“Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy”
Old Friends by Paul Simon
Old Friends was written by Paul Simon at age twenty-four. That to me is an amazing fact. How could a person of that age possibly even dare to write a song from the perspective of someone almost three times his age? But he did dare and that makes me very happy. Art should have no boundaries or limits. In fact, that is a part of what we will covering in this months installment. The song referenced appears on Bookendsand is the fourth album by the folk duo, Simon & Garfunkel. Produced by Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel and Roy Halee, the album was released on April 3, 1968, in the United States by Columbia Records.
This month I am celebrating my 70th birthday. The last line in this months lyrics state,”how terribly strange to be seventy.” I can attest that grasping the meaning of that number is mind boggling. I still feel like I am in my 30s, Well, at least till I look in the mirror. My life certainly does not appear to me to be nearly as bleak as those of the gentlemen in the song. Still, I am amazed at how I reached that number. It seems in some ways as if I have only begun. My life is full and I have no complaints significant enough for airing.
Looking back I will admit to being very disappointed by my (the Boomer) generation. Our hard U-turn in the 80s from an idealistic youth culture to a greed based “me me me” culture still appalls me. Even though, as hard as it is to say, I participated in that insanity to some extent myself. We as a group are wholly responsible for most of the world’s current problems. No doubt the planet will breath a giant sigh of relief when the last boomer leaves the planet. Sad but unfortunately true.
Many of my generation believe that the music created in the 60s and 70s is superior to what is being created today. I vehemently disagree. The Americana music world is bursting with musical innovation, talent and incredible songwriting. Artists such as Chris Thile, Sarah Jarosz, Billy Strings, Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile and many many others are out there every day raising the bar further each year with their musicianship and songwriting. Yes, I know a few of us Boomers are still out there trying to make it happen as well and I suspect we will be until death or disabling illness shuts us down. But the music baton is no longer held by us. It has been passed and in my opinion it is in good hands. The envelope is being pushed as it should always be. I am confident that the path for Americana, Folk and acoustic music is safely in the hands of these young but great artists who honor the traditions but yet strive to expand them as well. I could not be happier about it.
In my opinion, great music is not, has never been and never will be, owned by any one generation. Music is a developmental and evolutionary continuum. Every generation builds upon the previous generation’s musical brilliance and takes it to a new level. It is amazing that guys like Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen who extended what could be done with an electric guitar, performing technical feats no else had done before, have many of our generation believing the limits has been reached. Yet, now you can go to YouTube and there are 11 year olds executing those exact technical moves like they were nothing. Where do we go from here? Who knows, but I am sure it will be amazing.
So here I am, seven decades on this earth. What do I have to say for myself? I have no reason to stop doing what I love which is creating and performing new music as well as rambling on in this column every month. So just because I am considered geriatric by many I don’t intend to slow down. In fact, I intend to double down in the next few years and spend more time on the road sharing my music everywhere they’ll have me.
I don’t seek fame and certainly not fortune. Instead now I look to make new connections through my music. Because of music, I have friends in every state of the US and also in many other countries. I count that as my real success. If my little music career can be given a value, it is in connections made with others. I guess at this ripe old age that is really what has changed. What I name as success is friendships, some new, some older and some long lasting. But if my life has any value it is that.
I have a new prized possession, it is a mug given to me by a dear old friend and gifted potter, David Hendley. As I and other close friends reach our 7th decade he gifts each of us in turn with a beautiful hand made coffee cup, its face emblazoned with the line from this month’s song, “how terribly strange to be seventy”. It is a real comfort to me that as I age that I have so many friends who are on the same journey and that we will continue to help and love each other until we reach the finish line. Or, as Ram Dass said and I think he said it best, “We’re all just walking each other home”.
Until next time…
Randy Lewis Brown may be an over-the-hill, baby boomer and curmudgeon, but he is also an award-winning Northeast Texas-based singer-songwriter and self-proclaimed “performing philosopher”. Despite his years, and an early bedtime, he remains steadfast in attempting to decipher the intersection of spirit, faith, science and the human condition, always trying to maintain a sense of wonder and whimsy in his occasionally clever folk-Americana songs and stories. He is now wondering what he will write in this column for his 80th birthday.