Over the span of our lifetime, our perception of life changes… about many
things. How we view our fellow man is often dictated by our preferences
and prejudices, ideas we have that were formed by our family, our
teachers and our culture. Each generation of youngsters finds new and
different hair styles, clothing and language to help them distinguish
themselves from the rest of us, the unwashed adults, the older
generation… the corny, the uncool. For example, though our generation
has been “up for that” for 80 years or more, now you guys are suddenly
“down for that.” Okay, whatever. But don’t tell me something is dope. You
know my response to that…
Now look here, you young whippersnappers, It’s not fair to think we’re uncool,
we’re still cool by our our generation, we’re just not cool by yours. But did you
expect us to change, to try to be cool like you? Hell no! And if, somehow, we
would have tried, and might have actually pulled it off, you would have changed
what your concept of “cool” is, because the younger generation can’t align itself,
or even relate to old people. I know, I couldn’t either, when I was young. Now I
could say that you young ones don’t want to relate to us because we’re wise
with experience and you are still dumber than dishwater. But I won’t say that.
Still, the fact that you probably think that “corny & uncool” has anything to do
with wisdom and life experiences proves that your value judgement is not
only skewed, but laughable. And once again, I can say all this because
I’ve been there!
You see, we now know the elements that overcome the need to be cool,
what replaces it, what puts “cool” in its final resting place. They are the
same things that tend to wrench the ego into a smaller, more useable entity.
Those elements are love, compassion, selflessness, personal integrity.
My favorite example of that is all the middle age parents you see at the
grocery store and at malls. They don’t look cool, on top of it all. Some of
the moms look a little frumpy, some of the dads have dirty work clothes on.
And most of them pulled up in q practical van or sedan that they wouldn’t
have been caught dead in five years earlier. And why?? Because they
have kids, whom they love way more than they ever loved their own self
image. You think that mom wouldn’t love some new clothes? You think that
square-looking dude wouldn’t rather be crawling out of a ‘Vette, instead of
a 5 year-old SUV? Unconditional love is magical… among many other
things, it brings with it a new perspective, of what really matters in life, and
often that translates into a new, somewhat selfless sense of how to assist,
and be kind, to others. Funny, that usually ends up being what matters most.
Yes, some of us have fallen and can’t get up, I know, I know. Don’t judge
us on that. Some of us jumped out of airplanes 60 years ago, onto foreign
soil and smack into a war zone. The years of activity of any kind will pile up
on the body… it’s only human, after all. I played high school football and
basketball for four years. Broke my collar bone and my nose twice. I now
walk with a slight limp and my face looks a little funky. Is this the way I’’d
like to walk and look? Hell no, it isn’t! But it’s one of the things that happens
to us when we live a full and adventurous life. I can tell you this… if my
lady, Betty, falls, it’s because someone pushed her. And then, she’d jump
right back up and put a knot on their noggin! And she’s 80! Not only that,
talk to her for five minutes and you’ll get a wealth of life experience and
information that you won’t find on Google.
One of the fifty things you don’t understand about us oldsters is that we
have survived the perils of life, to still be alive in our 70’s and 80’s. It’s
actually a pretty neat trick, if you think about it… which you haven’t. Millions
upon millions of people never made it to 50 or 60. Why do you suppose
that is? Even in the last 200 years, when so many of us have had the
luxury of what we’ve come to think of as necessities, living to an old age
still requires an equal amount of luck and skill… and thinking ahead. Do you
know anyone over 35 who has never had a close call with death? If you do,
drag them out of that cave and expose them to the sunlight… they obviously
haven’t lived yet!
I know you can’t know how we grew up, how the world was at that time and
what were our major influences. Neither can we understand the world that
waits before you today. Your challenges are so different from ours in many
ways. And it’s true… a good deal of what you need to know to survive in
today’s world is beyond what we can help you with. Beyond that, however,
we hold a wealth of day-to-day living that could help you deal with things
like stress, how compassion and an understanding of the human condition
still has value, sets you apart at work, at cocktail parties, on the street, at home.
We know about these things because most of us learned them the hard way.
In a perfect world, where the generations still connect, you would take a little
time to ask us oldies how we got here… what worked, what didn’t… you’d
try to gain a little knowledge from our experiences to make the journey a
little easier on yourselves. I bet you’d be surprised at what we know, and what
we’re willing to share with you. But you don’t ever do that. You don’t care how
we got here. All you see is our failures, and decide you’ll do it differently.
I get that, I was the same way at your age. Difference was, my elders sat
me down occasionally and told me some of their stories, to make sure I
didn’t make the same mistakes they did. Some of us old ones have tried,
from time to time, to tell you things, to help you grow, but ultimately we
realize you’re going to do it your own way anyway… learning from your
mistakes the same way we did as youngsters. I can only hope you survive
the process – life is trickier than you think it is.
It seems like forever when we, as young people, began rebelling against our
parents, then pushing against the establishment, then demonstrating against
the political powers of our time. We railed against the whole idea of being
“responsible and grown up…” hell, we thought we were already grown up,
and we did nearly everything possible to separate ourselves from the
dreaded “establishment,” yet when ever we all got together, for dances, at
clubs, at college, we all looked the same, dressed the same, talked the same.
In high school especially, in the late 50’s and early 60’s, all the guys wore
white t-shirts, jeans, penny loafers with white socks. Our pant legs were all
rolled up one narrow, tiny notch at the bottom, and a pack of cigarettes were
always neatly rolled up in the sleeve of our t-shirt. Many of us had our hair cut
flat top on top, long on the sides with a DA in the back. A “DA?” … Duck’s Ass.
Having difficulty with that image? Think The Fonz!
About the white socks… I was still wearing them two years out of high
school when I was accepted at the Berklee School of Jazz in Boston.
On my way back to Boston for the first time, I stopped in South Bend, Indiana,
to see my pal, Joe The Bear, who had spent some of the summer in Virginia
City. That’s another whole story… Anyway, Joe is invited to a party of students
from the U. Of Chicago in Chicago, so we drive in and attend the party, which
is in the home of one of the students whose parents were gone for the
weekend. It was a quiet party, as it turned out. All the kids there were smarter
than hell… it turned out to be my first introduction to real class in people my
own age. There was an upright piano in the living room, and after a time I sat
down and played awhile. A very pretty black girl sits down on the bench
beside me and listens for a bit. And then, between songs, she smiled.
“I like the way you play, but I have to say you’re the first jazz musician I’ve
ever seen who wore white socks!” Needles to say, the first thing I did in
Boston was to buy 6 pair of black socks!
I broke with the rebel tradition only once… my freshman year in college. I
had a weird roommate briefly… Roger, who came from a very wealthy
family, wore at least a sports jacket everywhere (I didn’t even own one)
and often wore an ascot to social functions. One Friday evening in mid-winter
he actually talked me into wearing an ascot to a dance, selling me on the
idea that the girls would see me as a man of class and good taste. Being
desperate for a date right then, I broke down and wore one. Of course it
didn’t change anything, no one danced with me, the lovelies wouldn’t talk
to me, and the only thing that came out of that whole evening was the
amusement I imagine Roger and his pals got out of my looking like a total
fool in a stupid ascot! Never, ever again will i wear one, and I’ll tell you this –
don’t ever try to put an ascot on a kid from Montana… the visual alone
could do permanent damage to your vision, not to mention what the kid from
Montana will do when he sees himself in the mirror!
I did everything in my power to be cool when I was your age. Sometimes i
think that “being cool” is a scary but curable virus that attacks the self-imaging
pat of the brain, rendering it out of commission until one turns 40, or becomes
a parent, whichever comes first. I bought high-collar white dress shirts to
wear at gigs because I’d seen some cool black musicians wearing them. I
had a fake gold chain around my neck for several years. I bought a pair of
prescription shades (black, like the Blues Brothers) so I could look more like
a cool jazz musician. I thought all jazz musicians were cool back then.
I put glasspack mufflers on all my cars, so they wouldn’t be quiet and
smooth like all the old farts. I actually bought (and wore!) a Nehru jacket in
the early ’70’s and i admit to owning (and wearing) a powder blue leisure suit!
I combed my hair in several crazy styles until I started going bald. I had several
pair of strange, pointy-toed shoes because they were cool. I started saying
phrases like “Outa Sight!” “Too much, man!” and “I’m hip.”
The phrase “I’m hip” caught on in the ’60’s much like “like” is now. It began
in the 50’s as “I’m hep,” but soon “hep” became “unhip” and hip was the
new thing. Loosely translated, “I’m hip” means “I understand,” “I agree,”
“I know that already,” all in a two-word phrase that says, “I get it.”
I must have said “I’m hip” at least ten thousand times in a ten-year period.
I stopped saying “I’m hip” when I moved to Atlanta in ’72. No one down
there said it or even knew what it meant. I broke it cold turkey in less than
a week. I’m pretty sure that “I’m hip” finally fell from grace sometime in the
’80’s, but longevity, for the moment anyway, has to go to “man.”
The story I get was that the black guys got good and sick of being called
“boy” by the white racists, so they decided to begin addressing each other
as “man.” Boy, did “man” catch on! Soon the white musicians jumped on it
and then white folk who wished they were musicians, or even just hep, started
calling each other “man.” Plus, it was an easy out if you didn’t remember his
name. “Hey man, what’s happenin’” has to be right up there with “Hi, how ya
doin’?” Of course if you were a jazz musician, all that got old and before long
one had to greet another with, “What’s shakin’, Baby Cakes?”
See, through the years we’ve all had our way with language separation and
style separation to distance ourselves from the older generation. Until
recently we haven’t had to pay much attention to gender separation, but even
that’s becoming an issue now. For me these days, I just smile at the young
guys and remember the days when being young and different from the elderly
was just as important to me as it is to them now. I hate to tell them, but now that
I’m one of the doddering old farts, I’m surprised at how easy it is to be old, how
stupid we all looked with some of the things we thought were cool, how easy
and fun it is now to not have to be hip… but wait…I’m still hip, I’m still cool,
man! I still be happenin’! Perhaps you can’t see it from the outside, but inside
something is still shakin’, Baby Cakes! I just can’t remember what it is…