“I hope I die before I get old” belted Roger Daltrey on the seminal track “My Generation,” and yes, while he may be a little bit on the grouchy side these days due to Brexit, that one sentiment perfectly encapsulates youth. But now, we see Roger Daltrey singing arguably The Who’s most famous song and wonder if he really meant it. It seems that now, getting older is it a passe thing, and that there are more musicians out there now in their late 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, still pushing those youthful sentiments. But now, they’ve got the benefit of hindsight. While there are so many songs about the exuberance of youth, are there any songs we can use as a lesson on getting older?
Perfectly encapsulating the idea of maturity, the irony is not lost on Joni herself that recording it as a young lady; she was wise beyond her years. But most telling is that she revisited this song much later in her career, and while the sentiment of the song is that there are few truths learnt by living, as a more mature woman herself, having lived life, the song still suggests that there is as much a mystery to life when you are at the tail end of it.
Help The Aged by Pulp
What sounds like a plea to understand older people, the lyric belies a grimmer message. The line “can’t away from yourself” is a message to all of us getting older; that, no matter how much we try to dye our hair, and fight the inevitable, we will still end up as the person we were meant to be.
Veronica by Elvis Costello
An examination of his own grandmother Molly’s fading memory; the song chronicles Veronica’s life from the vivid pictures of her early years all the way to her non-existent existence in a care home, mute and ready for the end. Currently, it was co-written by one Paul McCartney, who had his very own thoughts on getting old chronicled in a very famous song…
When I’m 64 by The Beatles
Paul McCartney was actually 16 when he wrote this. While the imagery is incredibly twee, and masquerades as a music hall ditty, the comic imagery of living in idyllic lifestyle after retirement could provide a very warming sentiment for all of us concerned about getting on in years, when the idea of which granny flat designs we really want or if the car’s got enough petrol in it doesn’t necessarily matter in the long run. Because, when we hit retirement age, we will celebrate our birthdays with a bottle of wine, and have a jolly old time (well, hopefully).
Old Man by Neil Young
This was all about wanting acceptance from the elders in society. His plea that he is “a lot like” they were shows how we get so judgmental as we get older, that we forget that we had so much fun when we were young. Tellingly, Neil young was 24 when he wrote this, and now while he has every right to be a grouchy curmudgeon who is well beyond retirement age, he’s still looking to push the boundaries. He may very well be an old man, but his sentiments aren’t.
Losing My Edge by LCD Soundsystem
A lot of these songs writing about the perspective of being old from the POV of a younger person. This is, for all intents and purposes, from the perspective of an “older” person. While LCD front man James murphy wasn’t a grouchy old man when he wrote this (he was on the wrong side of 30), from the perspective of every 20-year-old around him, he must have seemed ancient! This is all about the worry that he’s not being relevant in music. That he’s losing his edge to everyone in existence.
Old friends by Simon and Garfunkel
Arguably the most melancholic of the songs on the list. It’s the story of two old men sitting on a bench wondering how strange it is to be 70 years old. While Paul Simon, who wrote this, turned 70 in 2011, this song has naturally gathered more meaning, and no doubt, he’s realized how far from strange it really is!
30 Something by Jay-Z
From the perspective of any teen growing up idolizing Jay-Z, when you turn 20, you may very well just get put out to pasture. But, this ode to hitting your 30s can do more than make you realize that you’re anything but old, but in fact, getting a stock portfolio is one of the great benefits of supposed “old” age. If it’s good enough for Jay-Z, it’s good enough for us!
Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen
While on the surface, it’s a pretty amusing ode to that guy who still talks about his high school football career as the crowning achievement of his life. But the most telling aspect about it is the song jumps between this and Springsteen’s semi-autobiographical tropes about his father being laid off. The moral of the story? Your glory days aren’t over. In fact, your glory days may very well be ahead of you!
So what can music teach us about getting old? It seems that now, we’ve got so many people writing about getting old from a youthful perspective, when these musicians are all hitting the time where they are supposed to be put out to pasture, but have more than their fair share of energy. The exuberance of youth, especially through music highlights just how much we all think that, when we are 20, 30 may as well be 75. But as the music we grew up listening to gets older and matures, so do we. They say that the music you listen to during your teen years shapes your entire life. As music appears to be predominantly a youthful practice, the songs about getting old and looking back on our youth are few and far between. “It Was A Very Good Year” by Frank Sinatra may very well be the pinnacle story of revisiting memories of youth…