Middle age. A young man’s game, over the hill, unemployable, health checks, prostate examinations, Saga tours. You fill in a registration; it comes to ticking the age brackets and your’e in the next to last one (45 -55). All clothes look and feel too small or too young for you. An early night and good mattress are more important than anything else about going to bed. You realise that your youth was over thirty years ago and that is older than the age of the person you are talking to. Having a good time and showing it is seen as tragic by your children.
What is the old duffer worrying about this week? Why is he moaning about being old? Well in truth I’m not. It is the perception of what the ‘young’ have of us that have been there. Youth is the hope of a nation. Being young means having everything in front of you. Being old is having everything behind you. Being middle aged is being stuck in the middle of it; too old for drugs/rock and roll and too young to stick in a home. Its a damning phrase ‘middle aged’. Its like ‘beige’, ‘comfortable’, ‘cardigan’. Fashion editors who tell you retro is chic or cardigans are the new clothing garment are undoubtedly over 50. I can guarantee that sixty is not the new forty.
Amongst my close friends were twin girls, Sarah and Alison. We were friends from us being little toddlers together. We went to Sunday school, played in the band and spent time at joint Scout and Guide events. I went to a disco with Sarah & Alison at their secondary school. I was Sarah’s ‘date’, got to dance with her and have a quick snog. I always wish I had kissed Alison too. Anyway, their dad was a thin, grey bearded kind man for whom I had a great respect. He was a scout leader in our group that smoked roll ups and liked a pint. I thought of him at the time as being really old but now realise he must have been younger than I am now! I remember him getting false teeth. They looked as if they were far too large for him and much too white. False teeth after all were a symbol of our grandparents generation; stuck in a glass of Steradent on the bedside cabinet.
Time warps the edges of perception and memory. The longer the distance away in time, the more edges warp and memories along with them. In truth I have spent much of the last year wishing my youth back. It probably comes to most of us. The ingredients of youth – Vitality, energy, innocence. That you are the first person to fall in love, to feel the thrill of a gig, to have your heart broken, to get drunk and take drugs. These are after all in the domain young people. Well actually NO. It’s just that it is new to them. We know how to get drunk; that drugs are not the answer but the ride can be fun. Some of us still cannot deal with having our hearts broken.
I am fast approaching fifty. In the last ten years I have experienced depression, cancer, loss of career, family trauma, bereavement, our child seriously ill, money worries, becoming a graduate, attempting to be a poet and writer and rediscovered my love of live music. I have been to more gigs in the last two years than in the last twenty. I have seen bands the same age as my eldest daughter and those nearly old enough to be my parents. I have discovered that I was wrong about The Clash. That my dad isn’t always right but he’s the best dad I could wish for. Children grow to need you in different ways than you envisage. Your friends have forged careers and you have none. I have discovered also two years ago on the road to Baildon (Damascus of West Yorkshire) the thrill and genius that is Dr Feelgood. I remember them on the Old Grey Whistle Test and Top Of The Pops back in 1975. The songs have lawys been there but I was not receptive. I am a fool. What a waste!
Dr Feelgood are an outstanding band that blew the prog rock bubble of the 70’s. I was honoured and privileged to see Wilko Johnson last Friday at the Picturedrome Holmfirth. Johnson the skittling genius guitar man is on his farewell tour having being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. The 65 year old is lively, upbeat and as exciting as ever. His bass player, the extraordinary Norman Watt-Roy (ex Blockheads/Clash) is a man in his early sixties. I have seen some great musicians in my time but I have not been blown away by one quite like him. The fabulously talented drummer Dylan Howe (son of Steve Howe -Yes) completed the trio. Dylan is the young man of the band, being in his early forties. It has to be the most charged, vibrant gig I have been to for years.
These guys really know how to play and entertain. It was a very moving experience to be in the crowd. A crowd made up of largely people in their forties, fifties and sixties. Some very cool oldies (as well as others less so). Many of the audience, support act (Mark Radcliffe and the Big Figures) and band have been there. We remember them first time round, although its taken 36 years for me to have that epiphany. The first support act a young punk/blues band from Southend, Eight Rounds Rapid; captured the essence of Dr Feelgood in their heyday. Edgy, aggressive punk with blues overtones. Mark Radcliffe and the Big Figures were fabulous as ever. Who’d have thought a bunch of fifty somethings could play with such energy! Maybe its the Sanatogen (or Moorhouses Blond Witch)?
The moral of the story is what? Am I all washed up at 48 nearly 49? Do I have anything left to offer before I shuffle off this mortal coil? Wilko Johnson had talked about experiencing a state of euphoria on having being told his diagnosis. He walked out of the hospital and felt so alive. Maybe that’s the message. Age does not preclude you from living life. He sang about that ‘old train comin’ and it comes for all of us sooner or later. As he sang those words, the audience sighed and were moved. I have never been as moved by a gig as I had on Friday night. He and his band wanted us to have a good time and go away happy. Wilko said in an interview that his response has taken him by surprise as he was generally a miserable so an so. The answer Wilko Johnson’s example shows is to not wait till you’re getting on that train to realise what you have missed. Advancing age means have you less to prove and more to enjoy the ride (not on that train obviously).
Well I best be going, my cocoa is getting cold and the electric blanket won’t turn itself off.
As a footnote, my good friend Gary is getting engaged to Lesley! His mum is very ill and Gary has had much to deal with over the last few years. I wish him, Lesley and his family much love and happiness in such trying times.