As I prepared to celebrate
my 64th birthday, I couldn’t help thinking about the Beatles song:
“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty four?” I was
also reminded of the Stones’ hit, “Mother’s Little Helpers,” with the
unforgettably dreary line: “What a drag it is getting old.” One of the clichés of the
60s was: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Old people were troublemakers. Remember
Wilfrid Brambel, the actor who played
Paul McCarthy’s grandfather in the movie “A Hard Day’s Night.” That crusty old
codger was always causing fights between members of the band, stealing their
stuff and trying to sell it for a profit. There were lots of jokes about his
being “a clean old man.”
|Me at age 21|
Here we are: baby boomers who have become, dare I say the word? old. Some of us are gray, some have lost our hair and others are wearing wigs pretending we’re still young. John Lennon didn’t make it to old age; at 40, on the verge of middle age, he died a martyr, with Yoko still promoting his quirky 60s idealism. Paul McCartney has turned 70, become a billionaire and has been knighted. He looks a little like the old codger in “A Hard Day’s Night,” but still tours the world singing the old Beatle hits: “Lovely Rita," “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Magical Mystery Tour.” At age 69 Mick Jagger is still kicking ass with his rockin' cohorts in the Rolling Stones.
What about us? Does the spirit of the 60s still beat in our hearts? Are we still kicking ass? Or have we become clean old men and women?
The jury is still out. I am not prepared to generalize about the boomers who are entering, or have entered, their retirement years. Some are rabid conservatives. Others are flaming liberals. Others are tranquilizing their minds with booze and drugs and pills. We’re a mixed lot. I am glad to be among friends who still have a spark of the 60s idealism. We still believe it’s important to “give peace a chance.” We're still convinced “the times they are a changin.” We’re still ready to ride “the Peace Train.”
Far too many of the rockers of the 60s died young, like Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix. Others, like Barry McGuire, survived to share their story.
I feel a special affinity for Barry McGuire, the singer who wrote “Eve of Destruction,” the protest song with the unforgettable refrain: “Tell me, over and over and over again, my friend, you don’t believe, we’re on the eve of destruction.” He now has an act with John York of the Byrds called “Trippin’ the 60s.” Jill took me to hear Barry at the Coffee Gallery in Pasadena when we were engaged. At one point, Jill turned to me and said excitedly, “We ought to invite him to sing at our wedding.” I replied, “You want him to sing ‘Eve of Destruction at our Wedding’?’ I don’t think so!”
Barry tells hilarious tales about the Mamas and the Papas, John Sebastian, John Denver, and other 60s stars he knew, played, and got high with. If you haven’t seen his show, I recommend it highly, no pun intended. In fact, I’m promoting a benefit concert in which Barry and John will be singing at the Pasadena Nazarene Church. Proceeds from sales will go to help Family Promise, an interfaith network that helps homeless families to find housing and jobs.
What helped Barry survive the drug culture of the 60s was his discovery of Christ. He has written songs about his new life, the best being “The Cosmic Cowboy.” It goes like this:
There’s a Cosmic cowboy, and he rides the starry range.
He’s a supernatural plowboy, and he is dressed up kind of strange.
To think I nearly missed Him, being out there on the run.
Ah, but that old hat that he’s wearin, it’s shinning brighter than the sun.
And when my eyes adjusted, to the flashin of his smile;
Hey, I saw his invitation. He said; “Come on, Me and You,
we’ll go ridin for awhile.”
Ridin’ the range with the Cosmic Cowboy. Love it! That’s a line worthy of Rumi.
I somehow survived not only the 60s, but the decades since those tumultuous times, with a little help from my friends and from the Cosmic Cowboy. I survived graduate school, teaching at various colleges and universities, the loss of my parents as well as beloved teachers and friends, and the most significant loss of all, the loss of Kathleen, my wife of blessed memory.
|Me at age 64|
Somehow, in spite of or maybe because of these losses, I not only survived, I thrived. During these past four decades my relationship to God, to Christ and to my friends has deepened. I have a new life and a new wife for whom I thank God each day. I am profoundly grateful to friends of diverse faiths who share my passion for justice and peace--friends who believe in me and encourage me to keep on keepin’ on. I thank God I have found the beloved community that Martin Luther King talked about.
Mick, you’re wrong. It’s not a drag getting old. For those of us riding the Peace Train, it’s a blessing.