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Aging well or just aging: The rockers of my youth

January 2, 2013
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I was one of the estimated 50 million people who watched the “12-12-12” concert for Hurricane Sandy relief and I had two reactions. The first was that event was especially poignant because, as the New York Times reported, more than 40% of the fatalities of this storm were people over age 65. Many drowned in their homes or died when help couldn’t reach them in time to get medical care. (I think this is really a comment about aging in community vs. aging in place.) But, this is an issue beyond my ken to solve. I am not a politician or a policy person. What I am, though, is a “child who’s grown old” with rock and roll music as the soundtrack of my life, and I saw this in stark detail during the broadcast.

An article by Alex Williams headlined: The music is timeless, but about the rockers… was the second thing I reacted to. Here were the groups that helped me get through the turbulence of the 1960s and ’70s. They were largely, as Mick Jagger so aptly quipped, “…the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled in Madison Square Garden.” (Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Billy Joel were there too, and while they are younger they were termed “geriatric” in the article.)

The old English musicians were about my age or younger! Williams’ article looked at the critical issue of whether it is “possible to look cool and rebellious after 50 without looking foolish.”  In other words, do those aging rock stars who dyed their hair and bared their bellies have to fade away when they no longer have the youthful images that are the calling card of youthful rebellion?

There was much reaction to Roger Daltrey showing his midriff during The Who’s energetic set of classics (remember their hit “My Generation,” with the line “Hope I die before I get old.”?), and of the color of Bon Jovi’s and Paul McCartney’s hair. These and other icons were reported to have been the subjects of snarky Tweets. And Jagger still struts like he did when he was in his twenties, but it looked odd to me doing it at almost 70. So why do some aging rockers have to use age denial to perpetuate their rebellious bona fides?

Does the music of protest have to be accompanied by bounding across the stage, gyrations and age-denying cosmetic interventions? This is not a remote issue: the “You are My Sunshine” days of sing-along music activities in long-term care settings are coming to an end. We need to think about how the next wave may want to spend their time enjoying music in groups when they are not listening to iPods or rock wall climbing.


Judah Ronch

Dean, Erickson School, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Judah Ronch

Judah L. Ronch, PhD, is the dean of and a professor at the Erickson School, University of...