Monday, September 17, 2012

A Different Perspective on Age

I was having an interesting conversation with someone the other day about our perceptions of aging and how we view the stereotypical "old person" in our lives. It's a curious phenomenon, but I'm sure I felt when I was younger that the closer you get to the age of the people you consider "old" -- your grandparents, for example -- the more you understand and relate to them and their way of thinking.

What brought it up was a half joke about the way my dad complains about the old guys on the highway who drive too slow. He's 74.

This curious parallel made me think about how we view the older people in our lives. We picture Granny from the Bugs Bunny cartoons, sitting in her rocker singing mash songs from the 1930's, and suspect that this is the life all older people seem to be consigned to. Even in my regular work, I find myself making assumptions about older people because, frankly, my grandfather fought in World War II, and my grandmother survived a communist revolution (or two) in the "old country." But they were older than my daughter's grandparents, of course, and that put in my mind the idea of a sort of timeline.

Think about this: 1969 was a revolutionary year, right? It was the age of Woodstock, and of rebellion. There was a social revolution going on. And those rebels...

A 20-year-old woman attending Woodstock. Seems reasonable. Your 20s are your years of personal exploration, adventure, rebellion. Take a defining song like "All Along the Watchtower" (Hendrix). Put it in context. If that woman was 20 at Woodstock, she'd be 30 in 1979. So her 20s were taken up during the age of the sexual revolution. The age of hippies. The age of Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper, Disco and so on. She would have lived through the entire technological revolution of the 80s and 90s; seen the rise of the personal computer, the demise of VHS, and the advent of smart phone culture.

That's right...when The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple were reshaping music history, your 63-year-old personnel manager was clubbing. Probably just the way you are now. So for further context, a 73-year-old would have been 30 at that same time. If you're 30 now and still checking out concerts, I'm sure you're pretty sure you're still cool.

Angus Young, the guitarist from AC/DC was born in 1960. He was 14 when their first album came out in 1974. He's a scant 52 years old now. Ozzy was born in 1948. He'll be 64 in December. Think he's still cool? His first album with Black Sabbath came out in 1970 when he was 22.

So if you're in your 20s or 30s, keep this in mind. The people you might see as old folks were part of a much more active, much more politically charged rock rebellion than you were. And it's quite possible they're still hipper than you.