Marcus Berkmann: Hope I die before the band gets back together

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The Independent Online

Nothing becomes the ageing rock star more than a rich turn of phrase. Thus it was that John Lydon, the former Johnny Rotten and now officially the world's oldest punk, attracted some attention this week when he described The Police as "soggy old dead carcasses". Looking appreciably younger than his 93 years, Lydon was speaking to Christian O'Connell on some radio station or other to promote his own band's latest comeback, for it turns out that the Sex Pistols are playing the Brixton Academy on 8 November.

O'Connell sought a comparison with Sting and co's enormo-tour of the globe's vastest stadiums, and Lydon was unimpressed. "Listening to Stink trying to squeak through 'Roxanne' one more time, that's not fun. It's like letting air out of a balloon."

He may have a point: listening to the record is painful enough, and it's hard to imagine that, nearly 30 years on, Sting will be able to reach those higher registers without, at the very least, a long ladder. Even so, the whiff of sour grapes floats headily over the incident.

Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland haven't bothered to respond, as they are too busy harvesting the world's money, while in five years' time the Pistols may well be on the chicken-in-a-basket circuit, interspersed with the occasional church hall.

For there isn't a huge amount of novelty any more in beloved old bands re-forming to cash in on their reputations. So many of them have done it that the rare refuseniks are beginning to look slightly weird. The Smiths? Pink Floyd? Just about holding out against the inevitable, you suspect. Only superhuman stubbornness can keep them apart.

Meanwhile, Genesis are out on the road, looking a bit grizzled and baldy, while Led Zeppelin announced only this week that they are playing a couple of gigs together.

Led Zeppelin? But, of course. How can they resist it? All that adoration and all that wonderful money. The shift in the rock economy from record sales to live work is entirely to the benefit of these old bands.

In the 1970s all the money was in making records, when they were writing all their best tunes. Now, records are almost a loss leader for the astonishing profitability of live music, which suits them as no one buys their useless new records anyway and their elderly fans only want to hear songs as old as they are. Ker-ching!

Maybe it's inevitable, part of the whole pattern of things, that every band turns into its own tribute band in the end. But as the Sex Pistols have shown, there's an important rule to be followed if you are planning to re-form: wait as long as you possibly can. The Pistols first re-formed in 1996 for their Filthy Lucre tour, and in 2003 they toured the United States for a few weeks on their Piss Off tour. This time they have re-formed to celebrate 30 years since the release of Never Mind the Bollocks, and while it's true that their concert sold out in a minute, the wider world had paid little attention until Lydon grabbed that attention last week.

You really only have the one chance to re-form, and you have to time it perfectly. Do it too soon, like All Saints, and you may find that no one was actually missing you. Wait too long, however, and you may find that you are dead. No one is putting too much money on a Ramones reunion, for instance. T. Rex won't be getting together any day now, either.

Tomorrow, then, soggy old dead carcasses. But today, soggy old rich carcasses will do.