Monday, September 30, 2013


An oft-repeated truism is that young people don’t believe they will die. Most teens and twentysomethings will object to this. Not only do they know (so I’ve been told), but they are more age conscious than any other cadre in the population. I won’t argue with the age consciousness, but that is not the same thing. True enough, the big three zero does loom ahead scarily for them, but, unlike in the 70s scifi movie Logan’s Run, 30 is not really the end. The truism refers to something deeper. Of course 20-year-olds know intellectually they are mortal, but, by and large, they don’t feel it in their bones. The fact doesn’t impinge upon their moment to moment world view or decisions. (This is one reason they make good soldiers.) I know it didn’t impinge on mine. Young people laugh at horror movies. (Some older folks do, too, but there is more sourness to the laugh.)

Though some event in one’s life (not necessarily anything dramatic) can shift one’s perspective ahead of schedule, usually the transition to an integrated sense of mortality occurs in middle age sometime. The change often is very audible in the recordings of musicians. When young artists write or sing about mortality, they typically do so playfully (Jim Morrison) or indulgently (Jagger/Richards Paint it Black). At 50, the references become retrospective and thoughtful, not playful. Frank Sinatra released the album September of My Years (a blatant title if there ever was one) in 1965, the year he turned 50. Among the tracks on the album were How Old Am I, Don’t Wait Too Long, Last Night When We Were Young, and It Was a Very Good Year. In 1969 at age 49, Peggy Lee had her last big hit with Is That All There Is? At age 56, Bob Dylan, while perpetually irked at being called “the voice of a generation” (not even his own: born in 1941, Bob is not a Boomer), voiced that generation’s aging pains with Time Out of Mind. Time wasn’t very far out of his mind in 1997. Two songs from the album also were released as singles. One was Not Dark Yet, with the melancholic refrain, “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” The second, which he sang at the 1998 Grammy Awards, was the weary been-there done-that I’m-too-old-for-this-crap Love Sick: “I'm sick of love, I hear the clock tick...I'm sick of love, I wish I'd never met you.”

What brings all this to mind is the latest Joan Jett and the Blackhearts album, released today, with whatever degree of irony, on the last day of September. I was aware of Joan back in her 70s Runaways days, and started adding her vinyl to my own shelves during her 80s heyday. I remained enough of a fan to order her Greatest Hits CD a few years ago. Amazon never forgets, so last week the site recommended Unvarnished for pre-order; the samples of the album tracks sounded promising, so I clicked “Add to Cart.” The CD showed up in the mail a few hours ago. Joan always has favored simple, no-frills, back-to-basics, hard rock-and-roll; her albums are never brilliant, but they are reliably good. Who fairly can demand more? Unvarnished is very very good, if only because there isn’t a bad track on it, a rare feat for any artist. (Even the Greatest Hits collection has several that are dreary.) Yet, running through the lyrics of the 55-y.o. rocker are a reflective tone and a consciousness of time, most glaringly in Hard to Grow Up. “I think about my own mortality” is actually a lyric in the track Fragile. The album ends with the whisper “Life and death/the change to rearrange/life and death.”

My remarks probably make the album sound like a real downer, but it isn’t. On the contrary, Joan’s current perspective adds richness, just as it did for Frank, Peggy, and Bob before her. As for the music itself, it rocks. If you’ve ever liked Joan Jett, you’ll almost surely like this album, too. Recommended.

Joan Jett Hard to Grow Up (Live: studio version not yet available for post)

Peggy Lee Is That All There Is


  1. Thanks for the heads up on that. Jett is one of those that I didn't realize I knew and liked so many of her songs. I picked up her greatest hits album earlier this year because of that very fact. I'll definitely check this one out.

    I have to say that I agree with the idea that 20 somethings don't really "know" death. I had a nice wake up call in my Freshman year in college. I got into a nasty car accident and was told that if anyone had been in that passenger seat, they'd be dead. Kinda brought the whole thing home, because of all the times I usually had someone sitting there, and the number of times I'd done something stupid in that car.

    I wonder if it changed my writing? Something to check out.

    1. I'm sure it did. All those experiences get intertwined with who we are.

      In an odd way, Joan has benefited from not being bigger. No one wants to hear loads of new songs from a favorite mega-band (e.g. The Beach Boys). They want to hear the old hits. While there are several numbers Jett includes in her concerts to keep her fans happy, her audiences generally are much more open to new material.