I’m in the kitchen trying to cook dinner. Kim and Jenn are talking about getting older, how Kim wants a makeover. I know exactly how she feels. “Me too, Kim, me too!” I shout.
Appearance is at least controllable, sort of. Unlike the rest of the world.
It’s the season of losing things. First I lost my new prescription sunglasses. Just poof, gone before the festival I played two weeks ago, sometime between leaving the house and going onstage. I’d thought the glasses could be a cloak of coolness during a daytime outdoor gig. Playing outside is never easy but…try doing it in your sixties or beyond. There’s no lights to hide behind.
After the gig, at the end of the night, I’d felt happy. I’d just played two of the best shows I’d ever played. The band was tight. The set list felt right. I’d rehearsed and prepared in a way I’d never had time for when all I did was run from gig to job to task to gig to self-made crisis.
So why couldn’t I sleep?
The photos…the photos from the show. I hated how I looked in the photos. It didn’t seem to matter how the shows felt. Only that the photographic evidence existed for the whole world to see, proclaiming that I was aging. Had aged. Was…older. Old?
If I was a painter, or a writer maybe, all this experience and deepening would show on the canvas, on the page. But if you’re an artist who performs – who dares to get up in front of the public – there’s no separating the you from the work and there’s no filter on earth that can hide time’s toll. Maybe in a promo photo or an album cover. But not when everyone has a phone and every phone has a camera and the excitement you’ve worked so long and hard to be able to summon prompts folks to reach for their phones to document the experience. After the passion and the notes and the laughs and the feelings have all floated away, the hard truth remains to stare you in the face and haunt you in the night after a show. Oh God, how could I put myself out there like that?
Later on the same night a gorgeous young artist played. The lights were on by then, working their magic. Not that she needed artifice – she was glowing with health and beauty that is the young person’s mantle. Photo after photo appeared in a stream from the event – gleaming teeth, taut skin, shining eyes…
She’s probably about the same age I was when I wrote two albums about being over the hill.
I remember what it felt like, that feeling that time was running out and my chance to claim some prize I believed was mine for the mere act of existing was running with it. Forty came and went and I still didn’t think twice about wearing a camisole on stage, short skirt. Clothes – any clothes at all, new, old, used – clothes I found discarded on a stoop in Brooklyn – all fit as if by magic.
Now, nothing fits or if it does I’ve worn it so often it’s like a phantom appearing in photo after photo of show after show – no, honest, I was really wearing something else but that blue seventies shirt with the roses just appeared on my body! I imagine fans or friends quietly organizing a fund to buy me something different to wear.
Yet I want to stay around until I’m magnificent, like Patti Smith or a redwood tree. I’d settle for ancient oak, or myself, with better hair and good glasses and a new shirt.
And again, it’s the season of losing things. When I’d just about absorbed the loss of the sunglasses, a week later I lost my mother’s rings – wedding and engagement diamond, the loss of these important objects too powerful and painful to bear. We’ve taken u-bends out of drains; I’ve stood in the town dump in the pouring rain because I’d visited it the afternoon the rings went missing. I put my name in a spiral bound notebook at the local supermarket where I parked and shopped that same day. The entry ahead of mine in the notebook read: “Silver belly button ring.” I don’t have a lot of confidence that I’ll be hearing from the supermarket.
The day before losing my rings I’d lost, along with every woman and person able to bear children in this country, the legal right for an abortion. I’m past the age where that might be necessary, but it doesn’t matter – we all lose possible selves we could become with loss of reasonable access to chosing whether to carry on with a pregnancy. A pregnancy is not a full-fledged baby hanging in a bundle from a stork’s beak, a fantasy like that is not more important than actual functioning living human beings on this earth who make mistakes or have mistakes visited on them.
Another thing I remembered from the shows one week before they overturned Roe – the women. I’d never had so many women come up to me after a show. They wanted to hug me, tell me they loved me. I’ve always aimed to be in the world of women but felt comfortable in the company of men. I remembered the days at the merch table when it was almost entirely men. Is this also what it means to get older? Is it really that bad? If I did decide to , say, color my hair again, cause I just don’t know if I like being gray, will they feel like I let them down?
Back in the kitchen, Jenn is telling Kim – “just do whatever you fucking need to do to feel good” and then they’re signing off from their podcast Everything is Fine. Dinner is just about ready. I blow my phone a kiss, touch the spot on a shelf where I used to keep my mother’s rings and tell Eric the bolognese is ready.