Saturday, January 23, 2010

Forever young

[This entry is cross-posted at 2 Blowhards.]

May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

— Bob Dylan

The pace is picking up. “My” generation is dying off.

I put quotes around “my” because it doesn’t necessarily mean exact chronological cohorts. Rather, people whose work affected me when I was young, or at least a lot younger than I am now, and left a lasting impression.

It’s hard to imagine them aging, impossible to comprehend them dying. They and I will always be in the 1960s or 1970s when I think of them. (That’s not so long ago in my mind, although for young adults it’s the Pleistocene Age.)

Just this week, two people I never met personally but with whom I connected with emotionally passed out of this life.


The first was Kate McGarrigle, one-half of Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Their first album floored me when I heard it in the early ’70s; some 35 years later, it still does. Practically every track on the album sparkles. They were bilingual “English” girls from French Canada, blessed with splendid voices, individually and in harmony. I’m not sure which songs were written by which sister (the sublime “Heart Like a Wheel” is credited to Anna), but they were synergy in action.

Kate and Anna released other albums over the decades. While they were of uneven quality, and none in my estimation surpassed that original effort, the craftsmanship was always there. They continued to offer consolation to those of us who were immiserated as popular music sank to ever-more artificial, and often cretinous, levels.


The other loss this week that affected me was the detective novel writer Robert B. Parker. I believe I discovered him by way of his first book, The Godwulf Manuscript, about the same time as the sisters McGarrigle swum into my ken. He created the tough, wisecracking detective Spenser who was to Boston what Hammett’s Sam Spade was to San Francisco and Chandler’s Philip Marlowe to Los Angeles.

Parker has his detractors, and I agree with some of their reasons. After the first few novels, the Spenser series started to roll off an assembly line -- still entertaining enough to be good company on an airplane ride or for light reading, but successive titles did not grow in depth over the years like Ross Macdonald’s, for instance.

But it was thrilling enough to my young self to learn that the Raymond Chandler tradition was alive and well, and the snappy dialogue probably influenced my own style, as it undoubtedly influenced many others. (I’m not, of course, saying I imitate Parker or comparing myself to him as a writer.)


In the 1960s, even before the McGarrigles and Parker came on the scene, the San Francisco Chronicle’s wonderful columnist Herb Caen wrote a piece I remember: about how he dreaded opening the paper to the obituaries and seeing names of people he’d known for years.

The English poet Philip Larkin said that once he had reached a certain age, there was always Something standing behind him, which he could almost see if he glanced over his shoulder. (Henry James called death “that distinguished thing.”)

We are not forever young, nor are the people who are part of our lives, at least not in the way we imagine when we ourselves are young.


But maybe in a different sense we are. According to many mediumistic communications from the Other Side, souls who have passed over usually take the astral form of the most physically vibrant years of their earth lives. So, even a person who dies very old might have the appearance in spirit of a 20-year-old. Time and aging have no place in the afterlife. Forever young.


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