I saw Paul McCartney in concert this past week. He was playing at Joe Louis Arena. I ponied up the money ($250 a ticket) partly because, as others in the crowd admitted, you never know when it’s your last chance to see a Beatle.
That must be a grim idea to McCartney. The fact that a portion of the audience, maybe even a good portion, is doing a preemptive viewing, making sure they check “I saw Paul” off their bucket list before his bucket kicks off. Of all the things fans anticipate for a concert, “don’t die before you get here” must rank low on a performer’s list.
The thing is, I’m pretty sure McCartney, 73, knew it. During the concert, which lasted more than three hours without a break (so much for age slowing you down) the ex-Beatle made constant reference to new songs versus old songs, ones you could sing along with and ones you likely didn’t know. The lights came up enough on the crowd to reveal the hordes that headed to the bathrooms when he did something more recent, as opposed to early Beatles material. He had to see it.
But he never wavered.
He put the same energy into the new ones as the old ones. Put the same passion into the iconic “I Saw Her Standing There” as he did a song he recently wrote for a video game called “Hope for the Future.”
That’s because inside his heart, he wasn’t a relic avoiding dust.
He was a performer, doing what performers do.
‘When I’m Sixty-Four’
In that way, Paul McCartney is no different than the boxer who keeps fighting into his late 40s, or the cartoonist who keeps drawing into his 70s, or the CEO who stays at his firm into his 90s. As you age, people always question whether you are past your prime, if you should hang it up, if you’re not hurting the very enterprise you once helped, unraveling the tapestry that took so long to weave.
We make sport of it in America. We mock Sylvester Stallone for making another “Rocky” movie, or Keith Richards for still touring with the Rolling Stones when “he looks like he died years ago,” or John McCain running for president at 72.
“Why don’t they let it go?” we ask.
But why should they? It’s only our idea of what someone should be that freezes them in time. We don’t want to accept new material because we like the old material. We don’t want to see heroes gray or haggard because in our mind, they are unlined and beautiful. We cling to an idea of people that makes us feel the way we did when we first encountered them.
In that way, we are closer to stale than they are.
‘The Long and Winding Road’
In Minnesota, a group of senior dancers has become quite popular performing during halftime of WNBA and NBA games. The dancers range in age from 59 to 78, and, in addition to gentle moves to “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller, they shake and shimmy to hip hop music, even throwing in the odd twerk move. This draws wild applause, some laughter, even criticism.
But why? We don’t laugh or criticize when young women do the same sexually suggestive dances. Is it only because we slot people into “should” and “shouldn’t” and women that age “shouldn’t” be doing moves of that type?
Or is it because we mock the thing we are to become? That deep down, we’re all afraid of nearing our mortality, so we celebrate the young doing young things and recoil at the old doing the same?
There’s no doubt that ageism has taken root in America. Radio and TV stop caring about you after age 50. Advertisers don’t market your way. The workplace is a minefield of companies looking for younger and cheaper at the expense of older and more experienced.
McCartney wrote a song for a video game, he has claimed, because he had never done it before. He played Joe Louis Arena, according to the folks at Olympia Entertainment, because it’s a venue he hadn’t tried in Detroit. Over the years, he has sung standards, written classical music, taken on many new things, no doubt knowing he would never see sales figures like his Beatles days.
He did them anyhow. Just as he delivered a marvelous concert this past week, devoid of cynicism, resentment or self-loathing. And I realized he had a much better attitude about his show than I did. We may have been there in case it was the last time we saw him, but he still performed as if it were the first.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org.
MITCH’s Charity book launch on deck
The charity launch of Mitch Albom’s latest novel, “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto,” will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Fox Theatre, featuring performances and conversations between Albom and music-related guests. Tickets are $50, include an autographed book and are available at ticketmaster.com, olympiaentertainment.com, Fox Theatre, Joe Louis Arena, Hockeytown Authentics and 800-745-3000.