Graham: Waving farewell to yellow brick road of touring

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

It’s retirement season for rock ‘n’ rollers.

Lynyrd Skynyrd performs during Music And Miracles Superfest at Jordan-Hare Stadium on April 22, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama.

Southern rock veterans Lynyrd Skynyrd will sing “Sweet Home Alabama” for one final tour this year, the band announced last week. Their announcement was followed by news that heavy metal mainstays Slayer will give their headbanging a rest after one final go at it this summer. Elton John, too, announced a ginormous retirement tour; yes, the trek stretches until 2020 and it contains 300 dates, but it’s a send-off nonetheless.

This week, Paul Simon piled on by announcing a farewell show in London this summer.

Why the mass exodus of rockers from the road? Several factors are at play.

Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee and Mick Mars of Motley Crue attend the last ever European press conference for Motley Crue at Law Society on June 9, 2015 in London, England.

One, retirement tours are big business. (Just ask Cher, who has mounted several of them.) Mötley Crüe’s final tour — no one believed that they were really retiring, so the band signed some sort of binding legal agreement that supposedly bars them from touring together ever again — netted around $86 million for Vince Neil and the boys. Black Sabbath’s final go-round in 2016 earned the pioneering metalheads around $85 million.

Another factor is age. Mick Jagger is 74 and still has moves like, well, Jagger, but not everyone is equipped with the genes of a cheetah and a jellyfish like Mick. (The Rolling Stones, by the way, have yet to even hint at a retirement tour. They will outlive us all.) John is 70 and has tour dates until scheduled past his 74th birthday. Simon is 76. Slayer lead singer Tom Araya is just 56, but he had neck surgery in 2010 that has literally prevented him from headbanging. The fact that Slayer has lasted this long on the road is miraculous.

The biggest factor in the retirement wave, however, may be rock ‘n’ roll’s recent reminders of mortality. The deaths of David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey and Tom Petty have been a sobering wake-up call for touring musicians that the ride doesn’t last forever, and it can end suddenly, without warning. Do you want to work until you die? It’s no different for entertainers.

Neil Diamond performs at the 84th Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center on November 30, 2016 in New York City. In the midst of his 50th anniversary tour, the 77-year-old was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which caused him to shelve the remaining dates on his tour and hang up his microphone early.

Neil Diamond recently had his card punched for him: In the midst of his 50th anniversary tour, the 77-year-old was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which caused him to shelve the remaining dates on his tour and hang up his microphone early. No one wants to have their big goodbye chosen for them.

For Elton — who also “retired” from the road in 1977, it should be noted — the decision to retire was made, he says, to spend more time with his children, which includes his two sons, ages 7 and 5.

Recording artist Sir Elton John performs onstage during the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City.

“The priorities of my life have changed,” he told CBS. “I’ve had a good run.”

A good run doesn’t always mean stars are ready to give it up. Few showbiz retirements hold; as long as there is big cash and performers in front of whom they can be waved, there’s always the possibility of a return.

But this recent round of farewells feels, well, final, and it’s already making cash registers ring: Elton tacked on a second local concert at Little Caesars Arena before the first one even went on sale.

Performers: We hate to see them leave, but we love to watch them go.

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Farewell events

Slayer: Michigan Lottery Ampitheatre at Freedom Hill, May 27

Lynard Skynard: DTE Energy Music Theatre, Aug. 10

Elton John: Little Caesars Arena, Oct. 12,13; Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Oct. 15