old man music

Somebody who knows his or her stuff should be writing about the music old people make.

I am more moved more often these days by the late music of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Springsteen, Neil Young, Billie Holiday at the end of her life, Lester Young at the end of his, the cracked notes, the in-your-face mortality.

The answer to the question “How do you play music that means something when you’re 60, 70, 80” was right there all the time, of course. The great blues revival of the 60s brought older men onto the stage and they made blues from the perspective of older people.

That we were hearing blues at a remove from what a 25 year old Muddy Waters might sing and play was not so obvious – by and large the music made during the revival was all most music lovers knew of the blues at the source.

(Imagine rap being similarly rediscovered in 20 or 30 years and a 60 year old Jay-Z’s music being what hip hop is for most people. Safe to say it will be cooler and more considered and less dangerous, less certain of where it leads, while more certain of its methods and limits.)

But we were hearing older music then, and are now. This is music that finishes what rock and roll started; it works out how Rhonda and Caroline and the girl in Sweet Little 16 got old, what they held onto and gave up. It’s so close to country or country blues or American song or classic jazz that you file it on those shelves, but the real definition of the music is – on Cash’s American recordings, Holiday’s Verves, Dylan’s magnificent Tell Tale Signs – the performer him or herself; it’s finally Johnny Cash music or Dylan music or whatever. They know how to take what they need, use it and move on with a minimum of fuss.

Most important, (if you’re like me, in a fearful 50s and wondering how it all stays together or falls apart going forward) this music can be your friend, your companion, your solace or inspiration. It can be what rock was then, what’s been missing for a while now for many of us – music for facing what’s next.


One thought on “old man music

  1. Warren Zevon’s dying-of-cancer epic may be the ultimate piece of old man music — music from a man who knew he’d never make another record again.

    And his “Keep Me In Your Heart For A While” is simply heartbreaking. (Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” is similarly devastating, for different reasons.)

    Many artists have written about death, from Shakespeare on. Few have done so while actually dying. Has anyone ever done it better than Zevon did?

    As for me, I am acutely aware of the passage of time. I always have been, at least since I became a parent. Being a parent is to be, at first, a chronicler of “firsts”. Soon, you realize that you will begin noting the “lasts”.

    I remember with a horrible intensity the last time I rocked my oldest son to sleep in my lap. I knew it was the last time then, and cried like a baby while he snored.

    Last concert, last swim meet, last prom, last day in my house.

    I deal with obituaries daily and realize that most of these folks had appointments for next week and were planning vacations for the summer.

    And our business of journalism instructs us, if we care to listen closely, that life is random. Here today, flattened by a truck tomorrow.

    I am all too aware of the passage of time and it is too much for me to think about.

    Zevon’s album is wonderful, but unlistenable. I cannot bear it.

    A whole genre of music about “facing what’s next”? There isn’t enough Prozac in the county for that.

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