A Soundtrack to the Ageing Process

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For this week’s writing challenge, we’re asking you to explore what age means to you. (Weekly Writing Challenge: Golden Years)

If I’ve learnt anything over the years, it’s that the process of ageing is an emotionally charged business. You can see this quite clearly when you get someone’s age wrong. They might squeal with delight – You thought I was that young! How wonderful! Or they might stamp their feet and say I’m nearly 7 years old, I’ll have you know. And if you are very unlucky, they might hit you over the head with a baseball bat and say Nobody tells me I look forty and gets away with it!

One way of capturing or conveying emotions is through music, and popular music is something to which we all have a connection. So, if I may, I’d like to split the ageing process into five stages, and suggest a song for each stage that captures the mood of that stage. It is a soundtrack, if you like, to the ageing process.

It might surprise you to know that, as a twenty-something whippersnapper, I haven’t experienced all of life’s stages.

What’s that I hear you say, reader?

How could a common youth have anything to say about the ageing process? They have no idea what they’re talking about! 

Murmurs and mutterings of agreement from other readers.

Yes, I know. It’s rather cheeky of me. But you’ll just have to deal with it.

Youths are so pushy these days.

You didn’t get that in my day.

Yes, I’m sure there was more respect for elders in your day. Although I do think it’s a bit cheeky of you to claim that an entire time period is yours alone. Anyway, I’ve got an imagination haven’t I? Isn’t that all you need?

Well I don’t know about that…

Settle down everyone. I did say that the topic of ageing was emotionally charged, didn’t I? So, let’s calm ourselves down with a glass of milk, cup of tea, or a whisky – depending on your stage in the ageing process – and let’s begin this piece of tomfoolery by outlining Stage 1. 

Stage 1. Welcome to the Jungle

I chose Guns N’ Roses, Welcome to the Jungle for Stage 1. This stage starts from the moment you tumble into the world and ends just before you enter your teens. These are the years when you undergo the biggest learning curve of your entire life. You will learn how to walk, talk, write, draw, whistle, play hopscotch, and skip with a skipping rope.

As Axl Rose tells us, it really is a jungle out there. But instead of the adult jungle of drugs, sex and alcohol that Rose is singing about, there’s the jungle comprised of other children, and of big people who are either telling you off or talking about things that you don’t understand.

A vivid Stage 1 memory that I have is of getting into trouble for stealing someone else’s play piece. For those readers who are unfamiliar with Scottish idioms (which I’d imagine is all of you) a play piece is the snack that your parents give you to eat at morning interval at school. It’s usually a biscuit, but if you are very unlucky it might be an apple.

Anyway, one day, my friend asked me if we could swap play pieces. I asked her if she was sure that she wanted to do this, as it was a big commitment at the time. She said that she was, so we swapped our play pieces. However, no sooner did we swap our respective play pieces than my so-called “friend” ran to the teacher and accused me of theft. Talk about jungles.

Stage 2: Smells like Teen Spirit

Stage 2 is the teenage years. Crikey I’m feeling a bit nervous just thinking about those years. I chose the Nirvana song Smells like Teen Spirit as it’s rather angst-ridden and reminds me of teenagers taking themselves incredibly seriously. It’s a serious time, though. The frivolity of hop-scotch and play-pieces is replaced with things like romance and rebellion. Who’s going out with who and who’s cool seem to be all that anyone cares about at school. Unsurprisingly, I was not a member of the cool crew and spent most lunchtimes at school with my equally uncool friend, hiding in the music department and writing extremely serious songs about teenage angst.

One memory I have of those years is of the teachers at my school attempting to educate us about that hellish concept of puberty; a word that always makes me cringe. They decided that the best thing to do was to use an educational film, designed for schools, to explain a few things. I suppose it did save them the embarrassment of having to explain anything in their own words. Heaven forbid they should have to use hand gestures or props to convey particular messages.

Anyway, I remember the beginning of this film quite vividly. It began by showing us footage of some teenagers on a roller coaster. The narrator then proceeded to say that puberty is like a roller-coaster. (Clearly the makers of this film were not big on subtlety). To be honest, I really don’t know what they were trying to say by making this comparison between puberty and roller-coasters. Personally, I can’t stand roller-coasters. They scare the hell out of me. I realise other people find it quite thrilling, but I’ve just never got that. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a slightly skewed picture of puberty from that video. Maybe it was something like this:

Dear kids,

Puberty is going to scare the hell out of you.

Good luck with it.

Yours sincerely,

Adults

Stage 3: 9 to 5

Dolly Parton seemed to know what she was talking about when she wrote 9 to 5. They use your mind and you never get the credit, it’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it. Damn straight, sister. Although, the modern equivalent of this song might be 9 to 7 or 8 to 8.

Stage 3 ranges from the age of 20 to 40, and might involve several years of fiddling around at universities or other educational places getting qualified for various things. It might involve several years working in various jobs before finding some kind of suitable vocation. I’m speculating here. I assume that this is what people do. During this time, you might also find a significant other and end up having children or something. (Again, I’m only going on what I’ve seen in films. Who knows what actually happens?)

The point is that you spend these years in pursuit of a career. What a horrible word. The word career makes me think of careering off a cliff. But anyway, the world of work seems a bit like school to me, except that instead of throwing paper airplanes made out of this week’s maths homework, airplanes are now made out of this week’s spending projections. 

Stage 4: Don’t Fear the Reaper

From the chirpy sounds of Dolly Parton, we move into the slightly more eerie, but none-the-less hilarious territory of Stage 4, which ranges from your 40s until you are into your 60s, and includes at least one mid-life crisis. I’ve chosen Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, as it’s quite haunting but at the same time makes me think of a 50-year-old male accountant buying a motorcycle, and buzzing around to his heart’s delight, while the women in his life stuff napkins in their mouth to suppress hysterical laughter.

Apparently mid-life crises arise when an individual is forced to come to terms with the loss of youth and the fact that they will die one day. Cheerful stuff, eh? Whatever the reasons for mid-life crises, it struck me that the mid-life crisis is often described as a male phenomenon. Motorbikes, affairs with secretaries, starting a band. What about a female mid-life crisis? Aren’t there any of those?

I imagine that a female mid-life crisis would go something like this:

The Female Mid-Life Crisis

Mother in kitchen cutting crusts from sandwiches.

Child enters kitchen.

Child: Mum I don’t want these sandwiches.

Mum stops cutting, sighs and looks up.

Mum: Why? I’ve given you these sandwiches in your packed lunch for the past two weeks.

Child: Yes, I know. That’s what I’m trying to say. I’m tired of these sandwiches.

Mum: You’re tired of these sandwiches?

Child: Yes

Mum: You know what I’m tired of you little twit. I’m tired of getting up at 6am in order to make these bloody sandwiches for you and your sisters. You can take these sandwiches and shove…..

Dad enters kitchen and swiftly scoops up frightened child.

Dad: It’s ok darling. Mum’s just a bit stressed out just now.

Later in the week Mum leaves home to spend three weeks at an all-female retreat in the Highlands of Scotland with other crisis-stricken women.

Stage 5. Ain’t got no…I got life

Stage 5 sounds like the best stage of all to me. It ranges from some time during your sixties until, well….death, I suppose. I chose Nina Simone’s Ain’t Got No…I Got Life for this one, as it conveys how I imagine people feel during this stage of life. The great thing about this stage is that you stop working at some point near the beginning of it. Now that the nonsense of careers is out the way, you are free to do what you want. You could re-invent yourself. You could be as cantankerous, charming, boring and rebellious as you like without being told off by your parents or employers.

While death is around the corner, you have acknowledged it during your mid-life crisis years  (please tell me this is true)  and now you can just sit back and enjoy life.

As Nina Simone says, she may not have many things, but she’s got life and she’s going to live it. Presumably, when you hit your twilight years, you’ll have slightly more than Nina Simone appears to have in this song. She says that she doesn’t have friends, love, a home, shoes, sweaters or a bed. So, I hope you would have at least some of these things at this stage in your life.

So, there you have it. That’s my proposal for a soundtrack to the ageing process. We start with Welcome to the Jungle, which is followed by a Smells like Teen Spirit, 9 to 5, Don’t Fear the Reaper, and finally Ain’t got no…I got life. 

What would your soundtrack to the ageing process be?

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