Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Age Relativism

Richard Roeper was channeling one of my obsessions an item in his column yesterday.

If she's 46, he must be dead by now

Speaking of age-differential, the 1,000th song I uploaded to iPod happened to be "Hey Nineteen" by Steely Dan, and as I was listening to it, I had this thought: The girl in the song is 46 now.

Do you ever do that? You hear an old pop song on the radio, with somebody singing, "I can't see me loving nobody but you, for all my life," or, "Children behave, that's what they say when we're together," and you realize the "characters" in the song would be in their 60s by now, shaking their heads about those crazy hippie-young-love days of so long ago.

"Hey Nineteen," released in 1980, was penned by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, who would have been around 30 and 32, respectively, at the time. It's the story of a 30ish guy trying to connect with a college girl and lamenting, "Hey Nineteen, that's 'Retha Franklin, she don't remember the queen of soul . . . she thinks I'm crazy but I'm just growing old."

No we got nothing in common
No we can't talk it all
Please take me along
When you slide on down

Like a lot of Steely Dan's best work, "Hey Nineteen" is eclectic and funny and melancholy. But as time goes on, it takes on an added layer. Whether based on a real person or a purely fictional creation, the girl in the song is now middle-aged -- and if she engaged a 19-year-old in conversation, odds are the 19-year-old would have no idea who Steely Dan is.
Oh my God, I do the age math thing all the time. There is an age slide rule in my head that gets right to work anytime is see or hear a reference to age in a book or old TV show or whatever. It doesn’t have to even be a specific reference to age like in Roeper’s Steely Dan example. I could be sitting there watching an old Andy Griffith show and suddenly I’m trying to figure out what year it was made, how old I was, my parents were, Andy Griffith’s age then and now, how much older am I now than Don Knotts was a the time…it’s endless. I do this sort of thing so much, it’s really become second nature.

Oddly enough, it was about a month ago I heard Hey Nineteen on the radio and had thoughts along the line of Roeper’s. For the record I (and Roeper for that matter) was about 19 when that song was recorded. The front end of the baby boom generation is 10 to 15 years older than I am, and throughout my life they have seemed so much older. But I keep catching up to that age that I thought was distant and old. Twenty years ago, while I was in my mid 20s, the boomer rock starts were all cracking 40. 40! How could they possibly still be trying to rock, I wondered. Well now they are over 60 and some of them are still going.

The worst, or at least scariest part of my age relativism obsession, comes when someone, usually some older celebrity, dies. I immediately calculate what year they were my current age and then I project my life to that point. Gulp, Kurt Vonnegut was my age in 1968. I remember 1968. Vonnegut died at age 84. Not a bad age to live to and probably a “best case” scenario for me. So at best, I’ve got the distance from 168 until now to live. And on I go.

A couple of age related notes on the Steely Dan songs:

-- As someone who was 19 or 20 when the song came out, I know that people my age were at least generally aware who Aretha Franklin was.

--It sounds funny to me now to hear the “I’m just growing old” lyric in that song from a couple of guys barely over 30. Hmmmm, let’s see…if they were 30 in 1980, the year I turned 20, that means they were about my age in 1997 when I turned 37 and …oh never mind!

Update: 19 year-olds today maybe DO know what Steely Dan is:
…last night I took a vacation from my problems and went to see Steely Dan at the Beacon Theatre here in scenic New York City. Predictably, the show was crawling with lots of hot, young chicks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ringo sang
"she's sixteen
she's beautiful
and she's mine"
Ringo would go to jail today.
How times have changed.