They sounded different -- short of breadth, limited in range, talking as much as singing -- and as time went on, that made them increasingly obsolete to all but true fans. But that no longer seems the case: if you don't manage to overdose or drink yourself to death at a young age, and take reasonable care of yourself in middle age, nowadays you can probably still be performing at a very high level of virtuosity well into your seventh decade -- and longer.
And what time has taken away from you -- like Brian Wilson's falsetto -- can now be restored on the computer; meanwhile you've gained all of the wisdom and experience of those years to add a depth to your music that would have been impossible as a callow youth.
A few years ago I interviewed John Lee Hooker. He was well into his 80s, but still sartorially resplendent in a sharkskin suit, sunglasses and homburg. Had he stayed in the Delta, or working in that Detroit automobile plant, he would have been a very decrepit old man. Instead, he handed me his newest CD, recorded with Carlos Santana. B.B. King, despite his diabetes and the need to perform while sitting down, is still robust at an age when Muddy Waters was long in the grave. Johnny Cash's last recordings are among his greatest. And who believes that Keith Richards would still be alive without modern science?
Like the rest of us, musicians are living longer, they're taking better care of themselves -- and when they don't, modern medicine can often correct their mistakes. So can recording engineers. Add to that the rise of MP3 players and shared music files, which makes old music now seem indistinguishable from new; after a digital clean-up, Love's "Alone Again Or" sounds like a new release, while Amy Winehouse could be a rediscovered singer from the 1940s. And suddenly age seems a minor factor.
So, it's not only unsurprising, but actually welcome news, that the Stones have a new concert film coming out directed by Martin Scorsese, that Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks are teaming up once again on a new concept album, and Steve Miller is back in the studio. But won't this crowd out the younger generations of musicians? Not in the age of iTunes and YouTube.
And, in the long run this can only be good news for younger musicians. I won't live long enough to see it (or maybe I will …), but it'll be fun in thirty years for Tad and his generation to take their kids to see Robert Pollard in a long white beard leading a reunited Guided by Voices through a 200-song medley, or Eddy Vedder looking just like Neil Young today, or a group of anonymous old senior citizens taking the stage as the reformed Pavement.
And I'll bet they'll all sound better than ever.
This work is the opinion of the columnist, and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News. Facebook and ABC are partners in a political content application.