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Growing Old With Rock ‘n’ Roll

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Chuck Berry

The legendary Chuck Berry is 84.

With so many rock singers closing in on or even past 70—Mick and Keith (both 68), Bob Dylan (71), Patti Smith (66) Paul McCartney (69), Joni Mitchell (69), Joan Baez (72), to name just a few—and still rockin’ in the free world, what kind of songs are we hearing from them? Remember, these guys drew upon their own life experiences for their songwriting. It’s inevitable that some of what they’re singing now is about aging, death and dying.

This getting older
Aint for cowards
This getting older
Is a lot to go through
Aint gonna need this body
much longer
Aint gonna need this body
much more.

Well I can’t see much
like I used to
and I can’t run like the windMellencmpLive
I don’t sleep more
than just a few hours
I can’t remember where I’ve been

Ain’t a gonna need this body much longer
Aint gonna need this body much more
I put in ten million hours
Washed up and worn out for sure.

Well all my friends are
sick or dying
and I’m here all by myself
All I got left
is a head full of memories
and a thought of my upcoming death…

–Don’t Need This Body, John Mellencamp (62)

I don’t know about anyone else, but to me these lyrics aren’t depressing in the least: rather, it’s reassuring to hear that others of my generation are thinking and feeling what I’m brooding about these days. Rock ‘n’ roll gave me courage starting in my pre-teen years, and it’s exhilarating to find it still does.

As always, Dylan’s leading the charge. He began back in ‘97, with “Not Dark Yet” on the Time Out of Mind album.

Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhereTimeOutOfMindcovr
It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain…

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from.
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.

John Mellencamp (62) toured with Dylan in 2009, the same year Mellencamp released Life Death Love & Freedom, which included not only “Don’t Need This Body” (lyrics above) but several other songs on the theme.

Longest Days

Seems like once upon a time ago
I was where I was supposed to be
My vision was true and my heart was too
There was no end to what I could dream
I walked like a hero into the setting sun
Everyone called out my name
Death to me was just a mystery
I was too busy raising up Cain.

But nothing lasts forever
Your best efforts don’t always pay
Sometimes you get sick
and don’t get better
That’s when life is short
Even in its longest days.

So you pretend not to notice
that everything has changed
The way that you look
and the friends you once had
so you keep on acting the same
But deep down in your soul
you know you got no flame
and who knows then which way to goMellencamp
Life is short even in its longest days…

If I Die Sudden

If I die sudden
please don’t tell anyone
There aint nobody that needs to know
that I’m gone
Just put me in a pine box
six feet underground
Don’t be calling no minister
I don’t need one around

Well my grandma she told me
she’d be waiting at the gate
She said that the fix was in
and that she’d already prayed
and the rest of my family
will be waiting there for me too
They’d already taken care of my sins
and there’s nothing left for me to do…


Humor is one thing that never dies, and people always squeeze a laugh out of death when possible. (I’ve been to a few hilarious family funerals, honest!) Leave it to The Persuasions, the acapella group that’s been going strong for half a century: they’ve taken the lyrics of “Sixty-Minute Man” and changed them to announce that they “Can’t Do Sixty No More.” Somehow they still look sexy doing it (I saw them perform it at Yoshi’s).

Please excuse my blown-out fuse / because I can’t do 60 no more…

BerrymansLou & Peter Berryman are a couple of odd ducks, usually played on radio stations like KPFA and WBAI. Their song  “After Life Goes By” is a hilarious sendup of various afterlife theories.

I believe there’s nothing after life goes by
I believe it’s over when we die die die
Others may be thankful their beliefs are strong
and every night I’m praying that I’m wrong wrong wrong…

but whenever I try kneeling aiming questions at the ceiling I get answers back revealing not a clue…

 Joni painting


It wouldn’t be lyrical death—or life—without an uplifting message from Carly Simon. In 1990 Carly began hoping that “Life Is Eternal.” (If this sounds sarcastic, I don’t mean to be; “Life is Eternal”, particularly the instrumental and choral parts, fits squarely into the goosebump genre.

Life Is Eternal

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking
about growing older and moving on
No one wants to be told that they’re getting on
and maybe going awayCarlyalbum
for a long long stay
but just how long and who knows
and how and where will my spirit go
Will it soar like jazz on a saxophone
or evaporate in the breeze?
Won’t you tell me please

That life is eternal
and love is immortal
and death is only a horizon
Life is eternal
as we move into the light
and the horizon is nothing
save the limit of our sight…

Here on earth I’m a lost soul
ever trying to find my way back home
Maybe that’s why each new star is born
expanding heaven’s room
Eternity in bloom
and will I see you up in that heaven
in all its light will I know you there?
Will we say the words that we never dared?
If wishing makes it so
Won’t you let me know

That life is eternal
and love is immortal…

And now for something new—yes, I do occasionally listen to new music! Carsie Blanton, an up and coming singer-songwriter, proves you don’t have to be old to think deeply about death. “Carsie’s lyrics are an iron fist in the velvet glove of her voice” notes another songwriter, Peter Mulvey, and this is precisely the case in “Smoke Alarm”—which, by the way, you can hear complete on her website.

Hey baby what’s the big deal?

Feel what you wanna feel


say what you wanna say
You’re gonna die one day
For example I could kiss youjust because I want to

Makes no difference if you turn away
I’m gonna die one day.

Why do you waste your time

thinkin ‘bout a reputation
tryin’ to meet expectations
worried what they’re gonna say
when everyone you’ve ever known
is headin’ for a headstone
I don’t wanna give the end away
We’re gonna die one day…

I’ll end with the brilliant, still going strong Paul Simon (71), who got the jump on everyone way back in ’68  when he was just a pup, in Bookends, the fourth album recorded with Art Garfunkel. As Wikipedia puts it, “The songs of the first side of the album follow a unified concept, exploring a life journey from childhood to old age…The whole side marks successive stages in life, the theme serving as literal bookends to the life cycle.”

While the first side overtly depicts life’s journey into old age, on Side Two you’ll find one of the best glimpses into a particular mindset frequently found in the aging artist. It astonishes me that Paul Simon was only 23 when he wrote “A Hazy Shade of Winter”. How did he know?


Time, see what’s become of me
while I looked around for my possibilities.
I was so hard to please.
Look around,
leaves are brown,
and the sky is a hazy shade of winter.Paul Simon

Hear the Salvation Army band.
Down by the riverside
there’s bound to be a better ride
than what you got planned.
Carry your cup in your hand
and look around.
Leaves are brown

and the sky is a hazy shade of winter.

Hang on to your hopes my friend.
That’s an easy thing to say
but if your hopes should pass away
then simply pretend
that you can build them again.
Look around
The grass is high,Bookends fields are ripe.
It’s the springtime of my life.
Seasons change with the scenery
weaving time in a tapestry.
Won’t you stop and remember me
at any convenient time?
Funny how my memory skips
while looking over manuscripts
of unpublished rhyme
drinking my vodka and lime.
I look around,
leaves are brown
and the sky is a hazy shade of winter.


2 responses »

  1. What a nice trip down memory lane, Marcy. I really agree with your assessment of Paul Simon… wow, what a poet. But I would perhaps have added in Billy Joel, at least in terms of brilliance, although at the moment I can’t think of a song of his that fits your theme.

  2. Kat–Glad you like it. I agree that Billy Joel is brilliant, but placing him next to Paul Simon I think maybe not so much. Plus, to my knowledge he hasn’t done anything about growing older since he was in his 30s and nostalgic for adolescence.

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