Category: dying


AMORTALITY by Catherine Mayer (Vermilion, 2011)

“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

Nico: a faded femme fatale

NICO, 1988 directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli (Italy/Belgium, 2017)

Nico-1988By common consensus, the career high of Nico (Christa Päffgen b. 16th October 1938 d. 18th July 1988) came in the late 1960s as a Warhol superstar in Chelsea Girls and as the singer of three songs on the The Velvet Underground’s groundbreaking debut album.

While a conventional biopic would have centred on this heady, decadent period, Susanna Nicchiarelli chooses instead to focus on the last three years of Nico’s life. At this point, the artist’s striking looks had declined to the point that she openly conceded that she’d become “a fat junky”.

As the film shows, Nico never stopped being feisty and firey but makes no bones about the fact that the looks which brought her fame had suffered through a life of excess. She is no longer the stunning blonde model whose long list of lovers included cult celebrities like Alain Delon, Brian Jones, John Cale and Jim Morrison. Continue reading

HOMO DEUS by Yuval Noah Harari (Vintage Books, 2017)

Subtitled ‘a brief history of tomorrow’, Harari’s sobering study of where humankind is heading envisages a future in which secular sapiens are increasingly marginalised by the by now unstoppable march of technological innovation.

It is a quirk of human nature that we all like to think of ourselves as individuals. In reading this book you’ll quickly realise that we’re not as unique and irreplaceable as we’d like to imagine.

Although each of us has a unique DNA, the evidence of our online activity proves that our goals, desires and actions follow relatively rigid and wholly predictable patterns . Continue reading

M TRAIN by Patti Smith (Bloomsbury , 2015)

If you have lived in a cave for the past four decades or spent too much time listening exclusively to crappy chart pop you wouldn’t know that Patti Smith is a Rock’n’Roll star.

You wouldn’t necessarily be any the wiser from reading her second autobiographical work either since there are practically no references to music making.

What you do learn from this collection of short loosely connected essays is that she is addicted to coffee, hates housework, loves visiting the graves of dead poets, likes taking black and white photos with a Polaroid camera and spends a good chunk of her free time binge-viewing TV shows (The Killing is a particular favourite). Continue reading

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