When older songwriters write about being young, they do so with the advantage of having been there and done that. But what do you get when young songwriters, write about getting old? Well, that depends on the songwriter. Paul McCartney famously wrote “When I’m Sixty-Four” at the tender age of sixteen. It’s a sweet little song that takes a gentle look at people as they get on in years. Pete Townshend took a different point of view with all the contempt a twenty year old can muster, when he wrote “My Generation” with its celebrated line, “I hope I die before I get old.” And Elton John was only twenty-three when he penned his rather despairing, “Sixty Years On.” So, yes, it’s true, today’s batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl is about our twilight years, the downward slope, senior citizenship. But hey, like they say, getting old beats the alternative. Or does it? To find out, we’ll return to 1967, when young Art Garfunkle took his tape recorder to a couple of nursing homes where he recorded conversations with the residents. The result was a track on the Bookends album, called, “Voices of Old People” which is a beautiful lead in for the song, “Old Friends” which contains the line, “How terribly strange to be seventy,” which Paul Simon wrote when he was twenty-six.
So the set starts off in somber mood. In fact it was so serious and lacking in humor that I was reminded of one of my favorite sayings: You don’t stop laughing because you get old, you get old because you stop laughing. And nobody knew that better than Harry Nilsson who would still be laughing if he hadn’t had that heart attack back in ’94. Harry had a great sense of humor which is on full display on the rousing singalong, “I’d Rather Be Dead” which features the Senior Citizens of the Stepney & Pinner Choir Club No. 6 of London. Now it’s been said that one of the first signs of old age is the realization that the volume knob also turns to the left. It’s a funny line, except of course as we loose our hearing, we have to keep turning it up. So with that in mind, here are the “Voices of old people.”
|Simon & Garfunkle
|Voices of Old People
|Sixty Years On
|Simon & Garfunkle
|Simon & Garfunkle
|I’d Rather Be Dead
|When I’m Sixty-Four
One of the ironies of “My Generation” is that, technically speaking, most of the people who grew up singing along with it weren’t from Pete’s generation. Baby Boomers who make up most of the fan base for all the artists in that set, were born between 1946 and 1964. So the only true boomer in there was Elton John, born in 1947. The rest of ‘em? Bunch of geezers. Before The Who, Paul Simon, with a song simply called “Old” which he recorded ten years ago, when he was about sixty. You do the math. At the top of the set, from 1968 when Simon and Garfunkle were both twenty-six, we heard several tracks from their great album Bookends. We started with “Voices of Old People” an audio collage recorded by Art at some nursing homes. Powerful enough by themselves, we took the recordings and played them over the string sections of Elton John’s “Sixty Years On” to heighten their impact. That was followed by “Old Friends” and the “Bookends Theme.” Elsewhere in the set, the Beatles with the inevitable “When I’m Sixty Four.”
And before that, a guy who the Beatles loved, Harry Nilsson from his wildly eccentric album Son of Schmilsson. We heard “I’d Rather Be Dead” (than wet my bed) a jaunty little sing along done with a choir of senior citizens. In the middle of the set, two grumpy old men. Neil Young and Randy Newman both wrote songs called “Old Man.” Neil’s ended up on Harvest while Randy’s ended up on Sail Away. By the way, if you want to see the set lists or the show commentaries, I’ve got ‘em on my website which you can get to directly or by way of various forms of social media. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, drop me an email and I’ll point you in the right direction. In the meanwhile, to quote John Barrymore, “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.” And I regret to say we’re all out of time. I’m Bill Fitzhugh, thanks for listening. I’ll be back with another batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl right after I cash my Social Security check. I hope you’ll join us, right here in the Deep Tracks.