Yes, Doris, Musicians Do Get Old
Recently I was made painfully aware of the fact that I am, indeed, getting older. It’s a weird thing for me to admit. I’d gone through much of my life, after all, with reckless abandon, not heeding many of the warning signs and ignoring precautionary measures. It’s a wonder that I’m alive at all really. I’d been like a cat. I can think back on all the stupid shit I’ve done and wonder if I am now on my sixth or seventh life.
I had rocked with ferocity. Daily. Nearly hourly. A few months ago I was walking the dog – with headphones on, naturally. I was not listening to particularly loud music when suddenly, in an instant, tinnitus struck. I knew it immediately. I’d already suffered some minor loss after an ear infection in 2008. It was a similar shock when, after resting my hearing during that recovery, I donned headphones and knew in a heartbeat my hearing was not going to be what it was. Now, I got on the internet and started reading about the ringing, discovering that it’s also a process of aging and that, most commonly, it starts around sixty. As of this writing I turn sixty in three weeks.
It’s hard for me to believe that I started Rick’s Café and the MAMAs fifteen years ago. Time is a strange thing because this feels simultaneously like yesterday but also like a lifetime ago. I think this was my fourth life. I had a son who was eleven then. I have a daughter who is eleven now and another who just turned nine. There is no shortage of reminders from them that I am the oldest dad amongst all of their friends and, quite likely, in the entire school. Once I went to pick up the girls at the grade school and one of my daughter’s friends said, “Is that your grandpa?” Now, I am blessed with a full head of hair at this stage, a still somewhat slim physique and Norwegian skin. How did she know I was that old? Do I smell old? Do I walk like I’m old? I was standing so I didn’t have to moan and grunt like I do just standing up and especially just getting out of bed.
Speaking of bed, I hit a wall recently, too. The wall of sleep deprivation. In the newspaper days I literally worked twenty hours a day and that was not begrudgingly. I loved what I was doing. Like I’d found my place and it was actually doing some good which was immensely rewarding. But sleep deprivation is cumulative and I guess I’d spent most of my reserves over fifteen years. I’d also spent all my financial reserves and by the time we switched to online publication with Local Sounds Magazine, I was back to working day jobs and had suddenly fathered two more children.
Age had affected my playing, too, years before. It must have been 2002 when I was sitting in my kitchen, creating a guitar part for a song called “Distant Origin,” which was created by our drummer, Dunes. He was a huge Rush fan so I was trying to create something Rush-y and had found a very complicated theme that required a lot of rapid right-hand picking. I was absorbed in nailing it down, as one does when working on music. The hours can fly by and there is endless repetition. Suddenly, I had piercing pain from my wrist to my elbow. Yes, the dreaded carpel-tunnel had struck. Soon after I noticed stabbing pain in my left index finger when I employed vibrato on the guitar. Seemed that carrying around heavy bundles of newspapers tied with string had stressed the middle knuckle of my finger to the point of arthritic pain. It hurts right now while I’m typing. Goddamit!
Earlier this year I was given the debut album by the Lower 5th from Luke Jorgensen. I liked the album and had gone through my usual routine of listening multiple times, taking notes, and formulating the approach for writing the review. Several weeks later I found the notes in my papers and discarded them. A couple of months after that I got a note from Luke asking if I would publish the review as they could really use the push in building their following. “I did publish it,” I said. “Quite some time ago. Had he not seen it?” I went to my blog to send him the link. To my horror, I realized I had never written the review. I had talked to others about it, in passing, mentioning the things I had written about the album that seemed to be common amongst those who heard it. But I had never written it. Yeah, something was up. A couple months later I collapsed at a gig, had to be taken out by ambulance and spent a couple days in the hospital. That was the ultimate eye-opener. I was severely depleted. I had finally hit the wall.
Particularly, I am not a fan of the aging rock star thing. I’m sorry, but when I look at the Stones I see a gaggle of creepy uncles. Rock music is driven by sexual energy in large part and I don’t see the glamour in it. Rarely does a band or artist produce their best music after sixty. This is a generalization to be sure, but it’s not something I saw myself doing. I’ve had a good run. My guitar playing had suffered from physical limitations and well, from lack of doing it routinely. My voice is still in great shape. But I’ve had a good run. I’d been playing in some fashion since I joined my brother’s band when I was nine. That was 1967. Fifty years ago. I’d been on the radio, shot videos, been on television, played Summerfest, been on a stage in front of thousands, done recording, production and even mentored. In the middle of October I booked two shows for my friends from Boulder, the Strangebyrds. I asked some of my old friends to help me out and I played my last shows. It felt great. I’d do it every night but I won’t. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a quality-of-life issue would involve leaving music performance behind. But the ship had sailed, it was a good ride in mostly good weather and I am going to accept it.
I will finally publish the Lower 5th review this week. I’m sorry it took so long, Luke! I also offer sincere apologies to those who have solicited my work recently and whom I may have let down for lack of available time. I just can’t stay up all night anymore. Hopefully there will be changes with Local Sounds Magazine and that it will continue. Much like the MAMAs, I need to hand off the baton. If you want to support the music scene and like to write, have a good grasp of grammar and the language, hit me up. If I don’t get right back to you, hit me up again. I may have had a senior moment.