Rod Stewart called Elton John's farewell tour "dishonest", but Mark Beaumont explains why we love being lied to with fake goodbyes.
“I don’t think this is a big deal, it stinks of selling tickets.” Shhh, Rod. “It’s dishonest.” Zip it, Rod mate. “It’s not rock’n’roll.” Fksake, Rod, shut up! When Rod Stewart appeared on a US chat show and pulled apart Elton John’s ‘farewell tour’, he let slip a fundamental truth about the music business that we’re all complicit in. Just as we all really knew, deep inside, that Facebook was selling our relationship statuses to any old enemy of democracy but were too busy pretending to like our friends’ mutant newborns to spoil it, we know that farewell tours rarely ever mean farewell. Is there anyone out there that really thinks Elto’s retiring? That we’ve heard the last of Wild Beasts or Black Sabbath? That The Maccabees will stay split forever? Forever-ever? Forever-ever?
Of course not, but we go along with the conceit because, secretly, we love the thrill of a distant drama. It’s the Surprise, Surprise effect – we crave the bittersweet sting of goodbye because we know, however many years down the line, we’ve got the euphoria of an unexpected reunion to look forward to. For bands it’s a standard career move: at the first ‘it’s over’ sign of ticket sales dwindling, or the second they’ve made enough money to take five years off from each other, they’ll concoct a fight over hummus or something and announce a final run of surprisingly big and expensive dates and go their separate ways with a cheery “see you in 2023!” We know, from hard-bitten Quo experience, that it’s usually a moneymaking sham, but we happily play along, kid ourselves it’s the last time and pay the farewell ticket premium. After all, it breaks up the relentless churn of the three-year album cycle, stops the band filling their sets with new album songs for a bit and gives us years of will-they-won’t-they pub banter, always handy for when the light on your phone comes on to tell you that the Russians are listening.
To be a music fan, like paying to see an M Night Shyamalan film or watching Most Haunted, is to enter willingly into an unspoken contract stating that you are happy to be fooled. Yes, you’ll tell yourself, Mariah Carey is definitely singing this live. Yes, you’ll smirk, Bjork really is from Venus and George Clinton from Mars. Yup, you’ll nod seriously, Annie Clarke most definitely visits Tesco in thigh high neon pink boots and Kendrick Lamar thinks nothing of smashing up Lamborghinis in his downtime. Likewise with the denials: we’ll happily pretend to believe that Long Term Drug Addict has cleaned up for their return-to-form comeback album or that the collapsed singer getting an injection of pure adrenalin to the heart at the side of the stage is suffering ‘nervous exhaustion’. Music is where we go to escape mundanity, drudgery, reality; like Dynamo levitating from an unnatural camera angle, the suspension of our disbelief is where the magic comes from.
Its only when a band you follow religiously fake-farewells that it impacts your regular hit of gig-going pleasure. I found Suede’s seven-year hiatus particularly arduous, but soon plugged my Brett-shaped hole with a plethora of new bands. But even then, farewell tours and their inevitable reunions are events that mark our lives. I’ve seen a thousand Blur gigs, but the one I cherish most is the British Summer Time 2015 show at Hyde Park since, when they’d last played the park in 2012 claiming it might well be their last ever London show, the gig was so quiet I left devastated, convinced that the notoriously complainy Park Lane billionaires had robbed me of the gig of my life.
So bring on the fake farewell tours. They gather the tribe, exude celebration and, we all know, they’re more like a winking au revoir. Nice to know, though, that when Rod Stewart calls it a day, we’re rid of him for good.