Today's showbiz puzzler: Why are so many old folks still so cool?
Showbiz is supposed to be a young person's game, even though the shelf-life for every new Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga grows shorter and shorter every year. But if you look around, you start to notice that our favorite geezers aren't giving up center stage so easily. Jack Nicholson is 73 and still totally studly, judging from how many hipsters want to hang out with him courtside at Lakers games. And, of course, Betty White, who's 88, hosted "Saturday Night Live" a while back and got the show's best ratings of the year.
I had my own personal oldster fest this week. On Tuesday, I caught an early screening of Clint Eastwood's upcoming film, "Hereafter," and though it's too early for a mini-review, let's just say that Eastwood, who turned 80 this year, is still The Man when it comes to making movies, showing off a range and depth that puts him right up there with John Huston, Robert Altman and the other great old masters from past ages. Last night, I took my 12-year-old boy, who's learning to play boogie-woogie piano, to the Hollywood Bowl to see B.B. King and Buddy Guy, a pair of blues giants who are pretty much the last major living links to the golden era of the blues.
B.B., who is 84, is finally showing his age, sitting down through his whole set and largely doing shtick with his band. But Guy, who is 74, is still as full of swagger and sex appeal as any rapper a third of his age, showing off the guitar pyrotechnics that made him an enormous influence on such guitarists as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jonny Lang. It was Clapton who once said that "Buddy Guy was to me what Elvis was to others--he's without a doubt the best guitar player alive."
Guy was in rare form, playing his guitar with his teeth, behind his head and, in the middle of a steamy rendition of Albert King's "Drowning on Dry Land," taking it out into the crowd, strutting his stuff through the first 50 rows of the Bowl. One thing about having played gigs for 50 years is that you really soak up every great trick in the book, so what stood out about Guy was his showmanship. As my kid put it: "He's a great guitar player, but what surprised me was that he's really funny."
Whenever Guy would sing some especially R-rated lyrics, he'd smile and say, "Hey, it wasn't me who wrote that!" He is so good that he even got away with doing a montage of tunes from his favorite guitar slingers, doing note-perfect imitations of Hendrix, Clapton and others. Unlike a lot of oldsters, Guy doesn't look down at his nose at hip-hop, simply reminding his audience that if they are offended by rap trash-talking, bluesmen were doing the same thing long before Too Short and Young Jeezy came along. (Guy's daughter is the rapper Shawnna, who worked a lot with Ludacris in the early 2000s.)
Anyway, it was a kick seeing a 74-year-old dude still at the top of his game. So what makes Buddy and Jack and Clint so cool? I think they earn their street cred for doing something well for so long that we realize that their gifts come from the inside, not just from being in fashion or having a sexy body. The next time anyone in Hollywood wants Nicholson for one of those "Bucket List"-style crazy old coots comedies, they should give Buddy Guy a call. He's got great comic chops, tons of charisma and energy to burn. Seeing him effortlessly work the crowd last night was a heady reminder that age really is just a state of mind. I have to admit--people like Guy and Eastwood make growing old look awfully enticing.
Photo: Buddy Guy performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival last month. Credit: Jean-Christophe Bott