Archives

David Bowie memories a year after his death

Bowie Ziggy tights

Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

I published this tribute to David Bowie on January 19, 2016. Now, on the first anniversary of his death on January 10, I feel it’s appropriate to print it again. Now more than ever, we need his otherworldly vision for our planet and for America in particular.

David Bowie was the star at the center of my musical universe in the early ‘70’s, in his Ziggy Stardust heyday. Alas, I never met him, but we were within one degree of separation when Cherry Vanilla and others in his inner circle came to see my Bowie painting inside my geodesic dome in the Erotic Garden show at the Women’s Interart Center in Manhattan. But more on that later.

The morning after he died, when I cranked up my car after leaving my Nia class at the YMCA, the radio was tuned to WEXT, the alternative rock station. They were playing “Rebel Rebel,” and I happily sang along. When the announcer KTG came on, she talked about how she’d loved Bowie’s music as a young child, and how her mother played it to help her learn to dance.  “I wish I could play his music all day,” she said in her typically pert, cheery voice. Then she said “We’ve lost a brilliant, innovative artist.”

Bowie Aladdin Sane cover

Lost? The word sounded ominous. I drove straight home, booted up my computer and brought up the Drudge Report. A photo of David in his Aladdin Sane makeup topped the page, with the stark black headline BOWIE DEAD. He had died Sunday, January 10th, after an 18-month struggle with cancer, which he’d concealed from all but his closest family and friends. He’d turned 69 only two days before, and had released his new album Black Star the same day. In December, his new musical Lazarus opened off-Broadway. Both the album and the musical garnered rave reviews.

I was eerily reminded of the morning I learned of John Lennon’s death in 1980. I pulled out of my driveway in New Paltz, headed to work at Hudson River Psychiatric Center, and heard John’s music on Woodstock’s alternative rock station, WDST. They played one cut, then another, and I sang along, but then the announcer came on to announce John had been murdered the night before. I’ll always remember exactly where I was when I heard the news, just as I’ll remember where I was when I learned of the assassinations of JFK and RFK, and I’m sure the news of Bowie’s death will imbed itself in my brain along with the memories of those other fallen heroes.

But Bowie’s death was different. Tragic, yes, but he’d given us nearly five decades of brilliantly innovative music. His 25th studio album, Blackstar, was released on his birthday, just two days before he died, along with two videos. The jazz musicians he recorded with had no idea he was terminally ill, according to his long-time producer Tony Visconti, who was one of the few he confided in. Last night I watched the videos for “Black Star” and “Lazarus.” They were both fantastically imaginative but deeply disquieting. “Lazarus” is a brilliant piece of performance art, where he repeatedly rises from his hospital bed and moves his body spasmodically, like an avant garde dancer.

After that I segued into videos from his Ziggy Stardust period, and the memories came flooding back. I was at Radio City Music Hall on Valentine’s Day, 1973, when he performed as Ziggy, and I made it down the aisle and snapped photos with my Pentax. Available light, no flash, black and white, and when I developed them in the photography studio down the street from my Prince Street loft, they were fuzzy but good enough to use as source material for the paintings inside the geodesic dome I showed that spring in the Erotic Garden exhibit that featured a dozen feminist artists.

Lomoe-WombDome

I phoned Mainman, Bowie’s management company, to invite them—and hopefully David himself—to the show, and a couple of them actually came, including Cherry Vanilla, who casually bragged “I’ve had him.” They loved my Womb Dome and said they’d encourage him to come see it. Maybe he actually did—I never knew.

When the Erotic Garden show was over, I reassembled the dome in my Prince Street loft for a guest room, complete with a double-size mattress. That same fall, when I met my husband-to-be at Max’s Kansas City, I was wearing the same pink and pastel outfit I’d worn for the Erotic Garden opening six months before, with the same Pentax camera slung around my neck. “I see you’ve got a Pentax,” he said. “I’m writing a book about Pentax.”

Bowie Iggy & Lou Reed 1972 London

David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed in London, 1972

A month later, we were living together, both ready to leave the wild lifestyle of the early 70’s behind. But it’s highly likely our daughter was conceived in that dome, under my paintings of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and Iggy Pop crouching in broken glass, singing “I want to be your dog.” Perhaps that’s one reason she and my granddaughters are such avid fans of the Starman. Another is the final time I heard David Bowie live, in 1997, when I brought Stacey, then 21, to the GQ awards, where he did an entire set following the presentations. The venue once again was Radio City Music Hall.

Stacey said it best in a recent Facebook exchange: David Bowie has had a transformational impact on three generations of Lomoe women. Long may his legacy live.

David Bowie performs as Ziggy Stardust

How the Beatles Broke Up My Marriage

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney

I was online at precisely 10:00am this past Monday morning, when tickets to Paul McCartney’s July concert at the TU Center went on sale. I even got a seat reserved for me, but Ticketmaster hassled me about my password, so I lost out. I don’t feel too badly, though, because I saw Paul twice, along with the other Beatles, at their historic Shea Stadium concerts.

I recall the exact moment the Sixties blazed into my life, powered by an electric guitar. It was November of 1964, and I was in a studio at Columbia University, working on an oil painting about the Kennedy assassination, when a piercing guitar note blasted from my studio mate’s tinny AM radio, followed by an infectiously rhythmic riff. I put down my brush.

“What is THAT?” I asked.

“It’s the Beatles,” Susan said, shooting me an incredulous stare that suggested I’d just arrived from outer space. The song was “I Feel Fine,” the group’s sixth number one single that year, yet I’d barely heard of them, never heard their music. How could I have been so oblivious? The major culprit was probably jazz. I met the man who would become my first husband** at the Harvard radio station, where he was head of programming and I was a jazz disc jockey, and we bonded over our love of music. When he quit Harvard, I followed him to New York City. He got a job at WBAI-FM, the iconic independent radio station. We considered ourselves far too hip to own a television set, much less listen to AM radio.

When the Cuban missile crisis hit in October of 1962, I was still a child of the Fifties. I’d grown up convinced that the world wouldCubanMissileSplashimage1 end in a nuclear Armageddon, and that I’d never live past my twenties. Throughout the thirteen days we followed the conflict between the U.S.A. and Russia via public radio and the New York Times, I was terrified we were going to die. Therefore, I reasoned, it was absolutely imperative that we get married as soon as possible. We were already practically living together, so it wasn’t as if we had to recite our vows before consummating our love, but back then marriage was a major goal of every Ivy League coed.

I was still a conventional Fifties girl on November 22nd of 1963. I remember leaving a medieval art history class, emerging into the central rotunda of Barnard Hall, and hearing the din of women and girls abuzz with the news of Kennedy’s assassination. Beatles with Bruce Morrow 1965In February of 1964, I earned my Barnard degree and Phi Beta Kappa key. That same month, the Beatles made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan show. But I was oblivious, caught up in planning a summer wedding in Milwaukee and studying five days a week at the Art Students League, getting together a portfolio of paintings to submit for admission to the MFA program at Columbia. Figurative paintings featuring my jazz idols Miles, Mingus and Coltrane, and dark canvases depicting JFK’s motorcade in Dallas.

The big summer wedding never happened. Vietnam was increasingly in the news, and my Harvard man received a letter from Selective Service, so we pulled together a quickie April wedding in Manhattan to help keep him from the draft. Now I’d fulfilled two major dreams: an Ivy League degree and a Harvard husband. What lay ahead, I had no idea, beyond vague notions of becoming a successful artist, with my husband as the primary breadwinner. Motherhood wasn’t an option – we believed it would be wrong to bring children into a world that was bound to self-destruct before we were thirty.

Amazingly, I’m still here fifty years later, a mother and grandmother, in a sunny studio in upstate New York, typing away with the aid of technology no one could have envisioned all those decades ago. But getting back to Columbia: why did those twangy notes from John Lennon’s guitar*** mark the start of the Sixties for me? True, I’d already lived through a couple of major milestones of that decade, but before the Beatles, I was living out life scripts that had been written for me long before.

In a way, the Beatles destroyed my marriage, and not just because I came close to getting into their bedroom suite at the Warwick Hotel when they played Shea Stadium in 1965. No, it was the hedonistic intensity of their music and the way it inspired me to paint them, in ever larger and more idolatrous likenesses, that brought home the realization that in some ways I’d bypassed my adolescence. I’d been a good girl, focused on straight A’s and Ivy League schools, propelled into a premature marriage by outdated standards. I’d never had the chance to bust loose and explore my wild side.

By 1966, that marriage was over and I began making up for lost time. Thanks to the Beatles, I lived the Sixties to the fullest.

*At least I’ve got a ticket to see Ringo Starr at the Palace in June!

Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr

**Frank Haber (Franklin Richard Haber) died in 2012, a fact I learned only after the Harvard-Radcliffe 50th reunion book came out, and the editors had added “deceased 2012” after his name in my entry. He was known as FRH at the Harvard station and WBAI. He was a great guy, and I’d love to hear from anyone who knew him.

**Until I did some fact-checking for this post, I had always assumed George Harrison played the guitar riff at the beginning of “I Feel Fine,” but it was really John. Below is part of the Wickipedia entry. It was probably the feedback that grabbed me. “I Feel Fine” starts with a single, percussive (yet pure-sounding) feedback note produced by plucking the A string on Lennon’s guitar. This was the very first use of feedback preceding a song on a rock record. According to McCartney, “John had a semi-acoustic Gibson guitar. It had a pickup on it so it could be amplified . . . We were just about to walk away to listen to a take when John leaned his guitar against the amp. I can still see him doing it . . . it went, ‘Nnnnnnwahhhhh!” And we went, ‘What’s that? Voodoo!’ ‘No, it’s feedback.’ Wow, it’s a great sound!’ George Martin was there so we said, ‘Can we have that on the record?’ ‘Well, I suppose we could, we could edit it on the front.’ It was a found object, an accident caused by leaning the guitar against the amp.”[3] Although it sounded very much like an electric guitar, Lennon actually played the riff on an acoustic-electric guitar (a Gibson model J-160E),[8] employing the guitar’s onboard pickup.

The Most Over-Hyped Time of the Year

Christmas shopping-frenzy checkoutOnly eight days till Christmas, and I’m immersed in the holiday spirit. But there have been past Christmases when I was mired in depression or feeling very “bah humbug” about the holidays. I’m well aware that this season conjures up a wide range of emotions in shades from joy to despair, and that December can be a problematic time for many people, especially those living alone or with emotional, physical or financial problems – and doesn’t that include just about everybody? 

Julie reading at the Nitty Gritty Slam

Julie reading at the Nitty Gritty Slam

For this night’s Nitty Gritty Slam at Valentine’s in Albany,** I wanted to write something new to read at the open mic that precedes the actual poetry slam. Tonight’s theme, in keeping with the holidays, is the “Annual Airing of Grievances.” On my car radio, even the country station has been playing Andy Williams’s inescapable “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,”*** and I’ve been thinking of writing a parody substituting “horrible” for “wonderful.” But I didn’t want to focus on negativity – not completely, at any rate.  

But walking my dog by the lake this morning, I came up with “over-hyped,” and by the time he’d finished pooping, I had the beginning of these lyrics in my head. Feel free to borrow them for your local sing-along. Or if you’re coming to Valentine’s, print them out or save them on your smart phone so you can join in.

OVER-HYPED TIME OF THE YEAR

 

It’s the most over-hyped time of the year.

So you’d better be happy, and best make it snappy

Or people will jeer.

It’s the most over-hyped time of the year.

 

All your family will want lots of gifts.

So you’d better go shopping, and don’t dream of stopping

Or you’ll cause a rift

If you don’t spring for pricy new gifts.

 

(bridge)

There’ll be parties each night and if you’re not invited,

Then you can just stay home and mope.

Drink your brandy-spiked eggnog till you’re in a deep fog.

You’ll wake up a hung-over dope!

 

It’s the season they sing about snow.

But you can’t shovel white stuff ‘less you’ve got the right stuff.

Head south now, just go –

Oops, you can’t, ‘cause you don’t have the dough.

 

(bridge)

Hang those lights, deck those halls. If being cheery seems false,

Just keep wearing that shit-eating grin.*

This will pass soon enough, just hang in and stay tough

Till the January bills trickle in!

 

(dramatic key change)

But for now, eat and drink, have no fear.

Though this season’s depressing, more turkey and dressing

Will fill you with cheer,

And you’ll gain ten more pounds for New Year!

 

(Repeat first stanza if desired)

*Substitute “big phony grin” as needed

blue Christmas tree in grand hall** For more about the Nitty Gritty Slam, visit www.albanypoets.com. This is the last slam of the year, and by next Christmas, Valentine’s will have been demolished to make way for a huge parking garage for Albany Med. Right now, the snow’s coming down hard, and I may not make it to tonight’s event after all. But I just poured some eggnog, and I can always sing this at “Poets Speak Loud” next Monday at McGeary’s. You can find info on that at the same website.  

***The song was written by Edward Pola and George Wyle for the Andy Williams TV show and premiered in 1963. It wasn’t an overnight smash, but he sang it every year and it slowly gained popularity. Now, love it or hate it, it ranks among the top ten Christmas songs. Andy Williams died in September, 2012.

IF YOU’VE ENJOYED THIS POST, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT AND SUBSCRIBE. I NEED TO KNOW YOU’RE OUT THERE!

R.I.P. Dave Brubeck

Brubeck Time magazine_cover,_Dave_Brubeck,_November_1954The first two jazz LPs I ever bought were by Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck. That day was in 1953, nearly sixty years ago, and I was barely twelve years old. Brubeck died this morning, one day shy of his ninety-second birthday, and his death brings back a flood of memories. I heard him in concert on several occasions, and bought several of his early albums, including that first one, the ten-inch Jazz at Oberlin.

Brubeck enjoyed a long and illustrious career. I last heard him at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall several years back, and although he hobbled on and off stage with difficulty, his playing was still as spry and powerful as ever. But his death reminds me most of all of how and why I became a jazz fan. This poem I wrote in 2007 explains:

My First Downbeat

Dimly in black and white, through a scratchy glassine sleeve

in a dingy bin at Colony Music in Times Square,                                                                       

Eddie Fisher’s face smiles up at me from the cover

of a bedraggled Downbeat magazine.

My very first major crush! I catch my breath, transported back

to seventh grade, the day I bought this very magazine,

the one that seduced me down the road of jazz.

Long lost for decades, now it’s reborn as memorabilia,

with a $25 price tag. My knees creak as I hunker down,

retrieve the magazine, and slip it from its plastic sleeve.

 

Yes, this is it – November, 1953. I turn the fragile pages,              

searching for the story. Stan Getz, busted in Seattle

for trying to rob a drugstore to finance his heroin fix.

My mind’s eye scans the photo – Stan in white tee shirt,

leather jacket, boyishly handsome, cuffed and flanked by cops.

So tragically romantic – oh, alas, poor Stan.

So it came into my life, a heavy ten-inch Verve,

Stan Getz Quartet, my very first LP. I didn’t understand at first,

me, a 12-year-old Milwaukee girl, who played “Oh My Papa”

on a red mother-of-pearl accordion. But still I persevered,

and soon my tastes evolved. At a Washington convention,

my father had his photo snapped with Eddie Fisher

as a special gift to me, but when he brought it home,

to his dismay, I blew it off as square.

 

But no, Stan’s story isn’t in this Downbeat! Paging through,

I find fascinating photos – Mingus and Bird at Birdland,

a young Miles Davis with a broad, ingenuous grin,

before he donned the mask of Prince of Darkness.

Then it comes flooding back –

Stan Getz was in my second Downbeat, not my first.

The Hilltoppers were on the cover. All these years,

my personal mythology has been a fraud.

 

Carefully, sadly, I slip the Downbeat back in its dusty bin.

Later, on Amtrak, heading north once more,

I curse my stinginess. Damn, I want those early pictures

of Miles and Mingus, even though I didn’t fall in love with them

till freshman year. Nothing for it but to head back to New York

and splurge on tattered memories in a magazine

that no one cares about but me.

Stan Getz

Stan Getz

I never did get that magazine, but down in the basement I still have cartons of old jazz LPs from the 1950’s. Browsing on eBay, I’ve learned that some of them may be worth hundreds of dollars, including perhaps Brubeck’s 10” Jazz at Oberlin. Maybe I’ll auction them off one of these days, but somehow I haven’t gotten around to it, in part because they’re so well and thoroughly played.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                         

Together in Joy and Creativity – Reflections on marriage and music

My husband and I celebrated our thirty-seventh wedding anniversary on May 3rd, and I’ve been thinking about what’s kept us together all these years. Paradoxically, one of those togetherness factors is separation – especially when it comes to music.

About a decade ago, when the City of Albany was building the pedestrian bridge over Route 787 that leads to the Corning Preserve adjoining the Hudson River, they offered the citizenry the opportunity to purchase an engraved paving stone. I bought one for my husband’s birthday, and it reads “Julie and (his name) together in joy and creativity.”* I love looking at it every time I cross that elegant bridge to the river’s edge, and I suspect I’ll be crossing it quite a bit this summer, since Albany’s Alive at Five concert series has the best lineup in years.

I’m virtually positive he won’t be going, though. He despises crowded, heavily amped rock and country concerts – always has, always will. One of the factors contributing to the disintegration of his first marriage was his refusal to accompany his wife to the 1969 Woodstock Festival.** He’s gone with me on occasion, but not happily. The last time I remember was a concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, maybe three years ago.

We were enjoying our annual day at the track. I’d picked a few winners with my $2 and $5 bets, and I’d placed my bets on the last race when I heard a man calling, “Anyone want two tickets to The Police and Elvis Costello at SPAC tonight?” At his side in record time, I learned he and his wife had planned to attend with another couple who couldn’t make it, and he was selling two lawn tickets for $60 each.

“That sounds great,” I said. “Let me go ask my husband.” Then I reconsidered and pounced. “Oh, what the hell. I’ll get them right now – then he won’t have a choice.”

He was fairly gracious about the surprise, but the traffic jam was so horrendous that we missed half of Elvis Costello’s first set. He was great, and The Police were fantastic – at sixty plus, Sting still has rock star charisma to burn. But the low visibility in the darkness and the crush of the crowd were a tad overpowering. My spouse swears he’ll never go back to SPAC, and I respect his wishes. That’s why I’ve got a single ticket – a reserved inside seat – to hear the Zac Brown Band there on June lst.

Don’t get me wrong – we do partake of an occasional concert together. He likes classical music, especially of the chamber variety, he’s okay with some jazz and folk, and we frequent the avant garde performance pieces at EMPAC. For the most part, though, I feed my musical Jones by ushering at The Egg and the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, occasionally springing for a big-ticket concert I can’t bear to miss, like Bruce Springsteen’s latest swing through Albany.

Oskar Kokoschka

We usually go out to dinner on our anniversary, but this time I decided I’d rather go to a benefit for the Mental Health Association of New York State, featuring music from Tom Chapin, the brother of the late Harry Chapin. As both a therapist and a consumer of mental health services, I strongly believe in the cause, but I was also lured by the prospect of the music. In general, my spouse loathes “sensitive” singer-songwriters, especially those he claims sing through their noses or as if they’re suffering from an acute digestive upset – think Bob Dylan and his descendants – but for the sake of our own harmony, he agreed to humor me. We both thoroughly enjoyed Tom Chapin.

Humoring each other, tolerating each other’s proclivities and foibles, has helped us hang in there all these years. Perhaps equally important, we’ve always heeded the words by Khalil Gibran that we read at our wedding in 1975: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” We’ve never felt the necessity to move in lockstep, or to share totally in each other’s enthusiasms. Music’s perhaps the major area where this holds true, but by no means the only one.

After all these years, we’re still “together in joy and creativity.” It’s even written in stone.

*I’m omitting his name because he prefers to remain anonymous when it comes to my blog posts, lest I say something that might reflect badly on his public persona.

**I was at the Woodstock Festival almost from start to finish – and, for the most part, alone. See my three posts about the experience elsewhere on this blog.

 

Everybody look what’s going down – Stills song still rings true

 There’s something happening here – what it is ain’t exactly clear.

Stephen Stills

Last week at The Egg, the crowd cheered when Stephen Stills sang the opening words to his classic song, “For What It’s Worth,” as his final encore. The lyrics ring as true today as they did 45 years ago when he wrote them for Buffalo Springfield, and he sang them with a gutsy sense of urgency.

You can find the lyrics in full at the end of this post, along with a surprising twist on the events that inspired them. But what motivated me to write about the concert was the vivid  memory of my encounter with Stills in1972. He was playing with his band Manassas at the Academy of Music on 14th Street in New York City, the same venue where I first heard the Rolling Stones. A man I can’t recall had scored tickets to the Manassas concert and a coveted invitation to the party that followed, and he invited me along.

The concert was excellent, but Stephen thought otherwise. At the party, in a high-rise apartment on the East Side, I found myself in a bedroom with him and numerous others. Various drugs were there in abundance – even opium – but for the most part, I wasn’t partial to those kinds of substances. Perhaps I’d had a bit too much to drink, though. Stephen was critiquing the concert, saying that the band had sounded shitty and the whole performance was crap. 

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I remember saying. “You shouldn’t put yourself down like that; you sounded great.”  He mumbled something in reply, and we went back to partying. So much for that fleeting brush with fame. 

At The Egg 39 years later, he still had that same self-deprecating quality. He joked about his failing memory for lyrics, attributing it to drugs as well as aging. Mentioning Aspen, he said “I spent most of the time face down in the snow – no, wait, that was Miami.”  The 1980’s went by in a blur, apparently, but his recall of lyrics was just fine, and his guitar playing was excellent. 

His voice is beginning to fail, and he actually sang off-key at times, especially in the first set. Remembering the elegant harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash, I could barely believe it was the same singer. Even so, his raggedy voice has a lived-in quality that’s still compelling. Yesterday I heard the original Buffalo Springfield version of “For What It’s Worth” while I was driving to the YMCA, and his voice was much less expressive than it is today.

Researching Stills and the song online, I learned that although people consider it a protest song about the war in Vietnam and our society in general, in fact he wrote it about a riot on the Sunset Strip in 1966, protesting early curfews for the clubs. The title, “For what it’s worth,” comes from a conversation he had with Ahmet Ertugun of Atlantic Records – “Here’s a new song, for what it’s worth.” 

Even so, the song packs a powerful message today, especially as we approach the tenth anniversary of the Patriot Act:

For What It’s Worth

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, hooray for our side

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
You better Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
You better Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down 

The Sixties were a tumultuous decade. Fifty years later, as the gulf between the haves and the have-nots grows ever wider and our Big Brother government has the wherewithal to track our every move, we’re on the verge of another seismic shift in our society. Stephen Stills is right: everybody look what’s going down. It may well be the country we used to call the land of the free.

So what can we do about it? As they used to say, “think globally, act locally.” Or, with an election year coming up, act nationally. Too bad it’s probably too late for a viable third-party candidate to come along, but let’s make ourselves heard.

Paul Simon – How terribly strange to be seventy

Paul Simon

Yesterday was Paul Simon’s seventieth birthday, and he’s still going strong. Nonetheless, I can’t help remembering his lyrics from “Old Men,” released on the Simon & Garfunkel album “Bookends” in 1968:
Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly.
How terribly strange to be seventy.
These days, he’s not sitting sedately on a park bench – this year he released a beautiful new album, “So Beautiful or So What,” and he’s about to embark on a fall tour.

Bob Dylan turned 70 last May 14, and John Lennon would have been 71 this past Sunday, October 9. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Sir Paul McCartney chose to marry his third wife, Nancy Shevell, that same day. At 69, he doesn’t fit the “When I get old and losing my hair” image of “When I’m Sixty-Four,” and

Paul McCartney

he’s still taking on new challenges, like writing a musical score for a new ballet, “Ocean’s Kingdom,” for the New York City Ballet. This maiden voyage was almost unanimously panned – critic Tobi Tobias said the score “runs the gamut from movie music to faux-Broadway” – but you’ve got to give the “cute Beatle” credit for trying, even though he’s not as cute as he used to be. I can’t help wondering what marvelous music John and George would have created had they lived this long. I’ve heard all these artists live in concert more than once, including the Beatles’ famed Shea Stadium concerts in the Sixties.

Then there are the Rolling Stones, arguably the world’s greatest rock band. Their peerless drummer Charlie Watts turned 70 this past June 2nd, and Mick and Keith will hit that milestone in 2013. Despite all the hard-won wrinkles in their faces and the ribbing they’ve taken from late-night comedians who claim they’re geriatric, they still put on a fabulous show, or at least they did when I caught their “Bigger Bang” tour in Albany in 2005. The music sounded better than ever.

Why all this concern over a mere number? It’s because I turned 70 on July 31 – a milestone I’d been dreading. But when I woke that morning, I felt strangely relieved. I took a stab at blogging about it, but I was still suffering from depression and writer’s block, and the words refused to come. Perhaps I was still ambivalent about revealing my true age, but if rock superstars come clean about their advancing years, why shouldn’t I? Maybe because I’m a woman, and when it comes to looks, the sexist double standard still reigns supreme.

Physically I’m feeling as healthy as ever, though no doubt I’m losing a fair number of brain cells every day. I’ve been calling myself a crone for about a decade now, ever since I turned 60. I’ve used the term in various computer passwords. (One of them, long obsolete now, was NorseKrone. I changed the spelling in honor of the famous woman jockey, Julie Krone.) But I’m still taken aback when I tell people my age and they don’t seem surprised. Part of me longs to hear those unbelieving protests, along the lines of “I don’t believe it – you don’t look a day over 60.”

More and more people are calling me “Ma’am” and offering to carry my luggage or help me up from an awkward seated position. I’m okay with that, but less okay with looking in mirrors. Currently we’re remodeling our bathroom, which for years has been forgivingly dim, and I cringe at the idea of installing those theatrical strips of multiple bulbs, but I suppose I’ll adapt in time.

Maybe eventually I’ll learn to joke about my age. Stephen Stills managed to pull that off at a concert on Tuesday night, making cracks about his less than acute hearing and the gaps in his memory, but he’s still only 66. And he has some valid explanations – all those years of playing rock and roll in front of banks of amplifiers and blunting his brain with drugs.

That reminds me of the wild party where I met Stephen Stills and gave him some unsolicited advice – hard to believe that was 40 years ago! But I’ll save that for the next blog post. In the meantime, rock on, all you oldies but goodies!

Charlie, Mick and Keith