Eleven years ago, I was months away from gagging down a jagged pill, on which was imprinted a very frightening number: 50. I was distraught. Only recently I had suffered a soul-jarring shock when, for the first time, I was informed that I was, at 49, actually older than the parents of one of my songwriting collaborators. Up until then, I hadn’t paid much attention to age. However, I likened hitting the big five-O to being immersed in honey, then plopped down on a hill of fire ants. At that juncture, I might have actually preferred the honey/ants torture to my horrendous, all-too-rapidly approaching birthday.
I co-opted Cher’s simple, two-word philosophy on aging: “It sucks.” With the pains and physical limitations brought on by wear and tear, longer recovery times after injuries and illnesses (not to mention post-partying), the sagging, the wrinkling, and the constant battle with weight, I saw absolutely nothing good about getting older. Since then, I have passed that theme on to Keefe Taylor, the “hero” of my new novel/mock memoir, Grand Pop. Teetering on the craggy precipice between turning 50 and becoming a first-time grandfather, the perennially teenaged, egocentric rock star recalls:
It was an hour into our spontaneous, red-eye flight, and I was the only passenger still awake. I sat there in silence; my crow-footed eyes wide open, staring ahead at what looked from my perspective like a slide into an abyss of obsolescence. From every angle, the view looked bleak, and I felt the dark, heavy tingle of depression collecting between my shoulder blades. I suppose that every person of a certain age eventually gets hit broadside with this same revelation. It’s a fact that’s profoundly sad, while being abso-bloomin’-lutely hilarious at the same time—if you’re into black comedy, which, I have to admit, I am. Such is the grand irony (or, dare I say, the intentional cruelty?) of God’s master plan (maybe “grand conspiracy” would be a more accurate designation).
Aforementioned revelation (pondered by this aging rock star, while riding a pungent passenger jet in the middle of a momentous night that neatly divides two of the most profound, life-changing experiences of said aging rock star’s life—drum roll, please): We spend a great deal of our lives waiting for life to begin. Then, before we even realize it’s been screaming along for years at break-neck speed, we’re on the downslide, clutching at roots and branches, trying to break the plunge into that shadowy canyon below—the one we call Death. Have a good chuckle, Big Guy. You probably never get tired of this one.
Since my 40s, I’ve consciously sought to discover the good in every experience (not always easy, me being by birth a dark, depressed Finn). So, I’m taxed to find some virtue in this aging thing. Well, here’s something: Every happenstance no longer appears to be life and death. In fact, most disappointments, disillusionments, and shortfalls now just roll through my tender belly with a single pang of remorse and a follow-up chuckle. I don’t find myself scrounging for the nearest razor blade when the word “no” is uttered, or when unforeseen circumstances—accidental, or naturally disastrous—throw my life into temporary turmoil. I have learned that “This, too, shall pass.” For the most part, I’ve learned to handle these sad annoyances without putting my fist through a window or hurling a lamp against a wall. It ain’t worth another trip to the emergency room for stitches. Hopefully I’ve put that brand of acting out in my past tense.
But, for me, a writer of songs and stories, the best part about getting older is that I now have so much to draw upon, experience that enriches my work. I truly enjoy collaborating with younger, less-seasoned songwriters, kids with stars in their eyes. They bring their enthusiasm and I bring my own recollections of having survived the youthful passions they feel now. I also come equipped with the kind of craft that only years of trial and error can hone. Alongside these pie-eyed young artists, I can revisit those long-ago yearnings, without having to relive the aching and kvetching. Many of my contemporaries complain that youthful performers don’t have any life experience to draw upon. I take strong issue with that stance. As songs are emotional things, there is no more emotional time in one’s life than those tumultuous years when every feeling is raw, exposed, and so, so important.
Call it wisdom. Call it callousness. As much as I might pretend that I’d love to be 20 again (and, of course, still know what I know now), I’m not sure I’d be willing to trade all of the craziness, outright hilarity, those magnificent characters, the little victories, the tears, and the love I’ve shared over these last 40 years for yet another stab at youth. Yeah, some mornings that guy in the mirror looks like crap. But, there’s still a glimmer behind those bloodshot baby blues that comes from having gazed upon a hell of a lot of awesome scenery over the decades. Could be worse. If I’d accomplished my rock-star dreams, as Keefe Taylor did, there’s a good chance I might not have lived to tell the tale. It’s certainly unlikely that I’d have found my true calling: to be a real writer.
Chere is absolutely right about growing older. “It sucks.” Still, as much as we may long to grab and restrain those cruel and unrelenting hands of the clock, we cannot turn back time.