Is 56 the new 26? It seems that way for me as my current professional and existential quandaries mirror the ones I faced 30 years ago. These posts are a series of ponderings trying parse the difference between now and then.
A coupla weeks ago, my friend Jonah posted an interesting article about middle age, which amused me because I don’t consider him middle aged. But then again, middle age is a fluid concept. I’ve known people in the late 20s who considered themselves middle age. It wasn’t silly either. They no longer thought of themselves as “young” but weren’t quite ready to think deeply about retirement; therefore that was middle age to them even though I thought they were still quite young. Anyway, the article argued that the biggest threat to middle aged men isn’t smoking or obesity, it’s loneliness. I thought about it for a long while especially since a. I do consider myself middle aged and so does most everyone else and I don’t smoke. Obesity, maybe, but I’m working diligently on that. Loneliness was something I ponder as my leisure time is ever more dominated by solitary activities like listening to podcasts.
In posting the article Jonah offered his solution, plan get-togethers with your old pals. That certainly resonated for me since some friends just did an informal version of that recently (unfortunately, I couldn’t attend due to work and financial considerations). But I have a better idea: make friends with young people. I love getting together with people my age and people older than me too, but inevitably, nostalgia takes over. I like nostalgia too. I’m a Chicago Bulls fan and well, this year’s team has been frustrating to the point that I’ve watched about a half hour’s worth of You Tube clips of the dynasty era teams just to remind myself that those guys in black and red really can play championship caliber ball sometimes. Yet, I don’t want to dwell on the past. I know it’s not 1997 anymore or even 1987, even if the music at the store seems a tad too anxious to celebrate the ‘80s (our musical furniture is the Sirius XM Big 80s station). I’m far more interested in figuring out what 2017 means and my biggest allies in that quest are young people. They know it’s not 1987 because they have no tangible memory of that year, which is actually helpful; they don’t miss it. Furthermore since they don’t have kids or grandkids or engrossing jobs, they are freer to hang out and parse life in New York City today.
There are several other bonding points. They are struggling to establish themselves and fight off the negative stereotype of “millennials.” I’m struggling to re-establish myself and battling the stereotype of “old,” i.e., being frail, intransigent and tech/social media illiterate. For them, the Obama presidency spanned their collegiate and coming of age years, so they have a profound WTF about the current administration.
Thanks to the easy access of streaming most of them who are excited about music have interests that pre-date their years on the planet. One evening about seven years ago, I and a bunch of people in their 20s were closing the Bedford Cheese Shop after a very busy day and one of my coworkers put on a playlist of songs with food in the title. Just after we locked the doors, “Yes, We have no Bananas” came on and everyone except me croaked along. I wasn’t exhibiting tasteful restraint; I simply don’t know the lyrics. Yet, I was fascinated to hear the routes that my coworkers came to the song, which included The Archies, Luxury Liner, The Simpsons, The Muppet Show and several other diverse sources. And I enjoyed hearing the other music that they arrived at. The guy with the playlist went on a Herbie Nichols kick shortly after and the cheese shop soundtrack was often the music of the great overlooked jazzman, and yes, a few months later the inevitable happened. One of my other coworkers told me he heard a pianist that reminded him of Nichols, some cat named Thelonious Monk. Did I have some recommendations?
Anyway, my openness may be a genetic trait. Both of my parents were enthusiastic about hanging out with their younger coworkers as well as my older sibling’s friends. They wanted to hear new perspectives in much the same way that I’m eager to hear the routes that lead people several decades my junior to the same interests I have.
I put this theorizing to the acid test this week. I took my friend Dylan, who is 24, to Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s nightclub to hear Trio M, a superb collective featuring pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson. I’ve known Dylan for all of his life. His Dad and I go all the way back to freshman year of college 39 years ago. Also, when his Dad is in town, he’s a frequent companion of mine in my concert going. The adult version of Dylan and I bonded over beer, first at a bar that had Grimm Lambo Door on draft, then when he came by the shop to by a growler of it. He asked about the music on my upcoming agenda and I mentioned Melford and sent him a You Tube clip of her with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He was astounded, so off we went. Afterward, over an Equilibrium double IPA and brined chicken tacos, we talked about it and I was pleased. He’s a music fan, not a jazz fan. He was delighted by Melford’s play, enthused by Wilson and blown away by Dresser. He also liked that equanimity of the ensemble. I pointed out the roots of piano trios and mentioned a couple of other stellar ones. He seemed to be taking notes. The music was at times inside and at times out. What I particularly liked in his assessment was that he didn’t engage in Vietnam War era parsings of that dichotomy. It made perfect sense to him that jazz in 2017 would incorporate the entire century of its history.
After we parted, I wandered over to NuBlu where David Weiss and Point of Departure recalled the vivid experimentalism of jazz in the late ‘60s without repeating it. I attended alone but thought of several young pals who would have dug it.