Is rock dead? Not in the stadiums of the UK, at least, where you can barely move for old rockers strutting what's left of their stuff.

This northern summer, hundreds of thousands of fans have been flocking to catch Rod Stewart, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Who, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.

It would be almost like the 80s never happened, if it wasn't for relative whippersnappers Bon Jovi squeezing into leather trousers one more time to lead us in a chorus of "Woah-oh livin' on a prayer".

In London's Hyde Park next month, Bob Dylan and Neil Young will perform for 60,000 admirers willing to pay steep ticket prices to see a duo with a combined age of 151.


Hip hop and digital pop dominate the streaming charts, pumping skinny beats out of mobiles and earbuds, notching up viral hits in billions of clicks. But when it comes to selling tickets, it looks like the rock generation still rule.

In the music business, they worry these days about the phenomenon of "dry streams", where artists gain dazzling playlist numbers without gaining the brand recognition or building the kind of performance reputation to actually attract live audiences.

Last year, UK stadium tours by Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Jay-Z failed to sell out. Meanwhile, septuagenarian rockers are still playing the biggest venues, roaring (in the case of The Who) "I hope I die before I get old". It is not just Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey who are presumably delighted that nihilistic slogan never came to pass. The Who lost two members at relatively young ages (Keith Moon, 32, John Entwistle, 57), but the survivors still to put on fantastic, crowd-pleasing shows.

Elton John still rocks. Photo / AP
Elton John still rocks. Photo / AP

Those rock myths of living fast, dying young and leaving a lovely corpse were hokum. Music is for life, not just for callow youth.

The reason we still pay top dollar to see superstars of the rock generation is simply because they were the best of the best, the big beasts of an era when popular music was at the very centre of popular culture, before all the distractions of the internet age.

They achieved levels of universal recognition that today belongs to social media stars like the Kardashians. They provided an indelible soundtrack to the lives not just of their own generation, but generations to follow. And they have continued to perform because that is what musicians do. They make music.

Madonna recently said she was being "punished for turning 60" and was "fighting ageism" in the industry. But that battle was won decades ago.

"Getting old is a fascinating thing. The older you get, the older you want to get," said Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, dismissing criticism that the longest-running band in showbusiness were too old to rock.


He was back on stage in Chicago on Friday, aged 75, with the Stones playing their first gig since frontman Mick Jagger (also 75) underwent heart surgery in April.

And there's the rub: the inevitable shadow looming over this golden sunset of the rockers. Don Henley of the Eagles — who just played Wembley Stadium (with the late Glenn Frey's son, Deacon, deputising for his father) — has hinted it may be the American country rockers' last visit to the UK.

"I'll be 72 in July," Henley told me recently. "I've got nerve damage in the left arm and shoulder from 55 years of repetitive motion, pounding the snare drum. I've got hearing loss.

"There will come a time, no matter what your heart and mind wants, when your body says you've got to stop. And it's not too far down the road."

It would be nice to say old rockers never die, they just go on retirement tours. But alas, we know that's not true. No more will we see David Bowie, Lou Reed or Prince, to name just a few of the greats we lost this decade.

We are nearing the end of an era. And perhaps that is also driving these huge stadium shows from rock's most venerable star attractions, a concern that this may be our last chance to see the greatest acts of our time. When the rock generation exit the stadiums forever, who will have the talent, charisma and appeal to replace them?