Prolonged farewells can create awkward situations. Hands are shaken, regards are exchanged, but the person just won't leave the room. In the case of bands, open-ended goodbyes generate revenue, but for some fans, such treatment can brew cynicism.
It has become standard for musicians to embark on farewell tours, creating a frenzy of ticket buying among fans, only to magically reappear on stage months or years later.
"It's a cheap capitalist ploy is what it is!" Styx guitarist James "JY" Young says with a laugh. Although, he concedes, it's easy for a band to talk itself into retirement. "It's natural to be at the end of a run of shows and think, 'Man, I don't think I can do that again.' "
Styx, currently on tour with Peter Frampton, isn't ready to retire. But when the time comes, the classic rock band will probably bid adieu once, twice, maybe three times, the manager says, tongue firmly in cheek.
The Eagles facetiously titled their 2003 tour, which was among the Top 3 highest- grossing tours in North America that year, Farewell I, and Phil Collins is following suit with his First Final Farewell tour this summer. Meanwhile, Eric Clapton and Celine Dion have come out of retirement, taking a cue from The Who, which officially said goodbye more than two decades ago but has often re-formed for tours, including several dates this summer. Alabama's American Farewell Tour, scheduled to end last fall, is now prolonged through October.
Cher is in Europe, finishing up an epic farewell, which took her back to some US venues again and again. In New York alone, she played six sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden. Some fans have expressed ill feelings on the cher.com message board. "She should drop the word 'farewell' 'cause we all know it's just a hoax," one writes.
"Artists that tour, like Phil, with the first of a series of final farewells, are not being as true to their audience base as they should," says Andrew Frances, who has helped manage Garth Brooks and David Bowie. "At first we questioned it; now it's commonplace. There's only so much someone can take."
The rising ticket prices, too, are testing concertgoers' loyalty, Mr. Frances says. The average ticket price for one of last year's Top 10 shows was $84, according to Pollstar.
Yet if the marketing strategy is out of sync with the fans, concert sales are showing a different story, at least for now. Fans seem to be as emotionally attached to their bands as drivers are to their gas-guzzling SUVs - a phenomenon of devotion over dollars.
Major concert-ticket sales surged nearly 20 percent last year in North America, Pollstar reports. The Eagles and Cher were both among the top five highest-grossing tours of 2003. Dion's "return from retirement" Las Vegas show raked in a whopping $80 million, securing her the No. 2 spot.
Farewell and reunion tours are fueled in part by the economics of the music industry in the age of the Internet, insiders say. Band members have mortgages to pay and record sales aren't cutting it.
"Companies go after every angle they can to get that intangible lost dollar," says Justin Goldberg, who worked at Sony signing artists and wrote "The Ultimate Survival Guide to the Music Industry."
And promoters know exactly where the money lies: in the designer leather wallets of affluent baby boomers who gladly pay $100 to relive some of the best moments of their lives. The industry survives on acts that date back to the '60s and '70s, says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar.
Even '80s icons are capitalizing on the hunger for nostalgia: the recent sold-out Pixies reunion tour, Madonna's retrospective "Reinvention Tour," and Prince's hits-happy "Musicology Tour."
But the music landscape has changed, rapidly creating a disconnect between artist and fan. Music, to young people, is a song on iTunes or the hit single of the week - not a way of life, as it once was, says Styx manager Charlie Brusco. Pop stars with long-term career potential are a dying breed. The age of heritage rock acts will come to an end, and the multiple farewell tours could quickly evolve from the most lucrative trend to the most ludicrous.
Even now, certain bands shouldn't dare attempt a return from retirement, Mr. Goldberg says. Phish fans might feel manipulated if their dearly beloved jam band is caught in a marketing lie, breaking its vow to retire this August. "We're done," the band promises. The Sex Pistols exhibited sincerity of a different nature when it reunited after nearly 20 years in 1996, openly acknowledging its capitalist greed with the tour's "Filthy Lucre" title.
Mötley Crüe, despite personal differences, isn't missing the opportunity to jump on the "farewell" bandwagon, dusting off its instruments for a 2005 tour. Jordan Berliant, the glam-rock band's manager, anticipates an enthusiastic response - and says it's not just about cash.
"Artists understand that the bond between themselves and the audience is a bond of trust," he says. "As fans of music, we have to allow the possibility, when the Eagles got together with the intention of doing one tour, that they rediscovered the love of playing music together."