Friday, May 20, 2011

Funny Feeling

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. ~Mark Twain

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. ~Douglas MacArthur

I have often wondered why older musicians can’t stay very popular. There are exceptions of course. Springsteen can fill a huge hall, I’m sure. And the comeback tours of The Who, The Stones and others, prove that a few of the old greats still have staying power. Clapton still brings down the house. But I’ll bet they only sell a fraction of the recordings they used to.

Bands who were kind of popular, like the Indigo Girls (Closer to Fine), Jackson Browne (Running on Empty), Jonathan Edwards (Sunshine), Shawn Colvin (Sunny Came Home), John Fogerty (of Creedence Clearwater Revival), etc. only play to small venues these days and hardly sell any records compared to what they once did.

I’m sure there are lots of reasons. *They are not as physically attractive as they once were. *The age group who followed them when they were youngsters are not as interested in music perhaps. *The age group who followed them are dying off. *They simply don’t get the radio play (cause or effect?). *Maybe they don’t write the high quality songs they once did. *Their voices may have diminished over the years.

It’s kind of sad to me that Paul Simon just put out a new album and I am certain that I’ll never hear a song from it on the radio. It probably won’t sell many CDs or have many downloads. Let me just say that it is awesome. These songs are as powerful as any he has written. Sure his voice is not what it once was, but you sure wouldn’t know he is 70 by listening to his guitar work. His rhymes are clever; the arrangements are distinctive and complex. His voice is great. But it will never sell anywhere close to his old hits (some of which were pretty dumb as in You Can Call Me Al)

On a related note, I had the weirdest feeling the other night. Heidi and I went to hear our son Colin play in his newish band – Set Ashore. It was a benefit for victims of the tsunami and earthquake that devastated Japan. We were really excited to hear them live. We hear Colin play acoustically all the time, and he has told us about how great his bandies are. It was their first gig together and, while Colin plays drums, bass and guitar in church regularly, this is his rock band and he was singing lead.

So when we got there, right away I noticed that we were the oldest. No problem. It was at our old church, in the small sanctuary where I myself have played dozens of times. I love that room. We were going to go to the small balcony to record, so we would not be hanging out right in front of the stage with the rest of the crowd, exclusively teens.

I am usually one who likes to be up close. In church, in class, at the movies – I am always in the first few rows if not in the very front. But we stayed in the back, up top so we could videotape. It was interesting to watch the crowd from up there. I still remember vividly being 17. First girlfriends, best neighborhood pals, my friends at school. I remember having our own lingo. Back then it was far out and cool and funky and some local expressions that were all our own. Now it is dude and WTF? and whatever and I know, right!? But it was the same thing.

And I was sitting up there remembering listening to live music at my high school and following my favorite local bands and singer/songwriters. I remembered learning to play guitar and singing on the beach around campfires and at my girlfriends’ house. I remembered playing at my first little festival in my little hometown just like Colin was doing. I remembered being nervous and forgetting some of the words and the feeling of exhilaration of having a whole bunch of people paying attention to a song that I wrote. I was feeling really close to Colin as he was preparing to get up there in front of about 75 or 100 of his friends and play at his very first concert. It was far out.

Before Colin and Set Ashore began to play I had to go to the bathroom. I ducked down the stairs and began to weave my way around the young crowd to get to the door to the hallway to the bathroom.

And it was weird.

I know I’m more than twice these kids age. I know that we don’t wear the same clothes or listen to the same music (although in about 5 minutes that’s exactly what we were going to do). My beard is turning white. I must seem ancient to them. I know we are different generations and all that, but I felt like such an outsider. I used to play in this church. For 7 years. I played and sang in the contemporary service and so I watched a lot of these kids grow up from about 7 years old to the age they are now.

But most of the people I passed and squeezed by wouldn’t look at me at all. When their eyes were up, generally looking in my direction, they would not look me in the eye. I was so much smoke for them to look right through. It was as though I was invisible. And when the few people I passed did happen to catch my eye they looked away very quickly. It was bizarre. I was a stranger in crowd of people from my hometown, a crowd of my son’s contemporaries.

At some point I was probably right there where they are. I’m sure that any adult who was pro-Vietnam-war was a fool to me. I had adopted my older sibling’s politics. But I don’t remember thinking that every older person was icky. My best friend Maurice Owens when I was growing up was older than both of my parents. And now, my best friend Chris at school is about 15 years younger than me. My guitar teacher is less than half my age at 26 (I will be 54 in a couple of days). My neighbor across the street is my best neighborhood pal and he is 8 or 9 years older than me. The kids in my class are 45 years younger than me.

I know I am overanalyzing it. They were with their homies and I wasn’t part of their intimate crowd. Still, it was an odd feeling.

I guess when we’re young, we never really think we’ll be older. We have this notion that the age we are is the age we’re all supposed to be. That anyone who is a few years older than us is just old. I used to think that 20 was old. Then 30. Then 40… Now that I’m in my mid 50’s old is… well… how you feel.

I’m older than I once was and younger than I’ll be, that’s not unusual. “ Paul Simon.

"People my age have started looking gross."John Gorka


Chris Hass said...

Great post. I love that you have compartmentalized your best friends - school, neighborhood, etc. I'm glad to be among the others. Even if you are, like, ancient!

So you started by talking about artists and songs and it made me think about great songs that address aging. My favorite, by far, is Old Man by Neil Young. I love that verse...

Lullabies, look in your eyes,
Run around the same old town.
Doesn't mean that much to me
To mean that much to you.

There are a number of stories and interpretations that surround these lyrics but my favorite is the one about Young looking into buying this big beautiful farm in California. The owner, an older guy, reportedly looked at Neil in his "cool" tattered clothes (looking homeless)and questioned his ability to buy much of anything, none-the-less a farm. It may be wildly untrue but it definitely reminds me of days when I thought old people were judgmental and out of touch.

Other fun lyrics I thought of were...

"I hope I die before I get old"

"Ah, but I was so much older than, I'm younger than that now."

I know you can place each line to the song and artist since they're from the olden days of music.

In all seriousness, each day you play both guitar and dodge ball. That's gotta keep you young!

Chris Hass said...

I wish Blogger let us edit comments. I wrote "than" in place of "then." As Popeye would say...How embariskin'.

Meesh Hays said...

All I have to add to this conversation can be summed up in one Canadian word: RUSH. Those old dudes are still reading the words of the prophet written on the studio walls and filling concert halls with middle aged men and the wives and sons they drag along to hear the umpteenth album in their collection. I think they were wise to give up spandex years ago, as it would no longer work on any of them. Well, maybe on Geddy. Er, maybe not.

I will also add, now that I think about it and read Chris's comment, that my husband and his brother paid upwards of $100 each to hear Neil Young on his last tour. Fewer seats, way more bucks. Sold out. Pretty good math for an intimate experience with an actual musician, eh?

I'll hit the big four oh this summer and can't wait. Age really is so much more than the number! When I feel old, my little friends remind me that I am not, and when I feel young, I can see the 20somethings and be grateful that is past. Good times. Great perspective you've shared.

Emily Whitecotton said...

Excellent choice for a post. I think numbers and popularity are way overrated, just in general. Qualitative data is where its at. Excellent choices on the artists mentioned as well. What is funny to me, is that I didn't categorize them as old, in my head. Just good.

Your observations about the kids around you and eye contact are so nice. I think that if the majority of kids knew how very human the differently aged people around them actually are, there might be more conversation. I absolutely love the fact that you had a best friend who was older than your parents as a kid. So many of my friends have not been my age. I think it is a matter of listening for humanity and connections. We all have them, why should we not be friends? I just haven't ever understood the age barrier all that well.

Thank you for being so funky and far out.