One by-product of modern healthcare and better pharmaceuticals is the increasingly frequent use of the term "living legend." Legends, especially musical ones, used to die fairly young. 27 is a very popular year for legends to die, for example—Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain all died at 27, as did a long list of other musicians.
But not everyone who picks up a guitar succumbs to drugs and depression before their thirtieth birthday. Sunday night at The Cedar, two men who have earned their legendary status—Jorma Kaukonen and David Bromberg—held court for a full house of acoustic-blues enthusiasts, proving that time and tendonitis have not diminished the dexterity of either man's fingers. David Bromberg is 64, and Jorma Kaukonen turns 70 this year, but neither one looks like he's in danger of slowing down anytime soon. (Sitting down, maybe.)Which begs the question: When, exactly, should we confer legendary status on musicians who keep living and playing well past their media prime?
Jorma Kaukonen has been a bonafide legend for more than 40 years, for instance, but just released an excellent new record, River of Time , and could very well go picking and crooning into his eighties and nineties. David Bromberg released his first record in 1971, had a modest radio hit, Sharon , in 1972, and spent more than 20 years on tour blowing audiences away with his signature combination of guitar pyrotechnics and comedic fireworks. Then he took ten years off to run a violin repair shop. And now he's back, as good as ever. If you missed the show, don't worry: These guys could be at it for another 20 or 30 years.
Don't get me wrong: We are fortunate to live in an era when so many of our beloved musicians have managed to survive for so long. It's just that not everyone who lives beyond the age of 27 deserves to be called a legend, and with so many people figuring out that choking on one's own vomit at an early age isn't as romantic as it sounds, a veritable flood of aging superstars is going to be vying for legendary status in the next decade or two. When Eminem and Snoop Dogg are gumming their carrots before the 2050 Grammies, we're going to have to figure out what to call them. Legend might not be the right word. Or if it is, the true meaning of that word will have changed to the point where today's legends will be tomorrow's—what?
Luckily, we've got a few years to figure it all out. In the meantime, we get to enjoy the extended longevity of a generation of folks who responsibly manage their blood pressure and cholesterol. Jorma Kaukonen is a perfect example. Here's a man whom you can bet will be playing well into his nineties. Jorma has perfected a sort of friendly grandfather persona onstage that doesn't require him to do much of anything except move his fingers and whisper into the microphone. His economy of motion is extraordinary. Jorma didn't just avoid breaking a sweat Sunday; he barely burned any calories at all. And the look he sported Sunday night—silver hair, close-cropped beard, casual jacket—could serve him well for decades.
Legends can do whatever they want, of course. David Bromberg has put on a few pounds and doesn’t have much hair anymore, but he's as enthusiastic and impish an entertainer as ever. He still tells great stories, belts out songs both hilarious and heartfelt, and plays some equally versatile guitar. He burns more energy than Jorma, but then again, he might call it quits next week and go back to repairing violins. You never know, so see him while you can.
Blues were the order of the evening on Sunday— Hesitation, Statesboro, Chump Man, Kansas City, Travelin' Man, Midnight Hour—all came tumbling out as if each man had been playing these songs for fifty years, which is about right. It was not a raucous show. The mood was more reverential, both for the songs and for the men playing them. Hot Tuna mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff provided plenty of tasteful, evocative accompaniment, and together they formed a nice, comfortable trio. Jorma seemed content to lope through plenty of melancholy, reflective territory, alternating between old favorites and tunes off his new CD, leaving Bromberg to provide the comic relief, especially on "Travelin' Man Blues" and "Kansas City," two songs he's been playing since the early 1970s.
Sunday's show was the last of a brief three-week tour, but Jorma alluded to having so much fun that they were going to do it again very soon. If they do, be sure to check them out. My guess is that they'll both be around for at least another decade or two, but you never know. Legends have a way of defying expectations, after all—it's part of the job description.
Other living legends coming town:
B. B. King and Buddy Guy (a legend two-fer!)—Feb. 20, The Orpheum
Mark Knopfler—Apr. 25, The State Theatre
Doc Watson—May 15, The Cedar
Also, don't forget the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mar. 17, at The Orpheum, featuring some budding legends—Joe Satriani, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shephard, and others—in a high-voltage tribute to the legend of legends.
Pictured above: David Bromberg, left; Jorma Kaukonen, right