Rock ’n’ roll lives, but . . .

Taken from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette Editorial page on 10-21-11



Rock ’n’ roll music is littered with larger-than-life pronouncements about youth, aging and mortality. Here’s an update on some of the most famous:

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

Paul McCartney wrote that for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album back in 1967. Well, Sir Paul passed that significant birthday more than five years ago and still basks in the warm glow of love, respect and admiration from his international fan base. He filled Yankee Stadium twice in July, and just wed for a third time this month.

“Too old to rock ’n’ roll, too young to die.”

Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull turned 64 in August and has tour dates listed on his website that will carry him and the group through 2012, performing their Thick as a Brick album in its entirety for the first time in 40 years.

Then there’s the oldest, boldest, prematurest proclamation of them all: “I hope I die before I get old!” Pete Townshend is far beyond fulfilling the arrogance-of-youth declaration he wrote in 1965 at age 20. He turned 66 in May and is still productive in rock ’n’ roll. To paraphrase the kind affirmation by septuagenarian Bob Dylan: “Pete was so much older then, he’s younger than that now.”

Finally, there’s this one: “Can you imagine us years from today sharing a park bench quietly? How terribly strange to be 70.” Twenty-something songwriter Paul Simon penned those words for the song “Old Friends” on Simon & Garfunkel’s classic Bookends album back in 1968. Well, hold on to your AARP card, everybody: Simon turned 70 last week. And Art Garfunkel reaches that same milestone on November 5th.

What are we aging baby boomers to make of all this? How about: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” That quote from Groucho Marx should lighten up this subject, which furrows the brow of many soon-to-be or already-are senior citizens. Let’s face it. Any self-respecting boomer who isn’t thinking about mortality is just fooling himself. The clock is ticking. The days are dwindling down to a precious few. And the conveyor belt to the dustbin of eternity is picking up speed. But I still say our collective generational response to all of this should be a loud and clear:

Carpe diem!

Or in the more recent, equivalent, phrase of a dying Warren Zevon, in his last interview on Letterman: “Enjoy every sandwich.”

The best antidote to age anxiety can be found in the writings of Viktor Frankl, the late Holocaust survivor and originator of the school of psychotherapy known as logotherapy. In his ageless book Man’s Search for Meaning, he included a passage describing why young people should envy their elders: “Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past — the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the value they have realized — and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.”

Amen to that.

Remember the million-dollar quartet? Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis gathered to record together at Sun Records in Memphis on a December day in 1956—a session that inspired the recent Broadway musical. Only Lewis is still alive, so he called the album he released 50 years later Last Man Standing. One of his best songs is “Rockin’ My Life Away.”

Those are words to live by. And, by the way, when Lewis (aka The Killer) made an appearance on American Bandstand on Thanksgiving Day 1957, the other guests on the show were a couple of kids from Queens who called themselves Tom and Jerry, promoting their teen hit “Hey Schoolgirl.” Their real names? Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

How terribly strange to be 70? Not so much. Writing this has made me hungry. I think I’ll turn on Dylan and make myself a sandwich.

Pete Fornatale, a longtime New York radio personality, is author of Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock.

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