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The Rocking Dead: For stars like the Who and Bob Seger, there's money in mortality

[ STEVE MADDEN | Times ]
[ STEVE MADDEN | Times ]
Published Dec. 9, 2014

When the Who's Pete Town­shend announced in October that his British band would be embarking on a for-real-this-time farewell tour — which happens to kick off at Tampa's Amalie Arena on April 15 — the language the windmilling graybeard used was morbid but money-savvy.

The 69-year-old said this was the "beginning of the long goodbye." He and 70-year-old singer Roger Daltrey were "lucky to be alive" but would play "until we drop" — you know, like the other members of the Who, Keith Moon and John Entwistle, both unlucky, both dropped.

Townshend's words were as subtle as a tombstone landing on your head — as were ticket prices, which topped out at $802.25 for a VIP experience.

Impending death makes for good concert business, say industry insiders and academics. We want to see our heroes "one last time" before they die.

Or, gulp, we die.

For the Who and fellow arena-rattling oldsters, mortality helps ticket prices, sales and resales (think StubHub), one more way to squeeze out a buck before kicking the bucket. Their proximity to that "long goodbye" also allows them to charge more than many younger pop and rock acts.

Bob Seger, the 69-year-old Detroit howler who plays Amalie Arena on Feb. 5, is calling his latest, and perhaps last, go-round the "Ride Out Tour," a comically creaky-bones title that makes it sound as if he'll gently collapse right after a group sing-along of Against the Wind.

Average face and resale value of Seger's tickets — $101, $211 — are higher than those for, say, the Foo Fighters, led by 45-year-old Dave Grohl ($72, $208).

Yes, the Who and Seger — not to mention fellow touring oldsters Tony Bennett (age 88) and the Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, 71; Keith Richards, 70; Charlie Watts, 73) — have hits, history and huge fanbases. They also court older, well-heeled followers who can afford exorbitant fees.

But there's something else happening here, something akin to the old warning "It's later than you think." Townshend, who first threatened to retire in 1982, is, well, legitimately old now. He knows it; we know it, too.

"With concerts, there's money in mortality, absolutely," says Dr. Debra Dobbs, an associate professor of aging studies at the University of South Florida. "We are a culture that avoids the topic of death, but in the back of our minds, we all think about mortality. . . . Rod Stewart is still performing in Las Vegas, but how much longer is he going to be around?"

Big-name golden-age touring rockers on average charge more and earn more than many big-name younger-age acts (although to be fair, Taylor Swift, who is decidedly not close to AARP status, usually beats everyone).

The threat of a figurative and literal farewell is "impacting the prices" of the Who tour, says Chris Matcovich, vice president of data and communications at TiqIQ, a online ticket discounter in New York City. The resale value of tickets for this Who "farewell" ($247.63) are higher than their last "farewell" tour a couple years ago. Also the average face value of a 2014 Who ticket — $110.10 — is more than a ticket to go see the Foo Fighters ($72.22) and One Direction ($98.26), the latter arguably the biggest pop band on the planet right now. (Size of venue also affects price, but still, you get the point.)

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A study earlier this year by TiqIQ found that five of the 10 most expensive concert tickets of the past year were for acts in their 70s, or a few years from them: Paul McCartney (average price $241), Fleetwood Mac ($282), Pink Floyd's Roger Waters ($314), the Eagles ($354) and, by far the most expensive out there, the Stones ($624).

Yes, the concert landscape has been rife with aging rock icons for decades; we were already making fun of Jagger's wrinkles back in the late 1980s — when he was in his 40s. But now our heroes are legitimately up there, a reality that allowed 74-year-old Ringo Starr, with his All-Starr Band, to charge $115 for a ticket to his sold-out Oct. 23 show at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall.

There are farewell tours — and then there are farewell tours. Are you really going to pass up the chance to bid adieu to a Beatle?

USF's Dobbs says that we are a "death-delaying culture. People are retiring later and later. They don't want to stop working." Or, yes, she allows, "rocking."

But sooner or later, we all stop rocking.

"My husband and I were just in Las Vegas," says Dobbs. "As a child of the '70s, the show I really wanted to see was Donny and Marie." But they didn't go to the ever-smiling brother-sister act, and Dobbs, who visits Vegas about once a decade, is still kicking herself for it. "Not to be morbid, but Donny and Marie might not have a show in 10 years."

Contact Sean Daly at sdaly@tampabay.com. Follow @seandalypoplife.

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