Filing under Standing on the shoulders of giants:
64 is an interesting age. Paul McCartney even imagined it in song once a long time ago.
For whatever reasons, I’m lucky enough to know some pretty amazing people in their 90s:
*Mo Ostin, who built Warner Bros records, and changed a lot of lives, mine included, through music and business.
*Norman Lear, who created All In The Family and the Jeffersons and then in his late 50s started an organization People for the American Way on whose board I’ve served since my 30s.
*Dolores Huerta, who along with Cesar Chavez founded the United Farmworkers in California in the 1960s and is now one of People For The American Way’s most visible leaders helping to win elections and get good progressives elected all over the country.
All three of these people are still very active out there teaching younger generations what to do and how to do it. And in Norman’s case, still making TV shows— at 98! For me, thanks to living in a college town and being involved for years with education, and us having kids later than most people, I also am friends with lots of really smart 20-somethings and my age is kind of a in between, “upper middle age” I guess.
Anyway, I have always been fascinated by people who live a long time and maybe it goes back to the junior year at Davidson thesis I did on Oliver Wendell Holmes who served as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court into his 90s. I think I know their trick: they really care about things and then they stay active doing them. And with Dolores, Mo and Norman they do love a good laugh, laughter truly being the best medicine as the old saying goes.
I remember the band playing a couple of times in the mid-1980s with Roger McGuinn, the guitarist in the Byrds from about 20 years before. His band’s sound had influenced our guys and it was a thrill for everybody to get to play with this elder statesman on the same stage several times, including once at the Uptown Lounge on Clayton Street in Athens that became a legendary bootleg called Return of the Rickenbackers.
We had similar feelings about working with Joe Boyd around that same time, an “older guy” who had produced legendary British folk at like Fairport convention, Richard and Linda Thompson, Nick Drake and Sandy Denny, among many others. As R.E.M. got more popular over the years their music influenced a lot of younger artists and that’s just the way influences and history work. I remember asking Joe, who was probably around 40 at the time, what his secret to healthy aging was and without missing a beat, he answered dryly: “immaturity.” I’ve kept that in mind. Mike and I saw had dinner with him the last time we were in London, sometime in 2019 I guess, and I could easily see Joe doing what he does, world music these days, well into his 90s.
Anyway, last month I was on a Zoom call meeting with the board of People for the American Way and I got to hear our current president Ben Jealous, the guy in his 40s who’s been leading civil rights organizations for close to two decades talk about how throughout history it has been multi-generational, multi-racial coalitions that have really turned the tide toward justice. he recalled his own mentors John Lewis and he was grateful to Norman for the mentorship he continues to provide. I feel like we are at one of those points now. And I am blessed with friendships over decades of life experiences and perspectives. I love learning and I love teaching, and damn there’s some good material out there these days.
I wrote all that this morning BEFORE I heard about the amazing sweet profile of Norman Lear on CBS Sunday this morning: https://berto.fyi/3oANF5E