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Dead at 47?

About a month ago, I wrote a post about the fact that the lead singer of the band “Kings of Leon” had been quoted as saying: “[t]hat woman in mom jeans who’d never let me date her daughter likes my music? That’s f–king not cool.” My post was a letter addressed to the singer, Caleb Followill, explaining my belief that a real artist is trying to express something, and that the success of that gesture, not the relative “coolness” of the audience is the significant benchmark. I neither expected, nor received a reply from Mr. Followill.

I did, however, get numerous comments from devotees of the band, haranguing and pleading with me, in their dogged and semi-literate way, to understand context, coolness and youth, all of which had clearly escaped my gnarled clutches.  After a few rounds of this, I found myself sitting at my computer, listening to Vampire Weekend and wearing Chuck Taylors, feeling that I was a complete and total fraud. It seemed that if someone came into the house and started peeling a little bit at the top of my head, the entire facade of “hip middle age” would unzip and fall away, revealing…what? A toothless crone with a cane and an AARP card tucked into her largely vacated brassiere? A retro mom with roller “set” hair and a nice tweed skirt listening to Lawrence Welk?  When did I stop being as young as I feel, and start being “older,” if not actually “old?”

As a sensitive type, I am keenly aware of the perils of mutton dressed as lamb. I do some things to avoid appearing dowdy – I color my gray hair, I avoid wearing orthopedic footwear and shapeless pastel sweatsuits emblazoned with screen prints of adorable kitties – but I promise that I am not poring over Teen Vogue trying to figure out whether I would look cuter in the peasant mini or the schoolgirl kilt with my new Uggs. I do not run to iTunes to download Brittney’s latest, mostly because I don’t particularly like her music, but I do keep an eye out for new music* from several indie bands that I enjoy. I read all of the Twilight books, and I have been known to watch “Gossip Girl,” but I also read and watch far more complex offerings. I want to know about Skype, Twitter, Tumblr, sexting, and Limewire. None of this means that I secretly believe myself to be sixteen again. It means I like to know stuff, like I always did.

I also remember the need to separate from my parents (particularly my mother), and the importance of asserting that I was Young and Free and understood Gary Neuman and The Tubeway Army. I do not try to be a peer to my son or his friends; mostly I find 13-year-olds to be as repulsive as I found them when I was one of them. My interest in cutting edge culture is not about being young, it is about being alive. I am even capable of groaning audibly in a car filled with boys when that idiotic song about “Fireflies” comes on the radio, affirming to them, to my son, and to myself that I am not glomming on to their music in some desperate attempt to have a second youth, that I still have my responsible mom credentials and am not afraid to use them.

None of my choices come from some inchoate desire to be young and cool; it has been my belief, as I aged, that I was developing a good sense of who I am and what I really like, and that I was free to pick and choose from everything the world offered. Part of the “good sense” meant that I knew that I didn’t look good in clothes designed and cut for teenagers, and that it would be unattractive for me to insist on shopping at Abercrombie. (Aside from the fact that the clothes are apparently designed to fit exhibitionists who eschew solid food). I am aware that “getting down” while I am chaperoning a middle school dance would have mortifying consequences, and I limit myself to the most discreet tapping of my foot behind the concession window. I know that my Chucks make me happy, but also do nothing to lengthen my legs in boot cut jeans; I rarely wear them outside the house. I have felt free, for many years, to create playlists that include Van Morrison, Beatles and Muse, to work something trendy into an outfit, to work with a cross-generational palette when creating my daily life.

Aside from the odd creaky knee or the shock of an impending 20th high school reunion, I don’t feel old, and other people my age don’t seem old. People older than I am, from Meryl Street to Helen Mirren seem to me to be beautiful, and without a discernible season that has passed. Why do I have to slip quietly into that good night of old age, to be seen and not heard, to stop looking for anything new, and to admit that I don’t understand these newfangled songs, or the allure of a nicely looped scarf?

Yesterday, another commenter vented his spleen on my “Kings of Leon” post. His alphabetical summation of my failings concluded with this one: “[a]nd finally, ‘d)’: you’re only young once. Clearly you miss spent your spell in the younger years.” Overlooking my young critic’s inability to spell, I felt sad, and tired and old. I felt like I had only just come in from standing on the porch and yelling “hey you kids, get off of my lawn!” I felt judged, and categorized and pathetic about my most recent iTunes downloads, my long hair, and my secret desire to have a tattoo. We are “only young once,” and I, a very serious and somewhat stodgy young person, had wasted that time which I would never get back. I was now consigned to some middle-aged hell in which I ranted about hip-hop “not being music,” and had trouble programming my cell phone. It seemed that the only appropriate role for me at 47 was “seen and not heard,” accepting of cruel and short-sighted opinions if they came from a Rock Star, and essentially, culturally, dead. I might as well put on my sweater set and pearls and  complain about that Elvis and his nasty dancing. (And, by the way, why did any of these people think I had bought a copy of Spin in the first place, given my total inability to understand…anything? Did they think that I was planning to request legislation mandating separate “Rock Star Bathrooms,” and required a good, current list of those prospectively banned from sharing my commode?)

Here’s the thing, though, and I think it’s a real and important thing. What bothered me most about the “mom jeans” comment was not that it was age-ist (although it was). What bothered me, and what was missed by all of Mr. Followill’s ardent supporters,  was that his comment was viciously unkind in a way that I dislike in any context. Although less dramatic, it is the kind of flip, judge-y dismissal that I associate with racism, sexism, religious conflict, and anything else that divides groups of people into “us” and “them” and permits free-flowing potshots at “bad them.” I can allow youth to engage in the necessary and painful process of individuation and separation; every generation needs, in some way, to have their own revolution and to re-create the world that they will inhabit (until their own children make them redundant and take over). I cannot accept that it has to be accomplished with cheap shots and cruelty. Vitriol might more appropriately be directed at the government, at large banks, or at a troubled educational system than at middle-aged moms who seek a little happiness by listening to “new” music instead of Billy Joel.

I will not disappear. I will not apologize for my age, or my taste, or my need to speak up when I feel wronged. I am not ready to lower my standards and accept glib cruelty as “the way things are, now,” or to become an inadvertent proxy for the Repressive Older Generation. I am not ready to be old, much less dead at the age of 47.

Photo Credit:

Old Lady: http://www.sequenza21.com/s21%20Little%20Old%20lady.jpg

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

22 responses »

  1. Ann – awesome piece, I read somewhere a long time ago that Eminem thought “moms” enjoying his music were very uncool but I am wondering if these bands are trying to distance themselves from our generation to appear for lack of a better word cooler to the young ones? By the way I totally agree with you.

    Reply
  2. I always get their address and farm their yard. It makes me feel young……

    Reply
    • I don’t know how to “farm.” {She whined, unbecomingly}.

      Reply
      • YARD FARMINg – An act of mischief in which you drive a vehicle through someone’s yard in order to leave tracks or ruts. Best done during, or just after a good hard rain. The ultimate accomplishment is to back right up to the front door and “put the pedal to the medal” spraying mud and grass all over the front of the house.

        IE: Caleb was talking smack today. But that’s okay, we’ll go yard farming at his house tonight. He’ll learn not to run that mouth.

    • Can I do it in a Hyundai Accent?! I like the idea….

      Reply
  3. Oh well. I own that idiotic song Fireflies along with the rest of the album. Guess the 13 year-old crowd better move over and make room for me.

    Reply
  4. OK–I like Billy Joel–always have–Tony Bennett too. Also, I didn’t care about pop culture when I was supposed to and, if it is even possible, I care even less now. I was born old and only now am starting to feel comfortable in my own skin. Can’t wait till I am old enough to sit in the garage in my lawn chair and yell at kids to get off my lawn!

    BTW, Ann, I hate to break it to you and I know math is not your strong suit, but you need to recalculate which reunion is coming up (YIKES)

    Reply
    • I like Billy too, although not as much as I did in the 70s and 80s. I was singing “Allentown” just yesterday. I was born neurotic, missed my youth because I was terrified, and am kind of having it now…in a responsible adult way? Please don’t yell at me Mrs. Graham!

      Of course you are right about the math; I promise it’s stupidity, however, rather than denial.

      Reply
  5. Ah, the Need to be Understood. Them and us both. It never dies.

    Reply
    • It does not. I just always think we should try harder instead of erecting artificial barriers. (Call me Rodney King).

      Reply
  6. I said it before, we can’t totally understand each other because they have not lived long enough. We must be content with the knowledge that at the young age 40 something they’ll say “ahhhh I get it”, because they will, when others make old comments about them. It’s called wisdom and it will come. Yea, I saw what Mary said above and I was going to say the same. I know math isn’t your favorite, but what reunion is coming???

    Reply
    • You got it right the first time. I was never going to say anything about this again, but that comment about “you’re only young once” kind of aggravated me.

      You’re right about the math, too. Don’t you people understand that I have a problem with that?!

      Reply
    • I am imagining Folowills expression when some future day he realizes how hard he is trying to get into somebodys ‘mom jeans’. It happens to all men at some point. I am sure he will send Ann a formal apology then…….

      Reply
  7. Just catching up on this stuff, Ann. I have a confession and a question. I saw Kings of Leon in concert. I was wearing jeans, but I’m not sure if they were Mom jeans (as my daughter owns jeans by the same brand, although in a different size and make. and they weren’t Ambercrombie). So, if they were not officially MOM jeans, am I exempt me from the group Caleb Followill was referring to?

    Some how, I think not, because it reckon it would probably bother Mr. Followill deeply to know that a late 40’s something mother (who wears all different brands of jeans except Ambercrombie) listens to his music and enjoys some of it (‘The Bucket’ and ‘My Party’ both have 5-star rankings on my iPod). But does it also bother him that this mother spent some hard-earned family income on all of his albums, as well as concert tickets because she likes his music and loves her daughter? If he’d like to give me a refund because I don’t fit the demographics of his market audience, I’d be happy to receive it.

    By the way, Kings of Leon’s albums are great, but they sucked at the Reading festival in 2004 and weren’t much better in Boston in 2008.

    Reply
    • Ah, the key is the waist – if any elastic was involved, Mom Jeans. If not, you are probably exempt as long as the waist was just South of your arm pits, and there were not a lot of pleats involved. My money’s on you.

      Interesting question you pose…people keep telling me “he didn’t mean ist that way,” but I still think alienating the people who are paying your way (by which I mean moms) is pretty dumb. I also like the music, although it is not my most favorite, but I try not to think about HIM.

      So…not so great live, eh?

      Reply
  8. Try loving KOL as a 60+ woman! I am not pretending to be anything but someone who has been around good music from the early 60s on. These guys have brought back the FEELING in rock music. The ageism is a bit hurtful, but, hell what is rock anyway – no excuses, honest, blunt and rushing with energy and spirit. When it is good is it transformative live and the vibe is so uplifting no matter who says what about whom outside of that is not relevant.

    Reply
    • Helen, I still think there is no justification for unkindness, even youthful exuberance, but I certainly understand what you say…and you said it awfully well. Rock on.

      Reply
  9. Hi Ann. I’ve just come across your blog (due to a search for spicy zucchini recipes!) and I am really enjoying it.

    As a 24 year old woman with a mother only a few years older than yourself, I think you are right on with this entry. It may have taken me over a decade to get my own mother to quit wearing the offending mom-jeans, but she was playing Cat Stevens in lullaby form when my younger brother was a baby and my father used to listen to Pink Floyd on vinyl when I was a kid.

    Tell me that’s not cool! It’s freakin’ awesome!

    If this Caleb chap somehow fails to appreciate that great music SHOULD transcend generations then he’s really only proving himself to be more immature than his 25 years would suggest.

    I also might add that as someone who is probably in his ‘target audience’ I’ve never once listened to his music, but Cat Stevens, Crosby Stills & Nash, the Beatles, etc. feature regularly in my playlist (as well as Britney, the Black Eyed Peas, and Missy Elliot, to show that I do like ‘new’ stuff too!).

    Reply
    • Danielle, I hope you liked the spicy zucchini, too. 🙂

      My great joy in music is precisely what you identify; that I can pick and choose music my parents listened to when they courted, music from my youth, and things I hear on the radio when my son chooses the station. I just want to feel that I am not pigeonholed. You have a very interesting and encouraging playlist for someone who is in Kings of Leon’s target audience.

      Reply

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