Category: ageing


Less by Andrew Sean Greer (First published in the USA by Lee Boudreaux Books 2017)

lessAs a picaresque, comic novel this, at first glance, appears to be an unlikely winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Yet, although there are moments of high farce, there is a serious message behind the humour.

It is the bitter-sweet tale of Arthur Less, who is about to turn 50 and is described as “an author too old to be fresh and too young to be rediscovered”. He is far from being a failure but a long way from being the success he once dreamed of. He is a single gay man whose most significant of numerous relationships was with a Pulitzer prize-winning poet who is now gravely ill.

Aside from this, Less has recently ended a relationship with a younger man on such amicable terms that he has been invited to his ex’s wedding. Anxious to avoid this, he devises a plan. Continue reading

Advertisements
Dad

My Dad : 20/4/26 – 16/9/86

There’s something sobering about reaching the same age that my Dad was when he died.
He passed aged 60 in 1986 of stomach cancer after being diagnosed just 6 months earlier. Prior to that I never recall him being sick. Being in good health and then being gone is one of the scariest things. More so than those who die after what the newspapers euphemistically call “a long illness”.
I suppose, on balance, it’s better to go quickly than becoming a burden to your loved ones. Dad would have hated that.
I’ve recently found that I suffer from high blood pressure despite my virtual straight-edge lifestyle and relatively stress-free work. This has caused me to find articles about ‘the silent killer’ of a heart condition you don’t know you have until it’s too late.
I don’t smoke, drink in moderation, exercise like a demon and eat what I like to think is a healthy plant-based diet. Maybe I drink too much coffee so I’ve now virtually cut that out too.
I have begun to envy those who don’t seem health conscious in the slightest yet don’t seem any the worse for it.
Most books on ageing and dying refer to the consolation of faith at some point but I don’t believe in an afterlife or in reincarnation so these are useless to me.
The way I feel is that my heart or some other vital organ will give out sooner or later. “Most things may never happen:this one will”, wrote Philip Larkin in Audabe so when I wake in a cold sweat I can’t console myself that I’m worrying about nothing. It’s the very nothingness that is most chilling.
My Dad suffered briefly and then was gone. As a dodo or a doornail.
For now I put morbid fears to one side and keep on training and jogging. I know full well that however fast or far I run the grim reaper will catch me one day but I don’t intend to make it easy for him.

1966 – The Year The Decade Exploded by Jon Savage (Faber & Faber, 2015)

1966“It’s pretty obvious that contemporary music reflects contemporary life. And vice versa” wrote Tony Hall in Record Mirror in 1966. What is taken for granted now needed to be spelled out then.

Nevertheless, there are still precious few writers who able to contextualize music as expertly as Jon Savage.

When writing about Punk in 2004’s ‘England’s Dreaming’, Savage was able to draw directly from his own experiences but, as he was just 13 years old in the Summer of 1966, he is not able to rely solely on first-hand knowledge for this book. The 55 pages of source references illustrate the substantial research that lies behind this authoritative and illuminating study.

I was just 8 years old in that year so I remember even less than he does but I do recall the impact of some TV shows (e.g. Batman, The Monkees, Time Tunnel etc.) and music like The Beatles, the Motown acts and Dusty Springfield. But as far as historical events go, only England winning the soccer world cup sticks in the memory.

Most articles about the sixties paint a superficial and idealised portrait of swinging London, sexual liberation and the birth of the Woodstock generation. Savage goes deeper and reveals the darker aspects of this era and shows that it has definite parallels with the world we inhabit today.

Far from being a time of hedonism and freedom, this was a year lived under the shadow of the atom bomb and the cold war. In addition, the black civil rights movement, growing opposition to the Vietnam war, the demand for women’s liberation and the struggle for gay rights were just some of the causes that led to politicization of the youth both in America and in the UK. Add LSD to this heady cocktail and it’s easy to understand why this year was so musically explosive and accounts for how “1966 began in pop and ended with rock”. Continue reading

 

AMORTALITY by Catherine Mayer (Vermilion, 2011)
41jpcshiivl-_sx312_bo1204203200_

“What a drag it is getting old”.

Mick Jagger wrote these words when he was still in his early 20s. It’s a line from ‘Mother’s Little Helper’, the first track on The Rolling Stones’ 1966 album Aftermath.

Far from being the usual affirmation of the ‘sex,drugs and Rock’n’Roll’ lifestyle, this atypical Stones song addresses the plight of stressed housewives who turn to prescribed drugs to calm their nerves. Jagger adopts a mockney accent in an attempt to convince us of his sincerity but it all sounds very mannered and false.

If Jagger still finds aging a drag he hides it fairly well. Now in his mid-70s he’s still performing concerts and impregnating young women with abandon. He is living proof of what Catherine Mayer calls ‘amortals’; those who refuse to ‘act their age’ and live as if it were impossible to die.

With improved healthcare, it’s not just the  wealthy who are living longer with plenty of energy left to burn. Mayer observes that “there is no such thing as age appropriate behavior anymore” and refers to the growth of this ageless living as a “grey tsunami”. Fast approaching 60 and having run my first full marathon last year, I feel that I’m an active member of this tidal wave of ‘amortals’ but found the book disappointing.

It was conceived as “a guide to an uncharted phenomenon” and in the opening chapters the author is at pains to reassure us that it is not intended as a polemic. However, by the end, she gives up any pretense of objectivity when she challenges institutionalized ageism, stating : “I hope readers will take from this book inspiration to push for change, on a personal level and as consumers and voters”. So much for not being polemical! Continue reading

 

Walk Through Walls: A Memoir by Marina Abramović (2016)

marinaI suspect most will, like me, come to this illuminating book through the publicity surrounding Marina Abramović’s recent works of performance art like The Artist Is Present at MoMa New York (March 14 – May 31, 2010) and ‘512 Days’ at Serpentine Gallery, London in 2014 or through the numerous fascinating video interviews and talks to be found on You Tube.

These show her to be powerful woman who is both strikingly beautiful and rivetingly charismatic. It becomes clear after seeing and hearing her how she can so fully captivate audiences and inspire adulation. Through the force of her personality and strong physical presence she comes over like a cross like a dominatrix or femme fatale yet also exudes warmth, humor and compassion.

The memoir – ghostwritten by James Kaplan based on extensive interviews – reveals her as an all or nothing character for whom nothing short of total committment is good enough. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: