Doing The Math

This weekend, I got a message from Angel Dean that the great bluegrass musician, singer, songwriter and social activist Hazel Dickens had died. (I wrote about Hazel, and Angel too, a few years ago here). Angel and I corresponded about how much Hazel had meant to us, and how when we met her years back, she’d seemed ancient. And how we’d both been shocked to realize she was the same age then as we are now.

How could Angel and I know, looking at 52 or 53 year old Hazel, what incredible stores of energy and creativity and whatever else can be inside a person, even as the physical side is ebbing a bit – how could we know she was not anywhere near finished – hell, she was only getting started in a way, giving what she had to give?

God, we were young then! Oh, we could be honored, and awestruck to be hanging out with someone who’d been where she’d been and done what she’d done. But how, at the age of 28 or 29, could we imagine what someone that old had left to do on this earth?

I’ve been thinking about Hazel a lot the last few days, how she never stopped playing and singing but kept on performing right up to her death at the age of 75.

Then today I was in the post office, standing behind a man, who was giving his date of birth to the lady behind the counter. “Mille neuf cent soixante quatorze” I heard him reeling off. Let’s see, 1900 and 60 plus 14 so that makes it 19…74.

Shit. He’s young! Not even 40. I was 15 in 1974. I look at his face. He looks, um, middle-aged. That makes me…old?

If not old, older. Always, always older than I think I am.

Got back home and saw on Twitter: RIP Poly Styrene, age 53.

No! She was just releasing her first album in many years. Recent photos show a lovely, enchanting woman with lots to give. From the beginning, in X-Ray Spex, here was a brain at work, questioning, challenging everybody’s idea of what a girl was, what advertising did, the modern world. Saw her play at CBGB, one of the English bands we all would’ve killed to see but this show was more 3D, more fun, more colorful, more energetic and exciting than anyone could’ve expected (I just found this recording of it). She raised a daughter, had problems and was coming back again, with experience and wisdom and power.

53. Not old. Young.

11 thoughts on “Doing The Math

  1. Angola

    So sad to have heard about Hazel, and then Marian/Poly; I saw that CBGB's XRay show too. Way back when. Dreaming of what was and what is to come…

  2. alexh

    It all resonates with me Amy. I can't get away from it doing this family history research job, with all these online records we sometimes speed through the records of a life (birth/marriage/children/death) in 20 minutes! Still, I just spoke with a 90 year old lady who sounded around 60 so that's encouraging. My mum just secretly "lost" 6 years at some point in her life It was so sad to hear about Poly- an intriguing blend of fun, innocence and insight.

  3. Amy

    Argh, I've just tried 3 times to leave a comment and it keeps disappearing! Wanted to say thanks for the Kirsty song Katherine and M. Angola, I think you're right, it's important to remember the future.There's some parallels between the two voices Alex, that I tried to write just now (and lost) and wish I'd written about yesterday (but I got so hung up on age, I don't know why I always do that) – non-pretty voices that spoke so directly. Anyway, now I must get some work done but thank you. Your job does sound interesting!

  4. jim

    Dylan Thomas said it best..and we are not old yet… Do not go gentle into that good night,Old age should burn and rave at close of day;Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  5. Amy

    I love those lines Jim. Though (still doing the math) I had to check and see that he didn't actually make it to 40? But left a huge mark.Yes, you've been through so much with that Cynthia. Good luck with Ernie's treatment and lots of love to you and the guys.

  6. a

    I was really sorry to hear about Polly Styrene. I knew she was very ill, but all the positive reports made me think she was going to pull through somehow.On the other hand, my mum was born in the year before the Russian Revolution. She's still around…

  7. Amy

    Right there in Sussex, you must've known about it, Adrian. It came as a shock to me, all I'd heard lately was Black Christmas and thought "great, she's doing music again".That is something about your mother!

  8. seang

    I'm 38 and I feel old sometimes–then I remember Billy Childish wrote some of his best tunes in his forties–"it's not too late", I say to myself–cool post

  9. Amy

    I've had that feeling since my early twenties Sean. I wrote a song called Invisible when I was…37? Ha – little did I know! It's never too late, thanks for your comment.

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