Saturday, November 19, 2011

Two graying artists make my week shine

Two artists, graying and aged to their mid-60s, brightened my week.

That made me think: Is 60 the new 50? So, then is 50 the new 40? Is this just my wishful thinking? No matter. It’s heartening to see retirement-age folks Still the Same or better, and, as one of these artists sang to us, still with a Fire Down Below.

The week began with receipt of Stephen King’s 11/22/63, the newest of King’s more than 50 national bestsellers. I am an avid fan of King, who calls the ka-zillion of us his “constant readers.”  We’re proud constant readers, and in this book, he follows his own advice from On Writing, his memoir of the craft, and gives us a believable, flawed character we quickly care about and then asks “what if?” What if you could travel back in time and prevent bad things from happening? Could Kennedy’s assassination be prevented if Oswald was taken out before 11/22/63?

That’s the premise of this 842-page (not counting forward) book that King wrote in slightly less than two years. He lists the days he starts and finishes a novel, and where, at the end of each. You see, King is a constant writer for us constant readers. And, thank you, sir, for that.

King makes time travel believable as only he can; the portal is in the storeroom of the local diner. I’m on page 183 right now, and enjoying the journey every time I Turn the Page. Being able to take a journey to other places, thoughts and situations is why I read and try to write. That, and the language. Stephen King knows about the language and has tried to teach us. Thanks for that, too.

The second graying artist of the week is Bob Seger, who came to Birmingham for the first time in about 20 years Tuesday night, with his tight and right-on-target Silver Bullet Band. His songs, a few referenced in italics above, are rock, rhythm and blues background music for my generation and probably some generations behind ours.

Not graying, but gray, Seger let we happy fans sing along with him. We knew all the words. He fist-pumped, smiled and sang the songs he wrote over more than four decades about young love/lust (Night Moves), determination and growing older and wiser (Against the Wind), and, don’t ever forget, Rock ‘n Roll (Old Time Rock’ N Roll, which I read is the number 2 all-time juke box song behind Patsy Cline’s Crazy).

One of my favorites, Rock N’ Roll Never Forgets, was one of the encore songs of the night and is fitting for these artists and their determination to still shake ‘em down.

"So you're a little bit older and a lot less bolder
Than you used to be
So you used to shake 'em down
But now you stop and think about your dignity

So now sweet sixteens turned thirty-one
You get to feelin' weary when the work days done
Well all you got to do is get up and into your kicks
If you're in a fix

Come back baby
Rock and roll never forgets"

I don’t know, but I bet Stephen King – who plays with a sometimes band called The Rock Bottom Remainders with sometime-members including fellow writers Dave Barry, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson, Robert Fulghum -- is a Seger fan. He’s bound to be.

King uses music and lyrics as part of all his novels, either as part of the story or as quote introductions, often both. I recall Bob Dylan’s line: “The pump don’t work ’Cause the vandals took the handles” as an introduction for one of his books. Another, better King-constant-reader would remember which book.

More often, King weaves music into the thoughts of his characters, as they remember a line or have a song in their heads as they face the next challenge. One from this 11/22/63 book is a Ray Wylie Hubbard reference to that Texan’s song, Screw You, We’re from Texas -- because you know this time-traveling opus will end up in Texas, if JFK’s murder is going to be averted. Or will it?

That’s why we read and listen to songs like Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, Seger’s first national hit, back when I was, really truly, just 12 years old. ("I ain't good lookin' but you know I ain't shy; ain't afraid to look a girl in the eye.")

The language and the music help us take a journey, and they accompany us on this fine adventure of life. 

We thank you for that, our writing, rocking and graying friends.

Song of the day
Against the Wind
by Bob Seger

Well those drifter's days are past me now
I've got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out

Against the wind
I'm still runnin' against the wind
I'm older now but still runnin' against the wind
Well I'm older now and still runnin'
Against the wind
Against the wind
Against the wind

Pictures of the day:
A Bob Seger then-and-now retrospective:

Great hair: I had a shag like that in the '70s too.

Performing in Louisville a few days after the B'ham concert.