A few weeks ago I found myself on a phone call that had taken a sudden serious turn. A friend was struggling with having recently been cited for DUI, and I was sharing various adventures and mistakes from my past as a means of finding some common ground. In short order, we hit on something we both agreed with: It was better to live longer and not leave our loved ones behind feeling angry and betrayed, because of selfish behavior that resulted in a tragedy.
This newspaper is distributed free, so the epiphanies offered may not always be that epic. But the conversation above was on my mind as I later read a review of the new Keith Richards autobiography. Richards is someone who was a hero in my generation and has defied the odds to literally live to tell the story. The narrative that has Joplin, Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and others checking out early and Richards surviving to become a grandfather with two large estates and a best-selling book is something that is at least thought-provoking. Richards quite logically should have been playing in that up-yonder band the Righteous Brothers sang about in 1974. But he’s still with us, playing music and being Zen with jokes about the geriatric Rolling Stones tours and their gray relaxed-fit audiences.
Richards may not truly represent anything, except proof that regardless of song lyrics you can get one thing that you want: longevity. But it might be good for my generation to wonder aloud whether we have adjusted as well as former drug addict and satyr Keith Richards has to the second act of our lives.
Agreeing that Richards still makes millions playing songs from the past, let’s start with music. The Beatles catalog has just become available on iTunes and while we will likely never again see a sustained pop cultural influence like those four men, my generation is having serious trouble letting go. Beatles music is smart, beautiful, and timeless. But we should also listen to new things and understand how they integrate into music as it is now, even if the whole physical plane of music listening and buying — record stores and discs — has mostly evaporated. Far from pretending to like what your kids are listening to, let yourself be independently drawn to new music forms and artists. And it shouldn’t just be Norah Jones and mellow tunes to steam salmon by.
More difficult is bridging the gap in self-realization. I’m not surprised that my generation has embraced a religion of fitness and better diet. What does surprise me is that there exists an assumption that cosmetic alteration is as valid as keeping your weight down. Never mind my various objections to plastic surgery… just tell me how a mother with a fixed face and a father who is dying his hair can gain traction in an argument with their 16 year-old daughter about her new snake tattoo; the one on her right boob, “which by the way is real, Mom…!”
It’s more than a suggestion that aging is being met with denial as often as acceptance. But, isn’t our philosophy to “rock”…as long as we can? Yeah, that’s good at something like an Eagles concert at $65 per chunk of lawn in front of an amphitheater. However it may not promote mind/body housekeeping chores such as making sure your eyes are good enough to drive at night, or fighting to keep Republicans from turning off Medicare. Next time you’re having a party, put on a CD at low volume and ask, “Who can hear that?” After that little game, decide if it’s really a good idea to next suggest a round of Twister.
Then there’s the sex thing, which is probably a separate column that I will write 50 different ways and then never submit to my editor. It’s much bigger than just firing back at the whole Viagra scam, although those “ED” commercials where one needs to be ready “when the moment strikes” are at least half right. One needs to be ready at the moment your spouse announces that restlessness and fear of losing physical appeal has led them to another’s arms. That’s the moment when the kitchen walls actually do come apart and a fire breaks out where the sink was. Fire, or a divorce.
A word I’ve been pondering of late is “grace.” Many of its various definitions work as something one could strive for. And it looks like a lot of us will be given the time to continue striving, and to contribute to this world and the lives of others in meaningful ways. Most of us can clearly recall the carelessness of our youth and the chances we took, chemical or otherwise. While too many were claimed down that road, it’s at least interesting to note that Buddy Holly wrongly chose to fly in a small plane in bad weather. Curtis Mayfield was killed when a stage light array fell on him. Keith Richards might have left us sooner as the result of falling out of a tree. It’s not always excess but more a mix of fate and choices that can bring sudden loss. Fate might be something we thought was inevitable, and maybe the wild ride of Keith Richards shows us that the landing need not always be a crash. Choices are something else entirely. We can still rock our world with the right ones.