When I’m Sixty-Four

October 7, 2012

“When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now…” This line is from the famous Beatles song “When I’m Sixty-four” which came out in 1967. I was nineteen years old at the time. It is 2012, and I am just days from sixty-four, so the “many years from now” part no longer applies. What once was inconceivable has come to pass.

Sixty-four. How could this possibly be?

Oscar Wilde once said, “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.” I think I know what he meant. When I look out upon the world, I do not see a balding, gray-haired old guy, for inside I am still the me that always was, just with more experience and hopefully some additional wisdom. Whenever I see photos of my high school classmates, I think to myself, “Man, does he look old!” not thinking of myself in that way. But each time I look in the mirror, I am forced to face the shocking reality: I, too, am old.

One piece of wisdom on which I still need to work is that which Henri Frederic Amiel voiced so well: “To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” I am finding this out first-hand; aging gracefully is a far more challenging pursuit than I had thought.

Lately I think I often act like a cantankerous old coot in spite of that ever-youthful internal image I continue to entertain. I can no longer run because my knees and hip object quite adamantly. Watching Saturday Night Live is out of the question, or if I do manage to attempt it, I am snoring on the couch by the end of the opening monologue. This same guy who got as close to the stage as possible at CBGB to listen to Richard Hell and the Voidoids now had to retreat to the back of the balcony at the Wellmont because he couldn’t handle the volume of The National. My lifelong role as a teacher has changed radically from a full-time professional to a part-time volunteer. I get senior citizen fare on NJ Transit. Well, okay, that last one isn’t so hard to take. But these changes snuck up on me, and what once seemed slow and almost imperceptible is now quite obvious and unavoidable. But in spite of this, I cannot ignore this ageless me that dwells within.

Several of my closest friends are in the same leaky boat as I. Recently I burned a CD mix for one of them (at least I am still conversant in that arena) composed of pivotal songs, benchmarks along the way of our many years together. Though several of the artists I included met their untimely demise before their time (Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones), many others such as Neil Young, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, David Byrne, Bob Dylan, and of course Bruce are still out there, vital and creative to this day despite their years.

I think of my father, too. When he was sixty-four, I was twenty-eight. He had arthritis and a heart condition, but he and I put a new roof on my house (or rather, I helped him put it on; he did twice what I could manage). The clear conclusion: age in itself is not necessarily the obstacle some (me?) make it out to be.

I had a difficult time deciding on which Neil Young song to put on that CD for my friend. It turned out to be “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black).” I’m not sure whether or not my subconscious meant to slip in a subliminal subversive message by including lyrics that proclaim, “It’s better to burn out that it is to rust,” though I choose to content myself with the idea that rust is not necessarily an aspect of age but rather disuse. As I long as I make myself useful in some way, I’ll at least retain my immunity to that particular fate.

I prefer to focus on a different line in the song which says, “There’s more to the picture than meets the eye.” Although the picture may only look like that of a sixty-four year old man to most, perhaps it really does contain more than meets the eye. Look inside for a bit. Just maybe you’ll see a glimpse of that young guy still in there.



  1. Dear Don: 64 is not as old as it used to be. The lower picture is how I remember you, but in the humanity and intelligence shown here in your writing I recognize you very well: an excellent, kind and enlightening teacher. May you be forever young, dear friend.

  2. I guess you are getting old you left the price tag hanging on your jacket. young forever # Dave

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