An Aged Punk Is But a Paltry Thing: To Rage or Not to Rage

I remember going to a Warren Zevon show at a bar in 1992[1] and overhearing some kid say, “There’s nothing but old people here.”  He was talking about people like me, an overripe just turned 39.  As it turns out, coincidentally, the show took place a day after Zevon’s 45th birthday, and despite his semi-elderly status, he put on one helluva show. His encore cover of Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin,” actually stirred for an n-second the dead embers of my long extinguished revolutionary zeal. 

Of course, 39 or 45 might seem ancient to a 20-something, but to my mother, 60 at the time, or to my 92-year-old grandmother-in-law, I was only on the second leg of my TWC[2] flight to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no tourist returns.

[montage of calendar pages flapping and tearing off in a really stiff breeze][3]

Yikes! Seems just yesterday being a boomer meant you were young; now it’s a term of derision, a descriptor of someone in the market for a walk-in tub, someone whose gauze-wrapped brain is incapable of gazing beyond his own limited experience. In fact, aging is such an obsession that our local paper has a weekly column on how to handle encroaching decrepitude. 

I don’t usually read the column, but glancing at this week’s edition, I did a double take when I saw this headline: 

Aging for Amateurs: King Lear shows how to find freedom in limitations

WTF, my inner keyboard typed. Lear as role model? He ends up In Act 3 evicted by his fiendish daughters onto a heath during a hurricane. Earlier, the doddering king had disinherited his one decent child, Cordelia, and at the end of the play (spoiler alert) he carries her corpse in his arms as he intones, “Never, never, never, never, never?”

So I read the article, and what the author cites is a brief moment in Act 5 when Lear mistakenly thinks he and soon-to-be-hanged Cordelia are headed to prison. 

No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.

The author of the article on aging, Bert Keller, concludes

The old king acknowledges the reality of his inevitable imprisonment. Looking beyond the literal, we know what the deeper meaning here is for us: not dungeon or detention center but the limitations and losses of advanced age. Our bodies weaken, our minds slow down, hearing fails and we move around with effort. And on top of all that, now we’re shut in by COVID-19. Yet here is 80-year-old Lear, saying “Let’s away to prison” with a willing heart! That is the amazing thing. He interprets unavoidable withdrawal in terms of inner freedom.

Then again, on the other side of the poetic ledger, there is Dylan Thomas, who suggests “[w]e rage, rage, against the dying of the light,”  like my man WB Yeats who asks:

Did all old men and women, rich and poor,
Who trod upon these rocks or passed this door,
Whether in public or in secret rage
As I do now against old age?

Well, all of this is a long-winded way to introduce a clever music video on the subject, which features for a second or two my brother, the musician and actor Fleming Moore, playing a punk who has made it to his golden years.” [4]  The songwriter Killjoy says, “The song is about growing old, obsolete, irrelevant, dying, nostalgia, and being OK with all of that.”

The band is Killjoy & the Cutthroats, and the song is “Golden Years for a Gutter Punk.”  


[1] 23 January, the Music Farm, Charleston, SC

[2] Time’s Winged Chariot

[3] I prefer this cliché to the fast-forwarding of clock hands doing the dervish, spinning like crazy as the sun rises-sets outside the window.

[4] He’s the bald guy with the rake.

Corky Cain, Washed Up Surfer, Sings of Dead End Hedonism

 

 

sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

 

My ash blonde hair has disappeared,

leaving a freckled scalp in its stead.

Two black bags bulge beneath my eyes,

All rheumy and rimmed with red.

 

They say sagacity is recompense.

(I’d settle for a dollop of common sense).

Hey, little lady, could you spare me a smile?

(Or at least a wink instead of a wince?)

 

No, when it comes to wisdom,

I’m an old lecher banging on a drum,

cruising the boulevards looking for love

in the suburban sprawl of Byzantium.

 

Playing the fool, the pantaloon,

howling for hours at the hollow moon,

waking in the morning with a broke down head,

knowing that never will be all too soon.

 

Old friend, Willy B, sing me a song

that will drown out the barbarous gong

of the death knell clanging in my brain

you, the king of love gone wrong.

The Lighter Side of the Apocalypse

Crumbling civilizations and apocalyptic doom are all the rage.  I should know. They’ve been my shtick for the 8 years I’ve been publishing blogs.  As I decline into the vale of years, what could be more natural than to project my own serotonin-starved vision of bleakness onto the world at large, to float like a dark cloud above the carnival, to cast a shadow on the festivities?

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees –
Those dying generations – at their song . . .

I suspect that this tendency of the aged to proclaim hell-n-handbaskets is a biological imperative as old as agriculture.  Remember the Greek myth of the Golden Age? Grandmama’s tales of the good ol’ days back on the farm?  How the Coca-Colas of your youth tasted so much better hissing from the fountain with a dollop of cheery juice?  [I suspect that Great Grandmama’s was even more pleasurable packing that eponymous ( i.e., not-so-secret) ingredient].

[cue Abner Jay]

As my aging body slouches towards dissolution, the world fast forwards beyond my capabilities and understanding.  As I carefully negotiate the crowds, pedestrians rush past staring into boxes the size of cigarette packs, manipulating buttons with their thumbs.

Honk honk!

Pouring pollution from their tail pipes, vehicles the size of city states shimmer like mirages in the gridlock.  Tinted windows obscure whoever inside has jacked up Jay-Z so loud that the bass lines sound like King Kong pounding on war drums.

Back home, my television offers more channels that I have the strength and/or attention span to cycle through: kung fu movies, costume jewelry emporiums, forty-year-old quiz shows, twenty-year-old football games, infomercials on ab-crushers, propagandists posing as news anchors.

Not to mention the kids these days, tattooed and pierced, playing the exotic dancer on Instagram, fantasizing about vampires, ending every statement with an interrogative lilt, sounding all alike whether they hail from Harlan, Kentucky or Exeter, New Hampshire.

An electorate with the attention span of a muscle spasm.

Well, if biologically I’m in decline, then the world must be in decline.  Some corporate evil force is somehow manipulating us!

***

Back in my g-g-generation’s swaggering youth, we shrugged off atomic annihilation the way we did parking tickets.  Wisely, we didn’t fret over scenarios of nuclear winters and genetic mutations because it was more fun (and made more sense} to devote our springtimes engaging in the lovedance beneath batik bedspreads in hippie vans, dormitories, and/or seedy apartments.  The future existed as merely an abstraction.

In the immortal words of the Tams: Be young, be foolish, but be happy.

All too imminent horrowshow scenarios (e.g., getting drafted and sent to Nam) relegated more speculative disasters to paranoia’s hinterlands.  Our elders – as I do now – articulated the Roman analogies, only targeted the bacchanalia of Woodstock rather than the Trimalchio’s Banquet of conspicuous excess that characterizes Late Empire capitalism (my favorite whipping child).

Despite their self-decorations, today’s youth strike me as more concerned about our planet and future generations than we proliferates.  They wisely love their planet and understand the delicate balances that sustain existence.  They fear not the sudden nuclear explosion (which may be naive given proliferation) but the gradual erosion of resources and climate change.

I say bravo! Live for today as you think ahead,  mindfully turning down the AC before you climb the stairs with your lover. Tune out the hyperbolic curmudgeons (like me) and cultivate your gardens.

Be young, be wise, but be happy.  And save the planet!  Vote!

O Heart, O Troubled Heart

Marius van Dokkum "Doe Het Zelver"

Marius van Dokkum
“Doe Het Zelver”

 

. . . Decrepit age that has been tied to me

                                    As to a dog’s tail . . .

 

What was I saying? Something about graying,

Growing old, fading away, tattered memories,

Subtraction, recession, autumnal leaves,

Withering, unraveling, fraying?

Selfie

When I first started teaching at my current school, I was 32, and the mamas of the Upper School students looked matronly to me.  Now 30 years later, the students’ mamas look like jail bait, and those very first students I taught look matronly.

Which begs the question, what do I look like?

Click arrow above for sound.

Selfie

For every tatter in its mortal dress . . . 

Now, when the man in the mirror stares back,

it’s not my father I see,

but old WH Auden himself,

that mask of overindulgence,

pocked and puckered,

eyes rheumy, cross-hatched with red,

the tattered, bruised bags beneath

stuffed with hobo rags – used t-shirts,

yellowed boxers – plus a half pint of rot gut —

artifacts of excess, of bad habits

embraced like brothers,

boon companions for many a year.

WH Auden

WH Auden