The soundtrack to these thoughts is Patsy Cline. Some mornings-call it post-Today recovery position-I have to gear myself up for the day ahead with Back In Baby’s Arms and Your Cheatin’ Heart. I don’t always depend on Patsy. Some days, it takes Otis Redding’s A Change is Gonna Come, and sometimes I go a whole week with Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, a record that’s helped me through four decades. My favourite track is Girl from the North Country, the duet Dylan sings with Johnny Cash, but I’ve been singing Lay Lady Lay to the chickens for so long now they know all the words by heart.
Lordy. Patsy Cline. Otis Redding. Johnny Cash. All dead. Only Dylan is still alive and he’s 70. Who’d have thought: Bob Dylan 70! Certainly, when Nashville Skyline came out in 1969, he seemed Forever Young, although that song wasn’t released until 1974, when he was 33, an age when we all felt that we would change the world and never grow old.
This ‘oldness on my mind’ moment is because of Englebert Humperdinck. Although a 75-year-old singer representing England in the Eurovision Song Contest is a triumph for the Late Youth movement, I haven’t been celebrating. Here’s a singer who has sold 150 million records, but nobody knows anyone who’s bought one. In fact, the only song most people have heard is Please Release Me, a song you kinda remember hearing on the radio when you went inside the petrol station to pay. Which can’t be right because you didn’t go inside to pay back in 1967. A nice man pumped the petrol for you and you paid him.
Of course, it’s a triumph in our youth-centric universe to choose someone who was born before self-service, credit cards, split atoms, radar, television, penicillin, contact lenses, microwaves, laptops, internet, Google, email, YouTube, laser surgery, Facebook and statins. It’s one of those quirky ideas, like having a 1952 Jaguar race a Formula 1 car on Top Gear. They did market research and discovered that the Eurovision audience wanted a singer who was born before man walked on the Moon.
Every year, our old notions of ageing get pushed further away. Last week, my friend Jane got married. She wore a red Issey Miyake dress and didn’t look a day over 50, although she’s 71. Colin, the bridegroom, looked boyish and adorable as he beamed at his bride. In November, he will be 90. Two weeks before the wedding, they went to Costa Rica on their honeymoon, an adventure of such daring that you couldn’t pay me to follow in their footsteps.
The truth is, I believe that it’s never too soon to start thinking about old age. I like the literature: All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West; Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner; the poem Ulysses by Tennyson; an out-of-print anthology called Late Youth that’s practical, realistic and funny. One entry in it proved to me that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
The biographer Selina Hasting describes driving a face-lifted and age-conscious American couple around London. Whenever they arrived somewhere, she would heave herself out of the car, making that ‘ooof’ sound. The Americans were appalled. ‘Stop that,’ they said. ‘It makes you sound so old!’ From the moment I read that, I stopped hoisting myself out of the car. I now take a deep breath and exit as gracefully as a lady-in-waiting to The Queen.
I have a couple more nuggets to pass on. In Roger Rosenblatt’s Rules for Aging, Rule 7 says that, after the age of 30, it is unseemly to blame one’s parents for one’s life. (Underneath, in small print, he writes: ‘Make that 25′.) And finally, there comes a time when you have to stop seeking the meaning of life and enjoy the experience of being alive. Bob Dylan works for me and so does Bach. And Englebert? Give me a few more years.
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