album, that’s not Dylan’s approach at all. [Though that is what Dylan plans to do, performing much of his Rough and Rowdy Ways album.]

“Dylan performs because performance of the music live, in front of an audience, is the essence of his art, as far as he is concerned. If he stops, he stops being an active artist.“

“I was with Leo Sayer recently. He’s 74 and he had 2,000 people at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre,” says veteran Irish promoter Pat Egan, who has worked with everyone from Queen to Billy Connolly.

“He says that he’s never going to retire. He said, ‘what would I do? I love being on the road, getting out there, meeting the fan’s. He’s doing Dublin , then Belfast, then Cork. It’s a hectic schedule. He seems to love it.”

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Mick Jagger in June of this year

All of these musicians received a taste of what retirement might look like during the pandemic. They were confined to their houses, with nothing but the four walls for company, the roar of the crowd a fading memory.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that, for musicians slightly lower on the pecking order than Dylan or Springsteen, the stage is not as lucrative as it once was.

“The money is nice. However, they’re not getting anything like the money they used to out of gigs,” says Egan. “It’s incredibly expensive now. By the time you’ve paid big ticket commissions.

“The venue costs have all doubled since Covid. Places that were five or six grand are now 12 grand. The costs have gone through the roof. And you can only push your ticket prices up so far. “

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The Rolling Stones in 1964, from left, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, and Mick Jagger

The desire to continue touring may be connected to the fact that, for many of these artists, the road has been the one constant in their often tumultuous lives. Dylan has been performing since he was 20, while Mick Jagger was 18 when the Rolling Stones played their first gig at the Marquee Club in July 1962.

The crowd, the spotlight – it’s all they’ve ever known. Sensing the end is near, wouldn’t you want to keep going for as long as possible?

That is certainly true of Dylan, believes Ben Burrell, host of the Bob Dylan: Album By Album podcast.

“I think it has become his way of life, he’s always had a bit of a nomadic existence… and I think when you’ve been touring like he has for so long it becomes a part of you.

“He also infamously changes the songs while performing live, which I think offers a bit of a creative outlet for him – constantly tinkering with the arrangements etc. Especially songs like ‘Simple Twist of Fate’, which feels like it’s an ever growing and continuing story. I think with some songs he feels like he’s still refining them.”

The other question is how they still do it. The answer is that often tours are staggered. When playing the US earlier this year, McCartney would take several rest days between gigs.

Similarly, when Bruce Springsteen plays Dublin’s RDS in 2023 he has scheduled days off between the three dates. There was a time he’d have jumped from one straight into the other.

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Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt in 1999. Picture by Daniel Hulshizer/AP

These artists also often have meticulous fitness regimes. Mick Jagger maintains a size 28 waist by working out for three hours every day, six days a week. He supplements this with weight training, Pilates, jogging and dynamic stretching – to ensure he’s limber on stage (nonetheless the Stones travelling retinue is rumoured to include three cardiologists).

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Paul McCartney has been a vegetarian since he married Linda McCartney in 1969 and practices ‘eye yoga’ every day (he enjoys finishing his routine with a handstand). He has also expounded on the benefits of meditation.

“I think it’s always very good to get a sort of still moment in your day,” he said. “Whenever I have a chance in a busy schedule, I’ll do it, if I’m not rushing out the door with some crazy stuff to do.”

Pat Egan concurs with this. “People were commenting that Leo Sayer’s voice hasn’t changed over the years, that he’s still very energetic. There’s a lot of those guys like Mick Jagger who keep themselves in top form, work out every day. I think an awful lot of them are addicted to standing on stage, getting rounds of applause,” he says.

“I have a show coming up with Phil Coulter who will be 81 on his next birthday [he plays the National Concert Hall on November 27]. The recognition is more important than the money. It’s something for them to look forward to. It’s a really important thing. It gives them a focus. That’s what keeps them going.”

Still, not everyone is a Mick Jagger capable of boogying into their 80s and beyond. Tom Petty died in 2017 at aged 66 six days after the end of a tour. He was found to have overused medication to help with a hip injury (the consequence of years on the road).

“He’d had it in his mind this was his last tour and he owed it to his long-time crew and his fans,” Petty’s widow Dana would say.

One of these to bring down the shutters on their touring was Paul Simon, who took his farewell tour to Dublin’s RDS in July 2018. Afterwards, he admitted that he was happy to put away his guitar.

“I’ve often wondered what it would feel like to reach the point where I’d consider bringing my performing career to a natural end,” he said. “Now I know: it feels a little unsettling, a touch exhilarating, and something of a relief.”

Whatever about Paul Simon gratefully hanging up his hat, for audiences the appeal of catching rock’s old-timers before they go is obvious.

There will be future generations of Dylan and Rolling Stones fans who will never have had an opportunity to see these icons on stage. With the years flying by, the chance to see them playing the music that defined an era is difficult to pass up.

 The other fact worth bearing in mind, of course, is that longevity on the road is often accompanied by a decline in the quality of a musician’s recorded output. The Rolling Stones haven’t put out a worthwhile album since the 1970s. Dylan has across the past 40 years has varied wildly in quality, even as he chugs on and on as a touring artist.

That isn’t to say artists in their 60s and 70s are incapable of making great music. David Bowie’s final record, Blackstar, was a wintery masterpiece released days before his death at age 69. An aura of genius likewise hung around Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, which he recorded at age 82.

Tellingly, neither artist had gone on the road in years. This suggests that ageing artists can tour until they drop or retreat to the studio and record a closing hours gem. Doing both may be impossible.

Rock Of Ages: Veterans Heading To Ireland In the Near Future

James Taylor

The original sensitive singer-songwriter is still sharing blissful vibes with fans – and, now 74, he plays Dublin on September 26.

Bob Dylan

Dylan (81) finishes the latest leg of his Rough and Rowdy Ways tour in Dublin on November 7. He should be in decent fettle, having taken a week off since the previous show, in Glasgow.

Elton John

John embarked on the European leg of his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour in 2019. One pandemic later, he’s still out there and plays the 3Arena in Dublin next year on March 28 & 29.

Bruce Springsteen

Fresh from playing with Paul McCartney at Glastonbury, Springsteen comes to the RDS in Dublin next May 5, 7 & 9.

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