Getting old and enjoying it just fine – in song

Recently New Zealand blogger Rachel McAlpine, at blog Write Into Life, published a post entitled 3 Songs About Getting Old. I’d been thinking about this same topic for a while now, so I thought I’d build on Rachel’s observations.

She expressed exactly what I’ve been noticing, that songs about aging are usually written and performed by younger people … and they almost exclusively focus on what they see as the diminishing physical qualities of the aged, defining us by the horror of wrinkly skin and various aches and pains.  Little to nothing about the richness of seeing life through the lens of someone who has 70, 80, or even 90 years of life experience to draw on for strength and wisdom.  Nothing about the joy of watching the lives of children and grandchildren unfold without the day-to-day busyness and worry their parents have.  Nothing of the joy of sharing each day with your lifelong companion, reminiscing about a lifetime of experiences and adventures.  Nothing about the pleasure of waking up each morning, alive!

Rachel chose 3 of the songs she has been collecting to illustrate her points; her post includes links to the YouTubes of these songs, all worth listening to:

  • Getting Older, by Billie Eilish
  • Dusty Bottles, by Willie Nelson
  • Not Dead Yet, by Willie Nelson

One of our favourite songs about getting old is one we’ve listened to for probably 25 years: Jacques Brel’s Old Folks.  For those of you who don’t know Jacques Brel’s music, you’re missing something.  The closest thing I can think of in describing his music and lyrics is that it’s sort of a Belgium version of Leonard Cohen.  The lyrics alone don’t do this song full justice; you really need to hear it sung.  But the lyrics certainly speak to the notion that younger people see old people as objects of pity, a perception that is sadly inaccurate.

Old Folks (Les Vieux) Lyrics
The old folks don’t talk much
And they talk so slowly when they do
They are rich, they are poor, their illusions are gone
They share one heart for two

Their homes all smell of thyme, of old photographs
And an old-fashioned song
Though you may live in town, you live so far away
When you’ve lived too long

And have they laughed too much, do their dry voices crack
Talking of times gone by
And have they cried too much, a tear or two
Still always seems to cloud the eye

They tremble as they watch the old silver clock
When day is through
It tick-tocks oh so slow, it says, “Yes,” it says, “No”
It says, “I’ll wait for you”

The old folks dream no more
The books have gone to sleep, the piano’s out of tune
The little cat is dead and no more do they sing
On a Sunday afternoon

The old folks move no more, their world’s become too small
Their bodies feel like lead
They might look out the window or else sit in a chair
Or else they stay in bed

And if they still go out, arm in arm, arm in arm
In the morning’s chill
It’s to have a good cry, to say their last good-bye
To one who’s older still

And then they go home to the old silver clock
When day is through
It tick-tocks oh so slow, it says, “Yes,” it says, “No”
It says, “I’ll wait for you”

The old folks never die
They just put down their heads and go to sleep one day
They hold each other’s hand like children in the dark
But one will get lost anyway

And the other will remain just sitting in that room
Which makes no sound
It doesn’t matter now, the song has died away
And echoes all around

You’ll see them when they walk through the sun-filled park
Where children run and play
It hurts too much to smile, it hurts too much but life goes on
For still another day

As they try to escape the old silver clock
When day is through
It tick-tocks oh so slow, it says, “Yes,” it says, “No”
It says, “I’ll wait for you”

The old, old silver clock that’s hanging on the wall
That waits for us all

Pretty depressing, right?  The thing is that my husband and I listened to that song with fondness for decades – before being old – without really giving a second thought to the lyrics as being anything other than endearing.  Endearing?!  These lyrics are simply not true for most people who are old.  You can love your old things the way they are – instead of changing for something new so you can satisfy the need to have whatever everyone else has or wants – and still enjoy your life just fine.  Maybe enjoy it even more so.  We don’t go out to have a good cry and it never hurts too much to smile!  Ever!!  Take a quick listen to the lyrics put to Brel’s captivating music:

As I hope you’ll agree, the music is enchanting, but the sentiments in the lyrics are misplaced at best.  It’s too bad that people live in dread of aging when being old actually has many positives.  Just you wait and see!

Let’s switch to a song that, in my opinion, has a much more positive slant on getting old.  It’s written and performed by an award-winning musical group from my part of the world, David Myles and his ensemble.  His parents and their friends are my age, and clearly they have provided their son with a far more positive example of what growing old can be – and should be – like.  Define your life and your fun according to what you can do, not what you can’t do.

Give a listen to one of my very favourite tunes, When It Comes My Turn, by David Myles:

When It Comes My Turn Lyrics

Well, I’m getting old, but I’m not old yet
I’m already worried that I might forget
How to laugh, how to love
How to live, how to learn
I wanna die with a smile when it comes my turn

I don’t wanna get weary, don’t wanna get bored
I don’t wanna get tired walking down this road
I’ve seen that happen so many times
I just wanna believe that it’s still worth trying

‘Cause I’m getting old, but I’m not old yet
I’m already worried that I might forget
How to laugh, how to love
How to live, how to learn
I wanna die with a smile when it comes my turn

But I know that it’s easier said than done
And I ain’t that different from anyone
I worry about my money, I got bills that I can’t pay
I swear I’m more like my father every day

And I’m getting old, but I’m not old yet
I’m already worried that I might forget
How to laugh, how to love
How to live, how to learn
I wanna die with a smile when it comes my turn

Maybe I’ll start bowling, maybe I’ll play Bridge
Maybe I’ll join a band with my own grandkids
I don’t care if it kills me, I’m gonna do what it takes
To keep some warmth in my heart and a smile on my face

‘Cause I’m getting old, but I’m not old yet
I’m already worried that I might forget
How to laugh, how to love
How to live, how to learn
I wanna die with a smile when it comes my turn

I wanna die with a smile when it comes my turn
I wanna die with a smile when it comes my turn

I hope you agree that this song leaves you smiling and bouncing … and wanting to die with a smile when it comes your turn! 🙂

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38 Responses to Getting old and enjoying it just fine – in song

  1. It’s interesting how our society treats the diseases associated with getting old as inevitable and doesn’t try to “cure” them, it’s more of “that’s life.”

    Remember Clint Eastwood supposed answer to “what keeps you going?”
    It was “I get up every day and don’t let the old man in.”

    The Jacques Brel song is sad: I hope we never stop dreaming.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh gosh, I hope we never stop dreaming either. Regarding viewing the diseases of old age as inevitable, there actually are researchers working on “anti-aging, with the view that we could extend our expected lives to 120 years! I’m not so sure that would make for a stable or even desirable society. I guess you’d have to keep working until you were 95 or so!

  2. Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    Indeed getting old is not for wimps and that is what makes it fun!

  3. You certainly ended on a higher note with the David Myles selection, Jane. But thanks so much for reminding me of Jaques Brel. My god, I haven’t thought of him in years! – Marty

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Aha, I’m glad to find another Jacques Brel fan out there, Marty! There are LOTS of upbeat Jacques Brel songs, as well as some clever dark and/ or suggestive ones.

  4. Just noticed my blog name ‘Margiran ’ has changed to my email address name – no idea why! I’ve been having problems with WordPress since I returned from holiday. Brain addled I think!
    Can’t even work out how to post a photo to another blogger’s site! Suppose I’ll have to go one of their online courses 🙄😀

  5. I didn’t enjoy Jaques Brel’s track at all but David Myles is much more hopeful and jolly.
    I don’t feel old – apart from a few additional aches and pains and arthritic limitations – so much depends on good health and keeping active both mentally and physically doesn’t it.
    The only realisation that I am ‘getting there’ is my middle aged children … they can’t possibly be the age they are as I’m around their age!! 😉

  6. Roy McCarthy says:

    Ah yes, but it’s only words really. There are far more songs generally written about trials, tribulations, heartache, disappointment, dashed hopes. Much as one’s later years can be something of a golden age (and I for one am embracing that) the reality for many is what it says in Brel’s song. And it is quite sad to see some older folk fade away having somehow lost the spirit of their younger days.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      You’re right that there are old people who end their days that way. However, the belief of so many younger people that this is the default option of old age is even sadder. I like your vision of these being the golden years. That’s my plan, too!

  7. Great post, Jane. I hadn’t heard this Jacques Brel song and found the lyrics really depressing. The David Myles song was much better. I’m too busy to spend much time worrying about getting old. I think I’ll keep it that way till the end.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Debra. You’re right, you ARE busy, and busy doing things you love. That’s the secret, that and finding new things to do if and when you can’t do everything you’re doing now.

  8. heimdalco says:

    When I was reading the lyrics to Old Folks I kept thinking, “It’s not like that at all.” And it isn’t unless we just sit by let it be. Retirement for me & now for my husband has been precious time well earned. Unlike some of our friends who were so miserable after retiring that they went back to work, my husband & I are enjoying things we were doing before but didn’t have the time to fully enjoy. We’re doing things we always wanted to do. We’re spending quality time together. We’re enjoying our 8 month old grandson. I was telling a psychologist friend about going to a party & sitting at the table with 2 couples we’d not met before. One couple was our age, the other, as I described them, was elderly. My friend laughed & said, “some people might call YOU elderly. ” That shocked me because I hadn’t thought of us as elderly … just retired. When we are young we are incapable to imagining the joys of maturity, the comfort of being professionally accomplished before retirement, the pleasure in staying in bed later or getting up early by CHOICE, not by the demands of a job. There are perks & there are also down moments but no more, I don ‘t think, than we find in our youth … just a different kind. My suggestion is to enjoy every moment as we age … find new avenues to explore. Delight in the NOW. There’s mostly nothing we can do to stop aging so there’s very little use in spending time worrying about it when there are so many joys to experience. Like poop … getting old HAPPENS but we don’t have to let worrying about it kill us.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Linda. These years are special indeed. I am thankful to have reached them and to be able to savour this time of life, something my parents never lived long enough to do.

  9. Rose says:

    Reading this was such a blessing for me today!!

  10. Pingback: Thank-you – Of All The Things I've Ever Dreamed

  11. Bernie says:

    The song about aging and loss that resonates with me is by Jim Cuddy. He wrote it as he watched his aunt cope with the loss of his uncle. The version I’ve attached is a bit of a stretch for your aging topic but it’s way better than just watching his music video (although when he sang it live at the Juno writers circle that was amazing). A thoughtful post about how society sees aging really.

  12. Lovely post, Jane–you really get it! I’m also a fan of the David Myles song and for me the key verse is the one that starts with “Maybe.” So many of us swear that we will never age the way we see our parents do, but we don’t have any strategies for avoiding that. David does. It’s a bitter -sweet time of life when this reality hits.

  13. Paul says:

    Hello Jane,
    Good read on a topic that I usually try to avoid.

    Aging. I’m not a fan. Death doesn’t bother me (yet) but the limitations that come with age don’t sit well with me. That said, I think that I’m fortunate to be more fit than many people my age.

    So, the four songs that you highlight.
    I think Billie’s song is appropriate for almost any stage in life. It can be about growing up, or life changes.
    Dusty Bottles? One of those wisdom that comes of age songs.
    The other two? Downright depressing.
    I remember Jacques Brel – sort of. His song makes me just want to curl up into a fetal position in bed and call for the old reaper.

    In my personal library, I have two books; Songs of Experience: An Anthology of Literature on Growing Old, and Light on Aging and Dying, which is a collection of quotes. I don’t think I ever cracked either one. In fact I don’t have the foggiest notion why I bought the damn things and that’s not due to memory loss but because I was probably about forty years old when I bought them. Why?

    I accept age – grudgingly. Which probably explains the achilles tendonitis that’s been plaguing me along with the two torn rotator cuffs.

    As for the, old age songs, I think I’d rather not go with the sentimental and poignant.

    I’ll take a dram of humor:
    The Little Old Lady From Pasadena by The Beach Boys
    As Good as I Once Was by Toby Keith
    I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore
    Well, my body could use a little slimmin’
    I keep my shirt on when I go swimmin’
    And I ain’t seen my feet since 1984
    The old lady wants to roll in the hay
    We turn the lights down all the way
    Cuz I don’t look good naked anymore

    Thank you for the post Jane. I think you’ve given me an idea for a piece of my own.

    Paul

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. Fighting the good fight against aging, eh, Paul! I love your alternative song suggestions, especially The Little old Lady from Pasadena! I have to admit that I hadn’t thought of possible Beach Boys contributions. Love it. Two torn rotator cuffs can definitely get you down. I had shoulder replacement surgery 2 years ago and there’s no doubt that living without pain is a plus! But that’s not something restricted to aging; just ask any professional athlete. I always love hearing your thoughts!

  14. Great post. My 2 cents and five songs. “It” depends. Certainly living with a partner you enjoy matters. 5 songs: Hello in there, John Prine; When I was seventeen, Sinatra; The last time I saw Richard, Joni Mitchell; Old Man, Neil Young; Famous blue raincoat, Cohen.

  15. Wynne Leon says:

    What an interesting post told through music, Jane! Thank you for introducing me to both of these artists. I love your line, “Define your life and your fun according to what you can do, not what you can’t do.”

    This makes me think of the near universal realization as we age that “I’m becoming my mom/dad” We always say it with mock horror but perhaps it should be a comforting thing that regardless of our paths, we eventually mature into the wisdom of those that have gone before us. May we all remember how lucky we are to reach an advanced age!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      That’s a really a good point about bemoaning the observation that we’re becoming more like our parents. For many of us, including me (except that I’m far older than my parents ever got to be), that’s actually a good thing. And we start seeing why they did what they did and didn’t do, because we find ourselves acting similarly – and happily so. And, as you so rightly say, old age is a privilege denied to many. It’s all there to be enjoyed.

  16. debscarey says:

    Jane, fortunately my mind is still raring to go and lives for being active and stimulated, even if my body is not so keen 😉 But I’m truly grateful for the former, having had family members suffer with dementia, so I do what I can.

  17. Brigitte Maicher says:

    Did not know the song by David Myles. Certainly very uplifting and accepting, appreciating of whatever comes our way. Every opportunity provides us with some ability to give and enjoy giving. Not always easy to recognize though.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Not always easy, you’re right, Brigitte. But always worth working for. David is one of our shining stars; he just won a Juno for his most recent work. You may have known his Dad, Jim Myles, either through his stellar contributions at FHS or as a member of Choral Society.

  18. Diane Taylor says:

    So interesting. I was curious to hear the Jacques Brel version, and found him live on utube, and was mesmerized by his stage performance of it, in French. Beautiful! I agree, a kind of Leonard Cohen. Very moving.

  19. I’m smiling! Nice way to start the week.

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