But there are things going on. Shaving seems increasingly complicated for some reason. I'm sore after a long walk. An afternoon nap gets me through the day. I see strangers my age at the grocery store and I feel like hailing them as long-lost friends, as if we are both members of a minority group. And the kid bagging the groceries looks right through me like I'm not there. It all adds up to one thing: winter is coming; it ain't here yet, but it will be before you know it.
So naturally I want to know how the musical artists who have gotten me through my life so far are doing with the same experience. Poor Pete Townshend. I bet he can't go to the pub or the corner store without someone asking, "Hey Pete! I thought you said you hoped you'd die before you got old! Well, now you're old! Huh? Huh?" But I don't know, because I haven't listened to his stuff for years. Is he even writing new stuff?
There's Paul Simon, who wrote a song not too long ago called "Old":
Down the decades every year
Summer leaves and my birthday’s here
And all my friends stand up and cheer
And say man you’re old
Now there's a guy who's always got aging on his mind. About 40 years ago he said in a song, "I was 21 years when I wrote this song / I'm 22 now but I won't be for long." And in "Old Friends" he said, "How terribly strange to be 70." Well, Paul, pretty soon you'll be 70 and you can tell us if it's strange or not. My guess is it will seem pretty normal.
What about Dylan? It struck me last year when I saw him in Columbus, in fact, while he was in the middle of singing it, that "Mr. Tambourine Man" is an old man's song:
My weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet,
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street's too dead for dreaming.
My senses have been stripped, my hands can't feel to grip,
My toes too numb to step ...
I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way,
I promise to go under it.
But he didn't sing it like he was still connected to it. There was a lot more fire in his more recent material, like "Floater":
The old men 'round here, sometimes they get
On bad terms with the younger men
But old, young, age don't carry weight
It doesn't matter in the end
Then there's Neil Young. I love the Neilster, but I haven't gotten his last few albums, so I don't know how he's doing with the aging thing. Could he still sing "Old Man"?
Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
There's the wonderful and underrated Jonathan Richman, who's just about exactly my age. Is he still singing "Dignified and Old"?
Someday we'll be dignified (Hey kids, Hey kids)
Someday we will be dignified and old
Actually, I don't think pop artists, when they get old, write songs about it. It's the young men who do that. The old guys just don't feel like they are old. (Exhibit 1: The Rolling Stones.) It reminds me of a discussion I had years ago at Hebrew Union College with a really old professor (now deceased). I mentioned to him the hoary idea the Solomon had written the Song of Solomon when he was young and Koheleth when he was old. He said, "It's exactly the opposite. He wrote Koheleth when he was young, because it's typical of the young to put on an image of self-conscious world-weary disillusionment. And he wrote the Song when he was old and could think of nothing but sex."
Maybe that is the way of the world. The young write songs about being old, because they fear it. The old don't write about it, because they don't feel like they are old. It seems to be true of my generation anyway. In a few years, you can walk down the hallway of a nursing home — past the bedpans, the walkers, and the wheelchairs — and hear the stereos playing "Blitzkrieg Bop" or "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" or "Walk on the Wild Side," and there will be black light posters hanging on the walls, and peace signs next to the trays of pills.
Getting old? Not for a while yet. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for my nap.
UPDATE (7/28): Follow-up posts from Tim Bulkeley and Gordon Govier. BTW, Gordon is the host of the excellent radio program The Book & The Spade.