Progress Through Perseverance (And Vice Versa)

Published: 28/12, 2023

As I write this column in the closing weeks of 2023, Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards is defying generations of comedians (and perhaps himself) by celebrating his 80th birthday. Quite a feat for someone who, whether accurately or not, came to epitomize rock n’ roll excess of the 60s and 70s. 

Now, Richards does admit to experiencing arthritis from time to time, and in recent years has ditched many of the vices that contributed to the premature departure of so many of his peers. Nevertheless, Richards has managed to keep on a’rockin’ with his fellow octogenarian mate Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood, the Stones’ relative youngster at age 76.

Call it what you will—a marvel, a miracle, or just plain luck—the fact that Richards and so many others of that generation (a song written by now-78-year-old Pete Townsend) shouldn’t really be surprising. Both the concept and actual experience of aging has changed a great deal over the past half-century. The advent of healthier diets and lifestyles has surely played a part, but so too has our approach to and attitude about getting older. 

Time was when someone hit age 65 (as I did in 2023), it’d be time to quit work and do what retired people do. No questions asked. But more people (again, me included) see 65 as just another birthday, and like Keith Richards, we just keep going (despite sore knees and increasingly thicker glasses). For some, of course, it’s a matter of financial necessity. For others (hand still raised), we simply enjoy doing what we’re doing and there’s no real reason to stop. I guess that’s peak Baby Boomer—we want to have our way, just as our parents assured us would happen thanks to their having taken care of all those nasty things in World War II.

If there’s a downside to our desire to keep on keepin’ on, it’s an inherent assumption that our times and the way we do things are better. Yes, there is comfort in familiar habits and experiences, and I weep at the thought that today’s Zoomers may never appreciate the value of reading a good newspaper or experience counting the days before they get a learner’s permit for driving a car. Even how we look at aging is different now. 

But times do and, indeed, must change. After all, it’s changes on multiple technology fronts that have made it possible for us to perform our work more efficiently, to find answers in seconds rather than set aside time for trips to the library, and, yes, to live longer so we can complain about changes that we don’t like. Watch any old movie or TV show, and people in their 50s are looking rather elderly. Even 40-something characters may have gray streaks in their hair—assuming they still have any.

Billy Joel (age 74) once wrote, “the good old days weren’t always that good, and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.” To be sure, age should be respected. But a lot of us poo-poo’d what our parents and other “grown-ups” said back in the day. Rather than judge and criticize, let’s see what the evolving change will bring and, assuming we have the energy, do our parts to make sure the positives leave us little to complain about. There have to be other reasons to make all those noises associated with getting up in the morning, right?




Jim Parsons, Senior Editor

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