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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2004/06/28
by Mike Gruenberg

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Having grown up in New York City and subsequently stayed and worked in that location, I continually have the opportunity to relive the experiences of my youth. When I walk in Central Park, I still marvel at its beauty, but also remember that as a young man I played touch football with my friends there on Sunday mornings for many years. I also saw many concerts at that park. The park remains a living legacy for me.
As I walk through the city, I have vivid memories of times spent in places like Little Italy, Greenwich Village, Chinatown, etc. Some of those memories are good and some, not so good, but the net result is that I am happy to have spent my youth and adult years in such a vibrant and interesting city.
Recently, I was walking by the Ed Sullivan Theater where David Letterman tapes his late night show. For someone like me, the Ed Sullivan Theater represents great memories and a high water mark in music since it was there that the Beatles first appeared on television on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan brought to his stage virtually every musical act from the 60’s. Sunday night for me was usually spent in front of the television seeing these groups perform their latest hits. When he first started booking and introducing these groups, Sullivan seemed stiff and almost amused at the behavior of the screaming young girls in the audience. Gradually, he loosened up and even began to have brief chats with the artists.
So on June 21st when I casually walked by the Ed Sullivan Theater, I noticed a fairly large crowd on the opposite side of the street facing the theater. I stuck around to see Phish being escorted to the roof over the marquee of the theater where they began to perform much to the delight of the assembled multitude of their fans on the opposite side of the street. I had earlier read in the NY Times, that Phish had performed a few days earlier ay Keyspan Park in Brooklyn as part of their farewell tour.
Whenever I hear ‘farewell tour’ whether it is for a rock group or an athlete, I am somewhat dubious of the intent. Are we to believe that the concert we will see is the very last time the group will be performing together in our area? Or does it mean that the concert is the last time we will see the group for a couple of years until they decide to tour again? Or is this really the end of the group? I seem to recollect that a number of groups, including The Who and Fleetwood Mac have had a few ‘farewell tours’ which explains my cynicism.

Not that I begrudge the groups the financial rewards that they reap as a result of these final tours, but let’s be honest about their intent. Tell me you will tour one last time, but if the situation is right, you will consider getting back together in a few years for more than a few bucks. I can live with that.
As fans, we have a tough time saying good-bye to our rock stars. I thought about what songs sum up my feelings about these ‘farewell tours.’ One such tune, ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do’ written by pop composer Neil Sedaka really puts the final tour concept in perspective when he says:
Think of all that we’ve been through
Breaking up is hard to do
They say that breaking up is hard to do
Now I know, I know that it’s true
Don’t say that this is the end
Instead of breaking up I wish that we were making up again
It’s as if the group knows it has other musical horizons to explore, but somehow can’t tear themselves away from us because it has become such a lucrative venture. I am reminded of John Lennon’s great fear that the Beatles would become a Vegas lounge act as they got older. He was actually relieved that this would not happen because the group broke up.
Another song that sums up the performers’ predicament is the tune performed by The Clash, ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go?’ which says:
Darling you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ‘til the end of time
So you got to let me know
_Should I stay or should I go? _

You sometimes wonder how many times a performer can continue to play the same tunes over and over again. It’s thrilling to get the positive reinforcement from your fans, but how long can you continue and not become a caricature of yourself. Musicians are creative people and it would seem that their strength is in finding new musical outlets for their talent. Farewell Tours should be just that. If you plan to discontinue whatever it is that made you popular then you owe to yourself and your public to gracefully exit while you still have your wits and dignity. That is why I was incredibly impressed when I read about the decision made by Phish to finally call it quits after all these years. They made a group decision, made that decision public, thanked their fans and gave their fans a final opportunity to see them perform. To me, that shows incredible class and more than that a healthy respect for their fans.

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