Foon Rhee

Editorial notebook: Even guitar legends get too old to perform

My iPod is filled with pop, soul and classic rock songs that go back decades. Anyone remember the Allman Brothers Band, Boz Scaggs or The Spinners?

That doesn’t mean I want to see those aging artists on stage, especially if they’re going to embarrass themselves.

I cringed when I read about legendary bluesman B.B. King’s meltdown over the weekend in St. Louis. Fans made catcalls and walked out when the 88-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer rambled and finished only a few songs.

It’s sad. And while it’s an extreme case, there are a lot of graying groups out on tour.

In today’s music business – with a steep drop in album sales – artists can make much more money from live concerts than from selling recordings. There’s a big market among baby boomers to see the rockers who provided the soundtracks to our lives. Artists who qualify for AARP are on the list of highest-grossing acts, even with tickets topping $100. There’s a reason why old groups keep doing reunion tours.

But at what point does it tarnish their legacy and rip off fans when musicians just can’t put on a good show any longer?

Artists, no matter how celebrated, have to be truthful to themselves, be respectful to their fans and know when to hang it up.

If you’re like me, when you hear certain songs, it brings you back to a specific time. Some of those memories are bittersweet, but they are powerful. I don’t want them sullied by a pathetic performance; I’d rather listen to bands in their prime – on CDs, LPs, even on cassettes.

This is a big deal for me, but I don’t think I’ll go see Bruce Springsteen again.

His music – “Thunder Road” is still probably my all-time favorite song – sustained me during high school in Ohio. His marathon concerts are epic. I have seen him live more than I’ve seen anyone else, most recently in 2009 at an amphitheater outside Boston.

Springsteen is 64 now. He just started another U.S. tour in support of his 18th studio album, “High Hopes.”

But if I get the urge to see him perform, I’ll just pop in the DVD of him at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in November 1975. He was 26, and he had just become the first rock star to make the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week.

His performance is electric. That’s what I want as my lasting image of one of my heroes.