I Will Be My Elders

April 29th, 2019

So there’s this guy. He calls himself Snake.

I know, I know, that sounds like the beginning of some Beat novel about a recovering drug addict. But really, really, there’s this guy, and he calls himself Snake, and he shows up at just about half the open mikes I go to, all over the place. He’s a courtly, reserved gentleman who plays a gorgeous hollow-body electric guitar and sings old songs – folk songs, standards, American Songbook. He’s absolutely mesmerizing. It’s not his voice, or his guitar playing. It’s the way he uses his voice, and the way he plays, and his absolute command of the stage. He’s one of the most self-assured and compelling performers I’ve ever seen, and I could watch him forever, which is remarkable because the material he sings does nothing for me.

Snake is noticeably older than I am – a senior citizen, certainly. I don’t know him at all. I don’t know why he spends so much time on the road, driving to open mikes and gigs. But I’ve been thinking about Snake, because, let’s face it, I’m not the single person in the history of mankind for whom time has consented to stop.

I worry about these things. My act – and you’ve all seen it – is not necessarily an act that ages well. I expend a tremendous amount of energy on stage, and my material isn’t exactly, well, mature. I have to wonder whether anyone will be interested in listening to a 70-year-old singing about wanting to be someone’s henchman.

On the other hand, we seem to haul our musical tastes along with us as we age. I used to marvel at my parents, growing up in the Depression, still listening to those ancient Broadway tunes and such. Right before I was born, music went through a major revolution – rock’n’roll was so very different than what had come before, and its influences are enduring. People young enough to be my grandchildren listen to the same sort of stuff I still listen to. So maybe there will still be an audience for what I like, and what I do, when I’m 64, or however old you have to be to still remember the Beatles. Hell, Mick Jagger had to postpone his latest tour because he needed a heart valve replacement, but at 75 years old, he still can’t get no satisfaction, even though satisfaction, at his age, means a more comfortable recliner.

Of course, I don’t look forward to the my diminished stage mobility. I look at Springsteen and Mick Jagger and I don’t know how they still expend that kind of energy in their act. I don’t expect to have to drive on stage on a scooter, but I don’t expect to be doing splits, either. I know a man who plays the dulcimer now because his carpal tunnel syndrome doesn’t let him play guitar – if that’s my future, I’m not sure I can face it.

But he’s still playing. And, I hope, so will I. There’s a line in one of my newer tunes, “The Sausage”, that goes, “Keith Richards died a while ago and no one’s told him yet”. So maybe that’s the solution – just don’t tell me. You’re only as old as you think you are, and if it’s just because my memory’s shot and I’ve forgotten my last ten birthdays, well, I think I can live with that. With an emphasis on the word “live”.

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