Surely there’s much as we age that reminds us of the rapidity of the years that have passed. For those who enjoy music, you’ve surely noted that songwriters and singers have always used age-related lyrics.
In 1961 I was 10 when I would hear coming through my sister Joanie’s transistor radio Neil Sedaka’s “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen.” A couple years later, I was fully on board the music train and knew all the lyrics to the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” when Paul McCartney would belt out, “Well, she was just 17/You know what I mean,” and I really DID feel I knew what he meant!
Later in ‘65, at 14 and finding my freshman way around the not-yet hallowed halls of LCC, a school not even 10 years old, Frank Sinatra, the Elvis of his 1940s time, proved he was still capable of topping the music charts when he released “It Was a Very Good Year,” a song that reflected back on the song’s narrator’s romantic interludes at 17, 21 and 35.
In the last verse of the song, the first two lines are “But now the days are short/I’m in the autumn of the year.” While I sang those lyrics when I heard the song on the radio as we all did back in a time when seemingly every word of every song was clearly understood and eventually memorized, I surely didn’t internalize the meaning of those lines. Now, when I asked Alexa to play the song on my 71st birthday early last month on June 7, I listened to it with very different ears.
While that last verse never really gives the age of the narrator who’s experiencing the chill of his mortal autumn winds, it’s interesting to note that Sinatra was just 50 years old when his album September of My Years, which included the song “It Was a Very Good Year,” came out. To me, that’s not quite autumn, although at 14 when I first heard it, I may have thought so.
I think the first time I began to sense my autumn years had arrived was seven birthdays ago when I turned 64. That was the year I was swapping texts with one of my best friends, Greg Swick, the oldest of four boys that Ken and Lois once-upon-a-Lima-time raised off of Kenilworth and West Elm but a Granite Stater for many years now. The texts were about our 64th birthdays, and we recalled The Beatles’ seminal album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and, specifically, the McCartney song “When I’m 64.”
The song was written many years earlier by Sir Paul, as a matter of fact, when he was only 14. Greg and I joked about our women, Greg’s Marilyn and my Lady Jane, and the possibility they may no longer answer in the affirmative if we’d sing to them, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me/When I’m 64?”
At the time, I thought that was the last song in my listening wheelhouse that would remind me of my advancing years and told Greg as much. However, while driving my work roads seven years later on June 6, the last day I would be 70, I heard on the radio a blast from the past, a song by one of my generation’s most influential duos, Simon and Garfunkel.
The song was “Old Friends,” released as a single off the pair’s fourth studio album Bookends in 1968 during my T-Bird junior year. And, like Sinatra’s and McCartney’s songs that spoke of aging from my impossibly youthful 1960s, while I memorized the words and sang along back then when I would hear it, I really didn’t truly grasp the wistfulness of the lyrics.
But last month, I heard and understood the song that Paul Simon penned when he was but 27 when I listened to the lines, “Can you imagine us years from today sharing a park bench quietly? / How terribly strange to be 70.”
So far, I’ve heard no such songs that refer to turning 71, but I assure you, it’s still strange, just a year more so. If you fire up the iPad today and Google the lyrics to Simon’s song, if you’re of a certain age, as in my age, you may just marvel at the beauty and poignancy of words that speak of lifelong friendships and the celerity of the passing years. I think Simon indeed identified the common denominator of long-time friendships when he wrote, “Old friends/ Memory brushes the same years/ Silently showing the same fears.”
And, if you do Google those lyrics, you may experience my same emotions when you get to the final lines, “Long ago it must be/ I have a photograph/ Preserve your memories/ They’re all that’s left you.” Those emotions are the gratitude for my being allowed to gather my friends, many of whom have now grown old with me, but also the trepidations that come with the comparative shortness of the road ahead, fears that lie just beneath the surface of that gratitude.
To all my old friends, thanks for sharing my roads with me.