When Is It Time to Walk Away?

When Is It Time to Walk Away?

It seems this time of year brings out the feelings of retirement. Ray Lewis retiring from football after winning one last Super Bowl. Toni Braxton leaving R&B after seven successful albums. With this theme fresh in our minds, it seemed like a good chance to explore it further.

I read a great article on the topic recently as it relates to writers at The Millions which explores the concept of writers who retire. In many regards, it's hard to imagine anyone retiring from these mediums. After all, successful musicians are blessed with the opportunity to do what they love - AND make money from it. Why would you leave this life behind?

For many 90s R&B groups, they aren't able to make it to the point where they can retire. They either find themselves caught up in internal feuds and break up, or find themselves dropped by their label and left without an audience. In these cases, the artist isn't left with the choice of when to leave and instead, sit awkwardly like a television series cancelled before the final episode.

But for the artists who get that chance, what is the right answer? Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, and Toni Braxton have all had careers spanning 15 or more years. They've watched as their albums went from multi-platinum affairs to quiet releases, as their performance venues went from Madison Square Garden to casinos. Is this the way artists should go out?

A common response to this question is what does it matter? If the artist wants to keep touring, wants to keep releasing new albums, why shouldn't they? Does it really affect you?

The answer is no, but does it affect the artist? Boyz II Men's album quality has fallen substantially since Full Circle and they're now serving as an opening act on a tour with New Kids on the Block. Has this tarnished their image at all? Will their legacy be marred by their extended stay?

Mariah Carey is the strange exception to the rule, as she has found a way to revive her career and come back stronger than ever. After the movie Glitter, and the Charmbracelet album's diminished sales, Mariah Carey looked like a classic example of an artist overstaying their welcome. But she found a way to rebrand herself, and came back in a big way with The Emancipation of Mimi.

Reflecting on all of this, it seems like music needs an outlet for athletes to go quietly into the night. The same way athletes retire and become analysts and coaches, we need to see artists take a similar path. Once you've had your time, won your fans, it's time to let go and help guide the next generation of artists.

In 1997, Boyz II Men created their own recording company Stonecreek and released albums for artists like Uncle Sam. A bit premature on their part, but maybe this is the way artists should retire. Leave the industry after your success, and provide a venue in which you can help new artists continue your legacy forward.

Let me know what you think in the forum, but as a departing thought, here is the poem "To An Athlete Dying Young" by A. E. Housman.

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.