While writing an email to my two children this morning I mentioned how weird it feels to be sixty-one years old. The best analogy I could create was that being sixty-plus is like being a on a long train that is still moving. You can walk back the line of cars to encounter the experiences, memories and friends you’ve made in life, but all the while, you need to remember that the train is still moving.
Some people seem to think it’s possible or wise to park themselves in one car of the train and stay there the rest of their life’s journey. They might fix themselves in 80s music, or some other era, and never change their tastes again.
That’s not how I like to live. While I appreciate how creative and great the artists from Classic Rock truly were, I think it’s inane to turn off the brain to any other kind of music. I try to listen to new stuff all the time, but then Sirius XM stole their best channel for new music, The Loft, and I’ve been reduced to mining the occasional new tune from The Spectrum.
Yet the Classic Rock and Deep Tracks and Classic Rewind stations are all pumping along unquestioned. They must have solid audiences while The Loft, for all its creative energy and eclectic playlist, has been rendered to the dustbin, replaced by single-artist dedication playlists and hosts such as Billy Joel, the Eagles and the like.
It all strikes me as ironic and inevitable at the same time, like the lyrics of Jackson Browne who wrote,
“Make room for my 45s alongside your 78, nothing survives but the way we live our lives…”
Of course, as I write this, the song Good Vibrations in playing over the sound system at the diner called Daddio’s that I frequent one a week or so for lunch. The place is decorated with genuine nostalgia articles from the 60s -80s mostly, with a few chunks of the 50s as well.
Now the song God Only Knows is being sung by Carl Wilson, that Beach Boy with the amazingly clear voice. David Bowie later covered that song in credible fashion, but nothing can touch the Carl version for purity and inspiration.
These songs all fit somewhere in the train of my life. They also often remind me of the things I was doing all those years. If I park myself in the train of the 1970s it brings up a filmstrip of those early years of running cross country and track. Between the running and the music and the girls and birds with whom I was alternately obsessed, there was very little room for absorbing things such as algebra. So I didn’t. And nearly failed the class.
Now that I look back at my life from the ripe age of 61 years old, I’m actually rather proud of that failure in math class. I’m also proud of the stubborn unwillingness to participate in the reading competition where our paper boats moved around the perimeter of the room for every book we read in the SRA program. For some reason at the tender age of seven years old I decided “fuck that” and stopped reading.
That was likely my first DNF in a competition of any sort, but when my mother showed up to consult with the teacher about my lack of progress they both asked why I’d stopped reading. I pointed to the boats of my classmates on the opposite side of the room and told my teacher and mom, “I’m waiting for them to come around to me, then I’ll start again.” What a smart little fucker I could be in a pinch.
I also recall the day that a junior high gym teacher tried to punish me for not wanting to play badminton. “Okay, you can run the whole hour instead,” he threatened. “Good. I’ll do that,” I spit back. And thus, for two weeks straight, I showed up for gym class and ran the whole damned hour. And loved it. The freedom to think and to hurt felt good.
Perhaps these were not signs of a well-adjusted child. Surely there were some attention deficit issues going on, but also some defiance of authority.
As I’ve learned over the years, I was not alone in my inattention to standard classroom fare. Many’s the artist and free thinker that was bored out of their minds by schooling. Certainly, John Lennon ditched a few classes and in some ways, I was as angrily distracted in my life.
Yet by the time he reached forty years old, Lennon was wising up and changing as a person. Then some nutcase jealous of his fame shot him in the head. To me, that’s proof that the supposedly sane world is crazier than any angst I could throw at it. To some, having the right and tools to kill at will is far more important than a well-regulated society. Nutso.
Probably if I’d been thrown in the military in the late 1970s all that obstinant attitude would have been beaten out of me. But then again, I think not. Watch the movie The Thin Red Line. I think I’d have been a lot more like the central character in that movie. Keep your consideration until the enemy surrounds you. Shoot when you must. Then go down in a hail of bullets because your trying to help someone else survive. And what’s the real loss?
Instead of the military, I chose to keep on running, and took that on as disciplined as a goddamn grunt on the war front. That’s how I fought my way through the rolling train and foxholes of my own naivete. We all fight our wars in different ways, and the long train of life keeps on rolling.
Now I stand near the front of life’s long train and think back to all those moments and laugh a little. It is indeed a long train home when you think about it.