Fans and journalists still doubt their sincerity, although they did sign a contract to ensure they don't renege.
It's hard to hold the ephemerality of rock-and-roll retirement against the musicians. Who wouldn't be tempted to return to the rush of public adoration, performance, and money? Besides, we fans secretly love it. We go happily along with the whole charade because we crave the buzz of a "comeback" even more than the sweet sentiment of the "farewell."
So, in honor of the codependent, emotionally manipulative relationship shared between retiring musicians and their fans, we've compiled a list of acts that claimed to be saying goodbye for good, but then came back again. Some are innocent. Some are egregious. All are memorable.
The first time I tried cocaine, I fell asleep... There was always drinking, pot, psychedelics. I'm sure there was a lot of self-medicating, self-discovery going on. Once that line was crossed, it sucked all the life out of the music and relationships.
In August 2004, Phish held a weekend-long farewell festival in Coventry, Vermont. They were at the height of their popularity, figureheads of a legion of listeners that, like the Deadheads before them, went beyond fandom into a bona fide subculture. But behind the scenes, Anastasio's substance abuse problems created intractable divisions.
Upwards of 68,000 people turned up for the show. This number was actually less than anticipated, but days of hard rain turned the festival grounds into a giant mud pit so extreme that legitimate fears arose that the stage might sink. The National Guard and local officials were turning concertgoers away for their own safety. This led to miles of gridlocked traffic that stayed that way for hours, a scene reminiscent of the New York State Thruway on the way to Woodstock. But unlike Woodstock, fans could hear the simulcast on XM Satellite Radio or see it live in movie theaters around the country.
The band felt the emotional strain of the moment. There were tears and broken performances, and every indication is that Phish truly meant to call it quits after that show.
Years passed, Anastasio had a highly publicized run-in with the law, and in 2008 the group performed at a former manager's wedding. This led to reunion shows in 2009. Joy, their 14th studio album, was made in the same year, and at that point the band was back for good.
None of that can erase the emotional "final" show that was Coventry, where fans braved horrendous weather conditions to say goodbye. It's highly unlikely that any of those fans felt cheated or upset when the farewell turned out to be a fake-out. They were just glad to have their Phish back.
2. Ozzy Osbourne
This is absolutely real. It's the end of the road for me.
In 1992, thousands of fans traveled to Costa Mesa, California's Pacific Amphitheater to witness what was to be Ozzy's final show. The act was the culmination of a tour the Prince of Darkness had dubbed "No More Tours," playing upon the name of his recent No More Tears album. Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward - the original Black Sabbath lineup - put aside their differences to join Ozzy for the farewell.
Somewhat ironically, the infamously excess-loving Ozzy wasn't calling it a career because of drugs or alcohol, as so many others have done. Rather, he was simply tired of living on the road and never seeing his family or being able to live a normal life. At least, that's what he thought at the time.
Ozzy lasted through retirement for about three years before realizing it was not what he had expected it would be. He came back with the album Ozzmosis and his "Retirement Sucks Tour" in 1995, then quickly jumped back into the lifestyle he'd known for decades.
Many suspected Ozzy had fabricated the whole retirement shtick just to sell some tickets, but he swears he meant it at the time. Regarding his decision to come back, Ozzy offered a simple explanation: "Retirement sucked."
In 2018, he announced the No More Tours 2 tour, promising an end to "global touring" but leaving his options open for other performances.
3. Frank Sinatra
I'm serious about my decision. There are lots of things I want to do that I haven't done before. I want to meet some girls and build a house someplace.
Frank Sinatra was faking out retirement long before it was cool to do so, and he still managed to do it better than almost anyone. The man was an entertainment legend when he announced that he was calling it quits in 1971, but his appeal to the popular audience of the time had been rapidly dwindling, subsumed beneath the tectonic force of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the new music styling that defined the era.
But a man who had spent his life doing it his way could not be so easily slain. Retirement didn't suit Sinatra - he was back on stage in only two years. Like Ozzy, he said that he hadn't intentionally faked anyone out. He thought he wanted to retire, but then found he didn't like retirement. Music was all he knew. He couldn't do anything else. "For example," he said, "after two years of playing golf I'm still a 17 handicap."
By 1976 his fake retirement was already such an infamous cliché that when Robbie Robertson called Bob Dylan to say he wanted to do a retirement show called "The Last Waltz," Dylan replied, "This isn't going to be one of those Frank Sinatra retirements, is it?" (Dylan's 1988 trek came to be known as the "Never Ending Tour.")
Sinatra never recaptured the mass audience he had in his prime, but he did it his way to the end, performing an estimated 1,000 (yes, 1,000) concerts between his comeback and his death on May 14, 1998.
Though the younger audiences had passed him by, his peers and his successors never forgot. His 80th birthday celebration was attended by the day's top acts, and he has been cited as an influence on so many artists that it's impossible to list them all. In that way, Sinatra's still knocking them out of the park to this day.
4. Nine Inch Nails
I've been thinking for some time now it's time to make NIN disappear for a while.
In 2009, Trent Reznor announced he'd be putting Nine Inch Nails on the shelf to focus on his marriage to Mariqueen Maandig and their group How to Destroy Angels.
Reznor called the "final" NIN tour the "Wave Goodbye" tour, which he wrapped up at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles on September 10, 2009. After that, NIN was supposed to be ended forever as a touring band.
Reznor kept his word for four years. There wasn't any particular moment of inspiration or magic that inspired Reznor to come back; he simply decided that there was more for NIN to create and to perform. "And I'll catch some flak for saying I wasn't going to do that again," he said, "but I changed my mind."
The band's been going strong ever since.
There are two reasons people come back. Because, like The Stones, they're broke. Again. Or they're old divas who can't wait to be out among their adoring fans. But this, this truly is it.
2002's "Living Proof: The Farewell Tour" was one for the ages. Cher had dipped in and out of her career a couple of times before, but "Living Proof" was truly a spectacle.
The tour went to Europe, Asia, Oceania, and North America. Originally slated for 49 dates, things quickly got out of control as rabid fans swarmed for tickets and Cher realized she wasn't quite ready to fade into obscurity.
She ended up playing 325 concerts for 2.2 million people by the time the tour ended at Los Angeles' Hollywood Bowl in 2005. It made $260 million and was a smashing success by nearly any standard.
Cher decided to call it quits because she was getting older and felt she couldn't keep on performing much longer. This farewell, she assured everyone, was for real. "If I come back in five years," she said, "I'd be driving around in one of those carts with joy-sticks."
As years went on, Cher realized she was not going to have to putter around on stage in a scooter, after all. She still had her health and her passion. By 2008, she was ready to play Vegas, at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, where she did 200 performances. Nine years later and she's still a top attraction.
6. The Band
On some nights we could hit our stride, but more and more it was becoming a painful chore. The best painkiller, of course is opiates, and heroin had been creeping back under the door for some time now. I worried that Garth and I had three junkies in our group, plus our so-called manager. Finally I declared, "No more."
This entry is slightly unfair in the sense that The Band's Robbie Robertson not only meant it when he said he was retiring The Band, but he also stuck to his guns. Still, The Band needs to be listed here because of the sheer magnitude of their farewell concert.
1977's "The Last Waltz" was an epic event that featured guest stars like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and many other top acts of the time. If that wasn't enough, the event was also filmed by Martin Scorsese, whose documentary The Last Waltz set the standard for concert films.
Though there were tensions between Robertson and the rest of The Band, the songwriter insists that he decided to shut it down because he was afraid that excessive alcohol and drug use were going to destroy the bandmates that Robertson considered brothers. In 1983, the Band reformed without Robertson and started touring and recording again. In 1986, Richard Manuel, who had been sober for some time before the reformation, committed suicide after falling back into addiction, an unfortunate vindication of Robertson's reasoning for the retirement.
7. The Who
I want to end the group in the right way: On top, before we become parodies of ourselves. Then we can give Pete some freedom, because he deserves it.
The impact of drummer Keith Moon's death on The Who is well known. Somewhat lesser known is that Pete Townshend also struggled with substance abuse problems that he developed in his attempt to keep up with the band's frenetic, endless touring schedule and the unique demands it put on him, their principle songwriter. Things weren't much better even when he stayed sober. The entire process just drained everything out of the guitar legend.
A 1979 tragedy in Cincinnati that left 11 fans trampled to death also caused strain in the band members' psyches. The decision to quit wasn't easy. John Entwistle, especially, had no desire to end it. Ultimately, though, The Who decided to call it quits and put a bow on it with a final tour. December 7, 1982 marked the last performance. One of the show's highlights was a virtuoso performance of "Eminence Front."
After a few one-off shows, The Who got back together again in 1989 with their "The Kids Are Alright" tour. It marked both the band's 25th anniversary and the birth of a new era, which also found them willing to sell out their songs for TV shows (the CSI series) and commercials.
8. Judas Priest
I think it's time, you know. We're not the first band to say farewell, it's just the way everyone comes to at some point and we're gonna say a few more things early next year, so I think the main thing that we just want to ask everybody to consider is don't be sad about this, start celebrating and rejoicing over all the great things we've done in Judas Priest.
When the "Epitaph World Tour" launched on December 7, 2010, it was supposed to be Judas Priest's last. The band had suffered numerous breakups and conflicts over the years, but this time was to truly be the final encore.
There wasn't any particular, dramatic story to it all. The band had been going at it for over three decades, and they were just ready to call it quits. They had certainly earned a relaxing retirement. Still, it didn't last long.
On June 5, 2013 Halford announced that Judas Priest would be reforming. They continue to melt faces to this day.
9. Elton John
I made a decision tonight that this is going to be the last show. There's a lot more to me than playing on the road and this is the last one I'm going to do.
Luckily Elton's retirement announcement is caught on film. If not, it would be hard to believe he actually just made the decision that night. Yet, from the looks and sounds of it, it really does seem like something he decided to do spontaneously, or, at least, it was a decision he'd been mulling before finally making there on the spot.
For a couple of years, Elton really did retire from public performance. He was active in the studio, working with Gary Osborne as his lyricist rather than Bernie Taupin. He released the album A Single Man in 1978.
In what is a common story in the rock business and in rock retirement, substance abuse and the stress of stardom factored into his decision to quit. In 1975, just two years before his retirement announcement, he had a drug overdose. For years he also suffered from bulimia.
When Elton flip-flopped and came back, he did it in style, touring in 1979 through the Soviet Union and Israel, a feat very few Western musicians had pulled off.
Farewell: 2001 (the tour started in 2000)
The "farewell" tour was us wanting to put Kiss out of its misery. And for a while, honestly, we lost sight that we didn't have to stop; we had to get rid of them [Ace Frehley and Peter Criss]. So the "farewell" tour was really because it was unbearable to be with those guys — not just on a personal level. The playing was... "erratic" is a nice way of putting it. You just never knew what was gonna happen day to day on stage, and it was a challenge getting somebody to leave their room to come to the lobby. Forget about the show.
If the fake-out farewell was a crime, KISS would be serving consecutive life sentences.
In 2000, the band played a series of shows officially titled "The Kiss Farewell Tour." This was somewhat difficult to believe considering their previous farewell fake-outs of 1978 and 1994. This, combined with KISS' penchant for pulling publicity stunts, led to many doubting the sincerity of the retirement. The doubters were right.
KISS was soon back at it, picking up right where they'd left off. To the band's credit, they never tried to sugarcoat their return. "People change their minds, and in this case that goes along with being a living, thinking person," Paul Stanley said. "What one says one day with total commitment may at another time turn out not to be so. Am I doing this for the money or the fans? Both, and let's not forget I'm doing this for me."
Other acts with not-so-final farewells: Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, The Go-Go's.
April 12, 2017
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