As Paul Simon hits Tampa, we asked legendary rockers: What makes a rock star want to retire?

Published September 4 2018
Updated September 4 2018

Musicians aren’t pro athletes. Their livelihoods don’t necessarily hinge on the durability and vitality of youth, so in theory, a successful artist should be able to keep playing for a living into their 70s, 80s, even 90s.

In theory.

In reality, almost every artist, no matter how famous, eventually decides to retire. We’ve seen it so many times in 2018, as legendary artists like Elton John, Ozzy Osbourne, Anita Baker and Lynyrd Skynyrd have announced farewell tours. Sometimes the impetus is health, sometimes it’s to spend more time with family. Sometimes they just want to sell a couple extra tickets.

In the case of Paul Simon, who brings his farewell tour to Amalie Arena on Friday, he simply seems tired of it. Full stop.

"I’ve often wondered what it would feel like to reach the point where I’d consider bringing my performing career to a natural end," he said in a statement announcing the tour. "Now I know: It feels a little unsettling, a touch exhilarating and something of a relief."

Simon, 76, does not seem creatively depleted. His last album, 2016’s Stranger to Stranger, was an inspired patchwork of whimsical world textures. And on the day his farewell tour hits Tampa, he will release his 14th studio album, In the Blue Light, a reimagining of 10 favorite deeper cuts from his legendary catalog. There’s a sweet nostalgia to the album, but Simon neither panders to nor wallows in it, instead giving his songs ambitious jazz and classical makeovers.

So why is he retiring? Why does any rock star ever of Simon’s stature and ability ever retire?

SO LONG: Here’s why the farewell tour is so hot

To find out, we put the topic of retirement to nearly a dozen legendary artists and industry figures throughout interviews for different appearances in 2018. Among our questions: What do they make of 2018’s rash of farewell tours? Would they ever announce a farewell tour of their own? And for those who have already been through the farewell wringer once before, what was it that made them come back?

Some of them had a lot to say.

Ann Wilson, Heart

Heart hasn’t played together since 2016, following a backstage altercation involving the families of sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson. Ann says the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers will reunite at some point, but that when it happens, it probably won’t be as part of a farewell tour. "To me, that whole farewell tour thing is just a sales technique," said the singer, 68. "It’s to get people to pay the big bucks to come out and see you one more time. It’s just got kind of a weird ring to it, to me, of falsehood. Being an artist and performer all your life, all of a sudden, you just put a lid on it and stop? I doubt it. Elton John’s been playing piano since he was 15 years old in front of people. He’s probably going to want to go out and do other things. Just because he’s going to stop wanting to tour on this level, that doesn’t mean it’s over. For any of this. I disagree with that theory."

Lynyrd Skynyrd

More than 40 years after the plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, the great Southern rockers are in the middle of a long-running farewell tour, including a stadium gig in their hometown of Jacksonville last weekend. Blame ailing heart health on the part of guitarist Gary Rossington. "All my doctors keep saying, ‘Don’t tour no more,’" he said. "But I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. We don’t want to." Said Ronnie’s brother, Johnny Van Zant: "We just want to be able to spend more time at home and not hit it so hard." They might make another record, they might play spot shows here and there. But it all depends on Rossington’s health. "I got a bottle of nitro here I have to take to stay alive," he said, patting his chest. "I hope it’s for 20 more years. But it could be next week. That’s why I was calling it the farewell tour. I don’t know if I’ll be here. If I am? Reunion!"

FLAGS, FAREWELLS AND FLORIDA: Lynyrd Skynyrd goes deep on their controversial history

Alice Cooper

"I have never even considered retirement," said Alice Cooper, 70. "I said at the very beginning of my career, I will retire when I put up tickets for my show and nobody shows up. That’s my cue to not do any more shows. Or put out an album and nobody buys it. If that happens, then you know you’re done. But that hasn’t happened yet. So we’re full steam ahead." So no plans for a proper farewell tour, then? "Yeah, I don’t really see an idea of cashing in on your last tour," he said. "I could have stopped touring 25 years ago, financially. But it’s a different thing to tour because you want to, against touring because you have to. When you’re touring because you want to, there’s a lot more energy in it, and there’s a lot more fun in it."

Daryl Hall and John Oates

Creative partners for nearly 50 years, Daryl Hall and John Oates live different lives in different cities when they’re not on the road. So if either were to retire, the other would likely continue on solo. "I think life will conspire for us to stop at a certain point, whether it be for physical reasons or mental reasons," said Oates, 70. "If people decide they don’t want to buy tickets to see us, I think that would be a legitimate reason to say, ‘Looks like we’ve worn out our welcome.’" And when might that happen? Hall, 71, isn’t sure: "I don’t plan on stopping anytime, whether it’s with John or without John," he said. Oates isn’t quite so optimistic: "We’ve had three or four acts in our career. I don’t think there’s a fifth act, let’s put it that way." One thing they agree on is they probably won’t announce a farewell tour in advance. "I’ve got some very strong opinions on that," Oates laughed. "I remember the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over Tour over 20 years ago, when they said this was their last tour. I recall Billy Joel retiring. And I’m just going to leave it at that."

Billy Joel

Billy Joel’s had one of the busiest retirements in music history. Since his final album, 1993’s River of Dreams, he has performed semi-regularly, including plenty of shows in Florida and a monthly residency more than 100 shows long at Madison Square Garden. This is a guy who said a quarter-century ago he was quitting? "It felt like, ‘Okay, I’m getting older, I’m getting tired, I shouldn’t be doing this anymore," he said. "I look at myself in the mirror and go, ‘You do not look like a rock star at all.’ And I think maybe I should just call it quits. But then I realized, this is what I do. You know what a farewell tour is? A farewell tour is just a way of getting people to buy tickets, because they don’t think they’re going to see you anymore." Joel doesn’t see himself doing that: "If I’m going to stop, I’m just going to stop. But I don’t see that happening." Interestingly, Joel has toured and played frequently with Elton John, whose retirement tour hits Tampa in November. "Maybe it will be his farewell tour, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to play again," Joel said. "Elton lives in England. Maybe he’ll play in London and do a residency like I’m doing in New York."

MORE BILLY: Billy Joel talks Florida, farewell tours and feeling reinvigorated after 2017

Scott Ian, Anthrax

Scott Ian isn’t sure how to ease into retirement, because there aren’t many metal bands older than Anthrax who have actually done it. "Iron Maiden couldn’t be more at the top of their game, and look how long they’ve been around," said the 54-year-old guitarist. "Even Angus (Young of AC/DC) is seven or eight years older than me, and he’s still out there doing it at the level he does. All that kind of stuff just gives me inspiration." One reason he could see retiring is if the gigs just aren’t fun anymore — that, he said, would probably come across on stage. "Playing a show has always been Christmas and birthday and Halloween and everything all wrapped up into one," he said. "If that feeling ever goes away and it’s not fun anymore, then I certainly shouldn’t be there."

MORE SCOTT: Ian talks about shredding in his 50s and the decline of the heavy metal headliner

Spencer Chamberlain, Underoath

Unlike the other artists presented here, Tampa Bay-based metalcore act Underoath is relatively young, with many more potential tours ahead of them. But the Grammy-nominated group already went on one emotional, sold-out farewell tour, in 2013, after conflict within the band made staying together untenable. "We needed that," said singer Spencer Chamberlain. "We never thought we’d play again." Some band members had post-Underoath gigs lined up, "which to me was really hard," Chamberlain said. "I was really angry and really bitter. … But in hindsight, looking back at it, that’s the best thing that ever happened to all of us." After re-learning to communicate on a healthier level, the band reunited in 2016 and has been going strong since. In December they’ll headline their biggest hometown show ever, at Tampa’s Yuengling Center. "We had to knock it down and figure out, what’s the best thing we could do with this? We had to rebuild it, make it smarter and more efficient for all of us."

Rudolf Schenker, Scorpions

The Scorpions have done the farewell thing before. In 2010, the German hard rock legends announced plans for what would be their final album and tour. The buzz around the tour was so significant, said guitarist Rudolf Schenker, "it was like a wake-up call: ‘Hey guys, we have a chance to go to the Scorpions again!’ It was good for the fans, it was good for us." After the farewell tour, they found themselves inspired enough to commemorate their 50th anniversary by releasing their 18th studio album in 2015. They’ve toured regularly ever since, with a Sept. 14 gig at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. "But another farewell tour? No," Schenker said. "We know we can’t live without the music. ... As long as we can do it, as long as we deliver what the people are asking for, and we can do it as well, without any kind of hard times, so it’s still fun and everything, we’ll go for it."

Frankie Valli

The iconic crooner is a road warrior; he’s played more shows at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall than any other artist. But at 84, he’s starting to see the end of the road. In November he’ll launch what he’s said will be his final tour of Europe. He’s thought about it in the States, too. "I thought three years ago, I’d probably stop," he said. "Certainly, if I didn’t want to do it, I would not be doing it. I’m not doing this purely because I make money doing it. That’s certainly not what I’m doing. I’m enjoying what I’m doing." Added his longtime music director, Robby Robinson: "This is who he is; this is what he is. He lives for the stage. Frankie Valli’s whole life is centered around performing and the music and being an artist. I don’t think he has any other interests. I don’t think he’ll ever give it up until he maybe physically can’t do it anymore. So I don’t think he’s going to announce a farewell tour."

WE SENSE A THEME: Frankie Valli working his way back to Ruth Eckerd Hall ... again

John Fogerty

The 73-year-old singer has been part of one permanent breakup, with his old band Creedence Clearwater Revival. "We really didn’t want to talk to each other anymore," he said. But as a solo artist, he falls into the camp of, "I’ll just keep doing it until I can’t do it anymore," he said. "This is what I was born to do and meant to do." He scoffs at the idea of artists making a big deal about their last treks around the country. "I’ve been living on this planet for a while," he said. "I can remember certain female artists having their ‘farewell tour’ and then their ‘last farewell tour’ and then, after that a couple of years, their ‘final farewell tour.’" And it’s not just divas like Cher or Barbra Streisand or Shania Twain. "Garth Brooks used to threaten to retire, and I guess he kind of did," he said. "Every other week there for a while: ‘I’m just going to retire, then.’ But I think he’s still doing it, last time I checked."

MORE JOHN: Fogerty isn’t backing down on Parkland, #MeToo and protest songs

Kevin Lyman, founder, Vans Warped Tour

WARPED, OUT: As the Warped Tour ends, a generation of punk kids ponders what’s next

This summer’s Vans Warped Tour was billed as its final cross-country run, after a generation of giving suburban punk kids nationwide a reason to hang out and mosh. "I’ve done everything I can in the format," said founder Kevin Lyman. But that doesn’t mean it’s ending for good. Lyman suggested the tour might return for a 25th anniversary celebration, possibly in Atlantic City or San Francisco, or even in select cities nationwide. "That’s the great thing about us: It wouldn’t have to be like Lollapalooza," he said. "We could do it anywhere, because we’ve played in 48 cities across the country." He also opened the door to a revival of the Warped Cruise. "It would sell out in a second," he said. He might be right. This year’s "final" Warped Tour, he said, was a huge success, selling some 540,000 tickets — its second-highest average attendance ever. With receipts like that, isn’t a comeback inevitable?