What The Rolling Stones Can Teach Us About Aging
As a young 2013 begins to kick and scream and grow, let’s take a look at a brand that’s aging gracefully: the Rolling Stones.
As Mick Jagger approaches his 70th birthday, he and the Stones are setting out on a world tour, following their sold-out dates in Newark, N.J., in December. Pundits expect the tour to fetch some of the highest ticket prices ever and possibly wind up as the top-grossing tour in history.
Their story and current popularity offer certain broad strokes on aging, especially for men. Why did Mick and Keith end up vibrant and relevant despite the massive changes in the music business and the conventional wisdom that rock stars live fast and die young?
Growing old is linked to simple and primal fears. And these fears are compounded when set against the rapid pace of change in the world, disrupting not only industries and businesses, but our day-to-day lives. Understanding its impact on men — especially the 78 million Baby Boomers passing into retirement age — first means understanding the triggers for these fears.
- Fear of losing relevance. Many men define themselves by their careers, and retirement represents a potential loss of identity and self-definition.
- Fear of losing freedom. Having fewer options, fewer opportunities, and fewer pursuits contributes to a sense that the world is getting smaller and less free.
- Fear of losing strength. Men value strength and vigor, and the natural outcome of feeling weaker physically can contribute to an overall sense of
- Fear of impotence. Just the thought of losing anything resembling sexual function will make most men want to curl up into the fetal position.
So, how do the Rolling Stones help us make sense of aging? Perhaps rock stars just play by a different set of rules, but a closer look at the Stones shows a near-complete defiance of these fears.
The Stones continue to work, making music and touring. They’ve recently released a new greatest hits collection (with a few new songs), published a lavishly illustrated history, made an HBO documentary, and a DVD about the band’s 1965 tour of Ireland. They’re striking new ground, too, with an iPhone app whose content emphasizes the band’s legacy, and they streamed their Dec. 15 concert in a first-of-its-kind global digital offering.
With so much activity and experimentation, being active and vigorous becomes a de facto attitude. And it’s hard to imagine that the fear of impotence is tugging at Mr. Jagger or his bandmates.
Defying convention has always been one of the band’s key attributes. I love the Keith Richards line that displays their savvy sense of branding: “The Beatles had the white hat. What’s left? The black hat.” The Rolling Stones brand, then and now, has been about going against the grain, and flying in the face of sameness and convention.
Seizing on basic human fears has always been a conventional and banal marketing tool, because playing on fear gets your attention. But flying in the face of convention can be a more effective and breakthrough way to get people to listen. Looking at the Rolling Stones’ example might be an insightful way to consider approaches to talking to men about aging in a culture that’s looking for new possibilities, new solutions, and new ways to look at some of life’s existential realities.