Thursday, July 30, 2009

As musicians grow old

I remember when Frank Sinatra died. More importantly, I remember the final years of his life. I never saw him live, but watched a documentary or two, and saw footage of some of his final concerts. Sinatra only seemed to get better as he aged. There was a mellowing, as he seemed to grow richer and deeper in life. If anything, he grew in dignity, and became more of a presence on that platform. Sinatra aged well.

I don't remember when Sammy Davis Jr. died, but I've listened to recordings he made, and seen video clips of some of his later work. Again, he aged well. He brought a dignity to his work; his lyric and dance seemed to carry the weight of the ages - in a good way. One would watch him and see a life well lived, an embrace of the wisdom of decades that had passed. He seemed to fill out his role as "elder statesman." Sammy aged well.

What was it about that generation that helped them age well? That allowed them to maintain their dignity and passion, living with youthful hearts but aged souls? How did they finish so well?

I ask only because it seems today's artists never learned that trait. Madonna, in her 50s, is still dancing about the stage in her underwear. The Stones still strut and growl as if they were teenagers. And Michael Jackson died a freak - who knows where he would have ended had he lived another 30 years? What did Frank and Sammy know that Michael didn't? And what does it say about our world when our "stars" seem unable to grow up? When our seniors still behave like randy college students?

And who do you want to be when you are old? Over the years Karina and I have talked about aging well, of maintaining youthful spirits without denying our true biological age. When I was 30, I wanted to be good for 30. Now that I'm 40 I realize it's foolish to pretend I'm still 18. I simply want to be healthy and youth-ful in my 40s. And when I'm 60? I don't want to be "old," but neither do I wish to be a 60-year-old still behaving like a 20-year old. And when I'm 80? I still hope I can laugh, can hike trails and walk barefoot in the surf; I also hope I can maintain the dignity of age.

It seems we've lost the ability to live the age we really are. In a culture so fixated on "forever 21," in a culture that glorifies youth and wild living and lack of responsibility and smooth skin, it seems we no longer can accept the passage of time. And so our stars, who so often reflect our own desires, simply live out the fantasy that a geriatric can still be hot and sexy and cool like a teenager.

So at the end, which would you prefer to be - Sammy and Frank? Or Michael and Madonna?

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