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When Does a Band Stop Being a Band?

Repost from Relayers:


When does a band stop being a band?
CBC News Viewpoint | March 22, 2004

March 30 will see the release of the latest album by The Who, the 
legendary British quartet that gave the world such hits as Magic Bus, 
Pinball Wizard, and Baba O'Reilly. Now, before I go any further, let 
me first address the question that's probably going through your 
head: you're likely thinking "The Who? Aren't all those guys dead by 

It's a fair question, but the truth is that The Who - or, more 
accurately two of the original four members - are still alive, 
kicking, and releasing greatest-hits packages. 

It only seems like the entire band has kicked the bucket. That's 
because the group's stone-faced bassist, John Entwistle, died from a 
cocaine-induced heart attack a couple summers ago. And The Who's 
first drummer, one-man powerhouse Keith Moon, entered the great 
rock 'n' roll hall of fame in the sky when he overdosed back in 1978. 

The other guys, vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitar player Pete 
Townshend, are still recording the odd new song and touring (and in 
Townshend's case, dodging child-pornography charges). They haven't 
had a hit in years, but by dint of sheer determination the two 
survivors have kept the group's name alive. Which brings up an 
important question. 

Is The Who still The Who? Daltrey and Townshend represent only 50 
percent of the original lineup - so do they still have the right to call 
themselves The Who? This isn't a trivial issue because, let's face 
it, for some Who fans the group ceased to exist when Moon passed 

And imagine if Daltrey or Townshend were to die tomorrow - could one 
founding member go on tour with a bunch of replacement musicians and 
still pass the group off as the real thing? When does a band stop 
being the band it once was? 

The reason this question is important is that it's not going to go 
away. In fact, it's only going to become more relevant over the next 
decade or so because of an indisputable demographic fact: we have an 
entire population made up of aging rockers. The Rolling Stones, 
Aerosmith, the Eagles, AC/DC, Pink Floyd . none of them are getting 
any younger. And to paraphrase Vince Vaughn in Old School: old 
rockers die. That's what they do. 

We're getting to the point where nature is doing what fast living and 
faithless women couldn't do - put an end to a generation of music 
makers. If you want a more telling illustration, just remember that 
when the 57-year-old Entwistle was found dead in Las Vegas, no foul 
play was initially suspected. That means the first thought the 
authorities had was that he died of natural causes. This is what 
rock 'n' roll is coming to. 

So what should be done? I suppose Daltrey and Townshend could just 
pack it in. That doesn't seem likely, however, since musicians are 
worse than boxers when it comes to being tempted by comebacks. And 
I actually hope they don't quit. If they can put out original music and 
stage dynamic shows, I think the public should still welcome the 
contribution old musicians make. 

Regular readers of this column will know that I detest artists who 
release greatest-hits albums for no good reason. Growing old, 
however, doesn't necessarily have to mean an end to creativity. Look 
at Neil Young, Bob Dylan or Tom Waits: by continuing to put out vital 
tunes in their twilight years, they make a powerful case for senior-
citizen rockers. 

Then there's a more metaphysical answer. According to this school of 
thought, any given band should have a right to exist so long as the 
music it produces is in keeping with the group's original spirit. 

With all the lineup changes the Stones have been through, no one can 
deny that the band has been transformed since it first charted in the 
1960s. As long as Mick Jagger is able to pout and strut, though, it's 
much easier to argue that the same intangible qualities that have 
always defined the Stones are still present. 

In other words, it doesn't matter who dies if the music sounds the 
same. Of course, this kind of thinking can lead to bands that are 
sort of like multiple transplant patients: they don't have any of the 
original parts. 

Call me unapologetically Canadian, but my preferred solution is a 
compromise. In the coming years, I think rockers should do what the 
rest of the Grateful Dead did after Jerry Garcia passed away: they 
kept touring, but they acknowledged the fact the band would never be 
the same without Garcia by changing its name (to the Other Ones). 

To me, this seems like a good way to carry on. It also inoculates a 
band against critics who will inevitably charge that they're trying 
to trick fans into believing the fiction that a group can proceed as 
if nothing has happened when an important member dies. And it seems 
like a reasonable way to pay tribute to a deceased colleague. 

Will other bands follow the example of the Other Ones? I doubt it. 
These days, a band's name, to use the common marketing term, is 
its "brand." Classic-rock groups just have too much invested in their 
names to surrender them voluntarily. 

In that case, we'll have to resort to the old fall-back position of 
letting the market decide - musicians should keep recording and 
touring as long as consumers are willing to support them. Ya gotta 
love capitalism. 

- SCHRADE in Akron

The Council For Secular Humanism