Paul McCartney, Tom Waits, Johnny Carson and Peter Pan on aging

As I look at my graying muzzle in the mirror I wonder if I’m at a crossroad. There was a time when people guessed my age to be much younger than I was, but as I enter my 40s it’s looking less and less like I belong on the set of “21 Jump Street.”

As Paul McCartney dyes his hair and continues to shout, “She was just 17 and you know what I mean” into microphones around the world he is looking sillier and sillier.

Thanks to my flat caps and round wire-rimmed spectacles, I’m looking more like I belong amongst my favorite Moveable Feast writers from the 40s: Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, Samuel Beckett, Langston Hughes.

This metamorphosis wasn’t a conscious change on my part. I just looked in the mirror one day and it was like Eugene O’Neill was looking back at me.

If I were to shave my beard and get different glasses, I would look younger. But what would be the point? Taking it a step further, wouldn’t putting energy into looking younger eventually be to my detriment?

As Paul McCartney dyes his hair and continues to shout, “She was just 17 and you know what I mean” into microphones around the world he is looking sillier and sillier.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I would bet that my favorite remaining Beatle is feeling immense pressure to fend off the flow of time.

I’ve had my own Peter Pan complex through the years. I thought snow on the roof meant a brittle mind, so I fought against the idea of aging.

Enter Tom Waits, a throwback crooner in a porkpie hat who embraces all things old. To hear him sing “you’ll have a head start if you are among the very young at heart” is a blessing and a curse.

The snarl and crack of his voice illustrates all too well that none of us are going to get out of this world alive. But beyond the deterioration is something else—a hint of the light coming through the cracks.

Getting to the light in this case seems to mean accepting my fate. If I can’t turn back the clock, there really is no crossroad—just the chance to compose myself, get my bearings and proceed with dignity.

In his autobiography Steve Martin credited Johnny Carson’s longevity to a kind of dignity that one gets from knowing and accepting who they are. It’s what let Carson go gracefully through the years.

Have you seen Sarah Jessica Parker, Bruce Jenner, Madonna or Mariah Carey lately? You can only keep things together for so long.

Getting back to the Tom Waits example, I used to think the man who intentionally inserted the sound of vinyl’s pops and clicks into his CDs was the farthest thing from my Peter Pan vantage point.

Now with the advantage of age-given wisdom, I see him singing “Young At Heart” in a whole new way and I am thinking that spackling your face and dying your hair not only eats away at your time and money, it also gnaws away at your psychology.

Mental health professionals will tell you that giving mental energy to things you can’t change is a sure path to depression. Isn’t holding yourself to an artificial ideal doing exactly that?

Shouldn’t McCartney look more like a gray bard who has weathered a life on the road by now? Doesn’t he deserve the respect that would come with that?

We do have to pay the price of time, but who defines what that price should be?

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About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in music, The Joy of Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Paul McCartney, Tom Waits, Johnny Carson and Peter Pan on aging

  1. Merrill Ann Gonzales says:

    Gene, I’m so glad I’m not young any more! Great song…and true too! At my age you realize how short life really is…and you don’t waste too much time of things that don’t interest you enough to fall in love with them.

  2. Ella says:

    Everyone is entitled to choose how they wish to age. McCartney looks fabulous as does Madonna. Having just seen McCartney in concert, I found nothing silly about him or his look, on the contrary he is a man who takes care of himself. It’s got to feel right for you. They are able to carry a youthful look further and great for them. It’s up to you to decide how you want to age. It’s just sad when people have to run down others to feel good.

    • genemyers says:

      You are right. As I mentioned in this column, which has yet to hit newspapers, I am also a big McCartney fan. How everyone decides to age is a personal choice. But I do think there is a lot of pressure on our poor stars to hold it together in order to keep a brand going, and that really isn’t fair to them.

  3. Andy says:

    Whether or not we accept it, we live in a judgmental world. If you look young, older people won’t take you seriously or think you are in a position of high power. If you look old, younger people think you’re in a place of self righteous complacency (the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” comes to mind). It’s not surprising that many of us (to some degree) adjust our lifestyles, appearance, etc. in order to appeal to the greatest number of people, and on a basic level, it makes sense.

    Simply put, we want to look physically pleasing and youthful because the first judgment people make is with their eyes. If wisdom comes with age and you want to appeal to a younger mass of people who don’t have your wisdom, the easiest way to do this would be to show them you have what they have: youth and virility.

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