Ninety
New Laws Help LGBT Elders

Old and Leading the Way

Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is Paul Goode who blogs as Citizen K and lives in the Pacific Northwest.

After a career in the high-tech business, he enjoys writing about such lifelong obsessions as politics, music, movies, books, travel and the Boston Red Sox. Getting older doesn’t stop him from having a good time even if getting out of bed isn’t as easy as it used to be.


A sure sign of pending dotage came when I idly flipped through Rolling Stone magazine’s top 50 CDs of the year and realized that of the two I owned, one of them was by 67-year-old Bob Dylan. And not only that, I hadn’t even heard of the other 48.

A deep fear set in, forcing me to confront the question I had been evading for years. Does aging mean the end of being cool? Does it imply a cultural hip replacement that relegates our CD player to endless repeats of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Greatest Hits?

It is true that the best work of many of the singers and bands we came of age with is long behind them. When I saw CSN last summer, it was to hear Teach Your Children and Almost Cut My Hair, to hear the old songs and reconnect with my youth. That’s fine: our kids might make fun of it now, but they will do it too.

I'm not getting any younger and much new rock and rap music doesn't speak to me by virtue of differences in life experience. That hardly disqualifies it from excellence, but it does disqualify me from grasping it well enough to comment on it intelligently.

That being said, I'm nonetheless struck by the exceptionally high quality of music released in 2008 by older artists, even if I am predisposed to appreciate it. In particular, I mean those musicians who find inspiration in aging, using perspective and hard-won wisdom to expand and deepen their artistic vision.

The best album I heard in 2008 was, hands down, Bob Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 (1989-2006). This collection of demos, alternate versions, old folk songs, live cuts and previously unreleased songs coheres unexpectedly into a sweeping dystopian vision of a major artist approaching old age.

This world is no great shakes, Dylan says, but music is at least a way of getting to the truth of it while celebrating the ability of humans to create and communicate through song.

On About Time, the trailblazing avant-garde pianist Paul Bley (75) improvises for 33 minutes about the nature of time and memory. Tempi shift suddenly, dynamics change, phrases linger nostalgically and then give way to something more pressing.

Largely contemplative, Bley explores the elusive nature of his subjects with insight and nuance. While his introspective style recalls Bill Evans, to these ears Bley plays with greater complexity and muscularity. Like time, About Time passes all too quickly while seeming to stand still, so for fun he includes an interpretation of Sonny Rollin's Pent-Up House. Beautiful, wise and compelling.

Joan Baez’ (67) pristine soprano is now more of a weathered contralto. No matter: On Day After Tomorrow, the voice of experience buttressed by a deeply held faith and Steve Earle's sympathetic production betters the easy certainties of her youth.

Singing ten songs by the likes of Earle, Patty Griffin, Elyza Gilkyson, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits (!), Baez makes them all indelibly hers. She looks back with few regrets, looks ahead with hope and still believes.

The Cuban songstress Omara Portuondo (78) may not be well known in this country, but that’s a function of misguided politics and not talent: Omara has the pipes of 25-year-old but sings with the wisdom of age.

Gracias consists mostly of ballads and lullabies supported by spare arrangements featuring fingerpicked seven-string guitar and various Cuban percussion instruments. The occasional guest enhances the proceedings, but they are hardly necessary.

The accompanying booklet is a gem: there's a photograph for every song of Omara at different stages of her life starting with childhood. The pictures range from candid family photos to glam shots from her days at the Havana Tropicana. The name of the CD may be Gracias, but it's we who should thank her for recording this gem.

Other older artists who released notable CDs in 2008 include Jackson Browne (60), Dr. John (68), Dick Gaughan (60), Emmylou Harris (61), Richie Havens (67), Charles Lloyd (70), Otis Taylor (60), and Andre Williams (72).

Last year, I saw outstanding performances from Baez, Kevin Burke (58), Gaughan (60), Lloyd, Robert Plant (60) with Alison Krauss, Bruce Springsteen (59), James Blood Ulmer (66), and Johnny Winter (64). 74-year old Leonard Cohen toured Europe and received scintillating reviews.

If I had to pick, the best performance I saw last year was by the 70-year old saxophonist Lloyd. It's enough to make me believe that my most creative days lie ahead.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Morgana King reflects on a most remarkable life in Second Saturn Cycle Retrospective.]

Comments

Judging by the quality of your writing, Paul, I'd say you have PLENTY of creative days ahead!

My favorite concert last year was Elton John, here in Stockholm. He seems to know what we want and keeps on givin' it to us. :)

"A cultural hip replacement" - what a glorious phrase! Is that original? If so, please may I borrow it?

Two years ago I saw Joan perform locally. About ten minutes into the concert, she took her shoes off and then proceeded to gather us all in by virtue of her voice. You're right, the 'perfect' soprano isn't there anymore; it's a warmer and wiser voice and all Joan!

Several thoughts came to mind as I read this excellent post. First, was the comments made by a younger generation of old whenever the Rolling Stones Tour - Two, was when I stopped listening to music on the radio and three, was a rememberance of my former love for Crosby,Stills, Nash and sometimes Young.

My answer to the comments about the Stones has always been (as with Dylan and others)is that this is what they do (meaning for some - this is their chosen career path). Yes, the could retire and seemingly at times they did take time off - yet, love and passion for music ignites and off they go.

The music on the radio was for different reasons. Classic Rock left much to be desired - too many songs overlooked - too many Breakfasts with The Beatles. As to the newer, I liked some - some I didn't. My taste is eclectic - my ear is oddly, very commercial. Go figure.

And as for the rest, these days I find much comfort in listening to music. I often listen to folk - as well as big bands - as well as my favorites from the 60's 70's and 80's. For the newer artists there are enough to fill more spaces on the palette - especially, the awesome and more often than not overlooked Patty Griffin.

So, thank you for a interesting breakfast musing as well as taking another look at a topic that I often think of.

Thanks to all for the compliments.

Nikki: This year will be the 40th anniversary of Elton John's first release. And the guy still sells out wherever he plays. Amazing career.

Marian: Thanks, yes, and it's all yours!

Steven: I saw Joan last year. Wonderful show with an excellent band. "Joe Hill" still sends shivers down my spine.

Linda: I with you on the older bands. I've seen the Stones and the Who recently, and they had plenty of energy. Sure, Pete Townshend doesn't do the splits anymore, but he's a better guitarist. You have to respect that kind of dedication.

I am quite envious of those singers and musicians whose voices and physical abilities to play hold up over the years, allowing them to continue sharing their talents and passions as they journey toward Eldersville. As you rightly point out Paul, there are a few who are still at the top of their game.

The music in my extensive collection barely makes it into the eighties. I have little clue as to what music is in the “Top Forty” these days. Certainly a large portion of the fault with that probably has more to do with me than anything else but I do so miss hearing more of what was…..but for the most part, what was will be no more.

I was a singer and musician of little fame but began to lose my voice in my mid-fifties. And my fingers didn’t move across the old keyboard quite like it used to do when I was younger. It is tough to deal with when you have had a love affair with singing and playing since being a child. But…..if I can’t be as good as I ever was, then for me it’s over.

I recently saw excerpts from a Paul McCartney concert and it was terrible. No….he was terrible. And fans are going to say, “Well, I thought he was great! After all, he is 66 years old you know!” Of course he still has a large fan base, but that doesn’t make him exhume with the vocal talents of yesteryear. His talents certainly went far beyond his vocal abilities. Nevertheless, when it comes to a failing vocal talent, age may certainly be the cause and effect, but not an excuse. Elton John is indeed, on the other hand, still performing vocally as if he was still twenty years old.

More often than not however, I often see or hear talents of old who should have laid their guns aside and retired to the ranch years ago. For me it’s heartbreaking and painful to see singers and musicians expose their souls when the sharpness of their swords are no longer honed, dulled and chipped by time. Often you can see pity in the eyes of the audience, while other times, ridicule. Of course they love what they do! Of course they miss those audience fed performances! But it is over and regardless of one’s opinions on aging and respect for accomplishment, some things are best laid to rest.

Certainly we admire and respect these talents for what they have accomplished and brought to our lives. Their talents created the soundtrack of our lives. They were there when we fell in love, when our hearts were broken and when joy was the order of the day. So do I want to bring a shadow over all that with some measure of pity? I think not!

Vocally speaking, if you’ve still got it….flaunt it. If not…..park it!

Thanks for the great post, Paul, and for introducing me to Omara Portuondo. (Thanks to YouTube, too.) I found Joan there, too, singing Day After Tomorrow. I like her voice even better now.

What rich material, very well written. Thanks.
I agree; I see nothing shortage of creativity.

Alan: It definitely makes me cringe to hear a singer who has lost it. Two guys who remain amazing are Tony Bennett (82) and B. B. King (83). B. B. sounds terrific on his new CD (One Kind Favor); a friend saw Tony B. last year and gushed about him for weeks.

Kate: Omara is a real find, no?

Great post Citizen K! A favorite of mine since the 50's is Keely Smith. After achieving great popularity with Louis Prima in Las Vegas and with the release of a number of single hits in the 50's and 60's, she retired to raise a family. In 1985 she returned to the music scene, touring night clubs and making stage performances. She has also released a number of critically acclaimed albums, even rerecording some of her old releases, which to me are better than the originals.

Now in her 70's, she still maintains a light touring schedule. On February 10, 2008, one month before her 76th birthday, she performed "That Old Black Magic" with Kid Rock at the 50th Grammy Awards on CBS. Talk about someone who has the pipes of a 24 year old who sings with the wisdom of age, she's magnificent. I have to listen in awe that someone could be so talented and yet just get better and better with age.

I did not know that Keely Smith still worked. Isn't she part Cherokee? I believe that she played Robert Mitchum's night club singer girl friend in Thunder Road. It was her voice, anyway.

Oh my goodness; a cultural hip replacement. Since I have had the real thing I guess I can add a cultural one to my list. I loved Keely Smith and wasn't aware that she was still around.

I didn't recognize many of the names you listed (being of one generation older) but when you mentioned Bill Evans my ears perked up. I loved his piano playing.

Everyone knows Joan Baez, but I go back further to Tony Bennett when he first started. He is a favorite, along with Mel Torme. Both continue to the present day. You didn't mention Ella Fitzgerald, but I saw her perform shortly before her death and she still had it. How about Rosemary Cloony? She was always great.

Some should quit when they are ahead, while others just keep getting better.

Great post as always, Paul, fun to see you here! I'm a fan of Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, Jackson Browne. Haven't seen a good concert though in some time. Good to get all the updates! Thanks!

Citizen K,

You're right on both counts. Keely Smith (born Dorothy Jacqueline Keely, 9 March 1932, in Norfolk, Virginia) is of Cherokee and Irish descent. And she did act and sing in Thunder Road. Her song in "Thunder Road" was "Whippoorwill," remembered as one of her best.

Actor Robert DeNiro and director Martin Scorcese have been long-time fans of Keely’s and over the years have placed her music in numerous films, including “The Deerhunter,” “Raging Bull,” “Analyze This,” “That Old Feeling,” “Big Night” and “Mad Dog and Glory.”

In October of 2000 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, The Cherokee Honor Society bestowed Keely with its prestigious Cherokee Medal of Honor. "It’s the highest recognition that can be bestowed to a woman in the Cherokee nation," she states proudly. The Medal of Honor is given out annually to recipients whose achievements bring pride and honor to the Cherokee nation and community.

The incomparable Tony Bennett named Keely Smith "one of the greatest jazz-pop singers of all time." And Merv Griffin said — “Keely is awesome!”

Keely still performs to SRO audiences across the country, although, as I said in my previous post, she's lightened her schedule considerably. She'll be 77 in March, but her voice and stage presence still thrill the audiences.

"Does aging mean the end of being cool?"
In my book, one becomes an adult when the realization sets in that s/he need not be cool. Old age is attained when one realizes that they don't give a fig whether they are cool, whether they were ever cool, whether anyone was ever cool!

Wonderful post and so well-written!
I think I've discovered a way to stay in touch with some of the newer performers. I go to itunes and search the songs related to a particular word or set of words. I searched for "sunshine" (I have a playlist related to my name ;-)and found good artists I would otherwise never have heard of.

We've loved Keely Smith ever since driving around Italy for three months with a Louie Prima CD for company. The back-and-forth between L and K was fun, but her voice is just outstanding.

Thunder Road turned me onto Keely Smith. I remember sitting straight when she came on and thinking "Wow! Who's that?" I went out the next day and bought a CD. I haven't seen the movie in a while, but I remember her having very sensual presence to go with her terrific voice.

Darlene: I saw Mel Torme 20 years ago at the Paul Masson winery in Saratoga, California. George Shearing played piano. It was a windswept fall afternoon -- a very memorable performance. They released a CD of the show. If you listen closely to Sheating's "Anyone Can Whistle/A Tune For Humming," you can hear the wind.

Also, Bill Evans is a treasure. Paul Bley is less lyrical than Evans and more cerebral, but unquestionably an Evans disciple. You can check out his style here.

Sunny: What a great idea for creating a playlist! I'm going to key in "paul" to see if I get more than "Paul and Paula."

Thanks to all for the comments and compliments, and thanks to Ronni for inviting me to guest blog. Please drop by Citizen K.

Alan:

I was in elementary school when the Beatles first made waves here in the States.

I have been in love with the Fab Four ever since.

I saw Paul McCartney on stage two years ago and he ROCKED OUR KNICKERS OFF!

Terrific concert, had the audience on their feet most of the time, and the only drawback was my distance from Paul and my crappy eyesight.

Perhaps you were suggesting that Paul has not improved with age, and that is a matter of debate.

No, he doesn't churn out the clever ditties as fast and furious, and the "pop" factor may have changed, but he is still A1A in my book.

I have three children,ages 30,22,and 9 and all my kids listen to Dylan,The Beatles,Johnny Cash,Neil Young and most oldies....There has been good new music coming from people who are influenced by these artist,such as The Counting Crows .The Wallflowers and Tom Petty...I just hope more people listen to the old and make it new..

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