As I soon learned, Jacksonville, our college town, had Brother’s, if that was your scene.
Anniston had the Whistle Stop, which I later frequented, and the Alabama Show Palace, which I didn’t. Oxford had a place called the Copper Penny — I remember the name, but that’s it.
At a few other spots around the county, you could find restaurants or frat houses or bars — or dives — that’d let bands play and singers sing for pennies, or less. Some joints catered to country acts, a few to dance music and such, others to that ubiquitous, though rarely inspiring, genre called Southern rock.
That fall, I bumped into a guy in Golden Springs who offered a tip.
“Well, there’s the Red Horse …”
His voice trailed off.
“… But I don’t go there.”
“Why?” I asked.
Well, as any longtime Calhoun Countian knew, the Red Horse Lounge was known for many things. Most aren’t worth repeating. As proof, in The Star’s archives is a story about the building that used to house the Horse. One sentence is all that’s needed: “Rapes, robberies, fights and auto thefts were all reported at the (Red Horse) site.”
I never went to the Red Horse.
For some reason, all that flooded back Thursday night while watching the 12-12-12 benefit show for Hurricane Sandy victims on television. None of it had anything to do with Calhoun County; unless I’m wrong, neither The Who, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Kanye West nor Alicia Keys has ever played the Peerless or Brother’s. Nirvana? Nope. Eric Clapton? Nope. Roger Waters? Nope. Bon Jovi? Nope. The Boss? Nope.
(Though Jacksonville State, in its musical heyday of old, hosted a nice collection of Hall of Fame-worthy artists, as did Hobson City’s clubs, but that’s a topic for another day. The only connection between Thursday’s show at Madison Square Garden and this little part of Alabama is that Billy Joel gigged at JSU in 1974 to open Pete Mathews Coliseum.)
Except for a few — West and Keys, for instance — nearly all of Thursday’s headliners were grandfatherly, if you get my drift. Mick and the boys’ average age is older than the Supreme Court’s. Eric Clapton and Roger Waters’ heads are swathed in gray. Someone should have advised Roger Daltrey to keep his shirt buttoned. (C’mon, Roger, no one wants to see your 68-year-old hairless chest.) Pete Townshend and Joel no longer need combs, to which I can relate. And even the beard sported by R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe was tinged in a salt-and-pepper hue.
If it had been a baseball game, it’d be Old-Timers’ Day.
On Twitter, the camps were firmly divided. It either was an embarrassment — Daltry couldn’t hit his notes; Mick Jagger’s wrinkly face needs no camera-time; give us more of Keys in her red dress and less of McCartney in his jeans — or it was a celebration of mature, Hall of Fame musicians who can still pick it and sing it. There seemed no middle ground.
Of course, that’s one of the grand parts of live music: it’s organic, unpredictable, dangerous. Regardless of age or ability, musicians are instantly judged — harshly, in some cases. Doesn’t matter if you’re seeing a stadium act in the ATL or a bar band on Noble Street, or even a praise band at church. They can play or sing, or they can’t.
The worst live acts equate to karaoke.
The best ones make us move.
Thursday night showed that time boxes popular musicians into a corner. Part of their popularity is their aura — their stage presence, their inherent sexuality, their allure. Inevitably, age napalms those traits. Visually, Townshend is more retiree than Who legend. Clapton seems quaint, not god-like from his Cream days. But does that mean they shouldn’t get up on stage if they still have it?
No, it doesn’t.
That’s the essence of live music, regardless of style or scope. You want to see talented musicians doing their thing, whether performing for millions on television or for a few friends at the local VFW. If age hasn’t rotted their skills, more power to them.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.