WHERE MY LIFE WENT
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Everything ages.
The hard drive dies of hard work. The battery in the new (used) car dies. And this morning as I was washing the dishes, the water ran all over the floor.
Last year at this time I issued a defiant treatise about turning
64. Older women are "the next big thing," I said with remarkable bravado.
"We're powerful. We're hot. We're happening." Now I write a more chastened
one about turning 65.
To celebrate this milestone birthday, I bought myself a ticket to last Saturday's Dave Alvin show at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Mass. Almost everyone has in their lives a musician, a songwriter or a composer who can bathe their soul in fire and make it come out clean again. Alvin, a fierce California electric blues rocker, does that for me. He's the best - or so close to it that, reputedly, Bob Dylan asked him to tour with him. And, being an independent cuss, he refused.
When I started writing this column in 1989 for the Brattleboro (Vt.) Reformer, it was about music. I was fresh in from 14 years on the road in South America, and when I left this country, disco was king. I didn't know that folk-based blues, acoustic, folk-rock and alternative country music still existed.
When I found out that it was all playing down the road in Northampton, I called the Horse's then-owner, Jordi Herold and asked if he would make complimentary tickets available to the Reformer. He said, with great scorn, "No, I can't afford to pay for your musical education."
But that's exactly what he did over the next 10 years, as I wrote about music first for the Reformer and then the Springfield (Mass.) Union-News and Sunday Republican. Even after this column drifted over to the op-ed page, I was still a frequent flyer.
When he opened the Horse, Jordi painted "Music alone shall live" on the wall. I always thought that was a fair way of putting it, although he needed words to do it, so I think "alone" may be a bit dramatic, and perhaps language shall live as well.
At concerts, publicists always put the reviewers close together. About 10 years ago, I was reviewing a Smashing Pumpkins concert in Amherst, Mass., when someone tapped me on the shoulder. This was Sheryl Hunter, who was reviewing the show for the Greenfield Recorder. She turned out to be one of the kindest and funniest people I've ever met, and for 10 years now we've been going to shows together. She now reviews for The Hartford Courant, too. And she's a big Dave Alvin fan. Naturally, we were at the Horse together Saturday night.
In a way, it was flattering to be in such a hip, sold-out audience. From stylish younger people to older hipsters to graying beats to every music writer in the tri-state area, it was a music-loving, music-knowing crowd. A Dave Alvin show at the Horse is like old home week.
When Alvin started his "Out in California," I had to dance. I can't dance every dance like I used to, back in the Haight so many thousands of weekends ago, when the Dead was playing for free in the park. But I'd rather dance two boogies straight up and gasp for air than tap my foot all night. And I've got lots more booty to shake than I did back then, let me tell you.
And when Alvin sang, "She's taking down her long red hair" I was reaching for my barrette and taking down my long red (always dyed, now probably gray) hair, and maybe not so much has changed.
Since it was my birthday, a friend asked which year was the best. After thinking it over, I said "'64." I was strong and healthy. I was publishing my first book. I felt like I was just getting started. This year, not so much.
This is the first year my brain has been younger than my body. Things are slowing down that I didn't know could slow down. Things are leaking, too. A lot of the time my mind is thinking of great things to do and my body just won't go along. The spirit is all too willing, as they say, but the flesh is a little weak.
I'm starting to understand my mother, Rose Kagan, who is still dancing at 89. "Oh, Joyce," she moans, "I gave an exercise class and rehearsed the dancers all morning and went to a rehearsal at night, and I'm so tired. I just don't understand why."
My relationship with my mother is one of the great compensations of turning 65. She wrote a poem for my birthday, which she graciously allows me to share:
"What if you were worried it wouldn't arrive?/That you might not reach 65?/Now that you have, you must realize/How truly glorious it is to be 65./Enjoy your life with Randy and all your peers/Enjoy more and more creative years./Enjoy the love I have for you/And the blessing that we are still two."
Reading it brought tears to my eyes.
As long as life is still sweet, birthdays are just days of the week. As Alvin sings in "Ashgrove," "I can't say I been all sinner/Can't say I been all saint/I've done some good deeds/ and I've made big mistakes.../I'm tryin' to make a living, tryin' to pay the rent, tryin' to figure out where my life went."
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel. Buy her book, a collection of her columns called "A Thousand Words or Less," from joycemarcel.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.