Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The middle-aged pop performer

One thing the songwriting process has taught me is the importance of the passage of time. Songs can be likened to diary entries, and I have found that writing them (for almost thirty years now) has helped sharpen my awareness of the fact that I was like that then and I am like this now.

I am now forty, so I have been around for a while. I don't look the same as when I was eighteen, and I don't act the same. Some changes have been internal, others have been externally imposed.

On my way to buy the paper this evening I saw a teenager sitting on the floor of the bus shelter waiting for her bus. There was a perfectly good seat but she elected to sit on the floor instead.

This is the prerogative of youth.

I like to sit on the floor too, and sometimes at home whilst writing, reading, playing the guitar or listening to mixes, I do. But were I to sit on the floor of the bus shelter whilst waiting for the bus as I did when I was eighteen, people would look at me and think 'there is a forty year-old man sitting on the floor of the bus shelter'. Even worse, they might know who I am and be thinking 'there is that man who used to teach my son how to play guitar, sitting on the floor of the bus shelter when there is a perfectly good seat'.

It just isn't worth the bother, which is a shame, as I feel constrained by this kind of thing.

In many ways however I am glad to grow older, and am quite happy to be viewed as a more mature member of society. But because I am a pop writer and performer I face a dilemma: should I attempt to arrest my development and present a youthful image, or should I give in to the ageing process and even celebrate it in song?

The question is rhetorical, as I have long since made my decision.

I do not buy into the Peter Pan myth of pop. I have no intention of pretending to be eternally youthful like so many of the botoxed-up-to-the-eyeballs time deniers out there in showbiz land. You can see with painful acuity that they are fighting a losing battle - trying desperately to cling on to their lost youth, hanging on grimly by a thread. It just doesn't wash folks.

For one thing, you begin to adopt that permanently surprised expression. You know the one, the routinely amazed look worn by an ageing gerbil when informed by a record company executive that a top name producer has been hired in a last ditch attempt to rescue their floundering career.

Obviously gerbils don't have pop careers at any age, hence the amazed expression.

But what I am trying to say is this: in our internet age, in this New Age of Pop, I firmly believe that the artist should stop covering up and should begin to act their age. There is no shame in growing older - it can bring a broadening of perspective and a deepening of experience to be welcomed, celebrated even. Certainly not shunned.

I don't want to think that I am obliged to start making music of a genre typically associated with the older performer however. Much as I like the sound of voices oak-aged in barrels murmuring tastefully to acoustic guitars, pianos and understated strings, if I wish to carry on churning out perky synth-pop tunes and post-punk clangour well into my eighties I shall do so, assuming I am lucky enough to live that long.

What I shall not be doing is having my skin stretched as tight as Roger Taylor's snare drum and squeezing into the PVC trousers in which I danced to 'Planet Earth' down the school disco in 1981.

I admit that pop music has never been overly preoccupied with dignity but I still believe that - in this new century - a person can continue to make pop music well into their middle age and grow old gracefully at the same time.


Sean Foudy said...

Bob Dylan has done well with growing old gracefully - has an old river boat gambler look - and his a master story teller whether on record or his dj stint with Theme Time Radio Hour

Come Ride The Whale said...

Enjoyed your use of language--would like to hear some of your songs--I'll go look on your profile some more but if there isn't a link listed please post one for us.