Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Old Guys


During our awesome toddler-dominated New Year's Eve party, we tuned in for the last five minutes of what most of America probably hopes was Dick Clark's last stand. It seemed to us like a bit of funny after too many bottles of champagne, but of course the minute the stroke survivor appeared, our stomachs sunk. Clark extolled the neatness and order of the Times Square fete with the enthusiasm of a....I could whip out some witty analogy here, as Virginia Heffernan did rather mean-spiritedly in the NY Times, but Clark's aged determination doesn't seem like a joke or a metaphor to me. It seems familiar. So I'll say it -- Clark did what he did with the enthusiasm of my late dad.

My dad died this past April of pancreatic cancer. It's a late-presenting disease; turns out that the lethargy, lack of appetite and scattered, distant nature of his communications were symptoms of his disease -- which made my brother and me feel abashed after the fact, since we'd been pinning his Beckett-like distance from life on lifelong drinking and a bad attitude. One thing I remember now about my dad is that, despite the waning of his physical self, he did keep trying to express enthusiasm. He'd make "yummy" sounds at holiday dinners, though he just pushed his food around his plate; he'd greet his grandkids with a hearty how-de-do even when he couldn't get out of his chair. Even in his last days, bed-bound, he'd lock eyes with me when I brought news of a potential new job; he was barely there, but he was all there for us.

I'm sure that Clark's ego helped propel him toward the falling ball last Saturday, but so did his sense of duty. Duty of that kind -- a feeling of your own steady, fated place in the world's hierarchy and your need to fill it-- is such an old guy concept. I abhor many things associated with such impositions of obligation; militarism, for example. But I can't help but be touched, at times, when I see an old guy acting upon it. Masculinity may be mostly a power trip in our traditional hierarchies, but it's also a burden, and in these delicate moments of concord its weight feels soft and heartbreaking.

I'll be sad when today's old guys are all gone. (Old gals, too, but that's another column.) Another one I appreciate is that guy up in the corner, Dan Schorr, NPR's cranky personal historian. What will we do when he's gone? I treasured my "older" dad, as I still do my mom, for bringing direct knowledge of a time before my own era into my life. When these old guys and gals go, we'll have to start thinking about taking their place as the bearers of the polis's memory; I don't know if I'll ever be ready for that.

All that said -- on another level, I agree with my brilliant pal Emily, who declared, when Clark came on TV, that it was a sign of our imminent apocalypse. The gods of nature are pummeling us with hurricanes, tsunamis, and brush fires, a hand puppet spring to life is in the White House, and millions seem to care more about the next round of American Idol than the fate of their fellow human. In light of these developments, Clark did indeed come across as an Orwellian figure -- the paralyzed , yet still controlling, voice of a Draconian regime. Old guys,after all, aren't always sweet.

3 Comments:

Anonymous David Comay said...

Wow, what a entry. First of
all, I just wanted to say
how pleased I am to see one
of my favorite music writers
blogging. I've missed
reading your columns from
the Village Voice and The
Times so it's nice to see
your voice here.

I was rather sad watching the New Year's Eve show
although I was touched at
the progress Dick Clark has
made since his stroke and
the obvious effort he must
have made in hosting the
event. But I was also
uncomfortable... it almost
seemed like an real life
rendition of one of the
older
This Modern World
strips.

My condolences on the loss
of your father. It sounds
like he kept the right
focus during his illness;
on his family. I certainly
hope that I try and stay
involved with those around
me at that point in my life.

10:29 AM

 
Blogger daphne said...

hmm. i can't WAIT to be an old gal (sontag streak come to me) mostly so the anxiety of what comes next is over.

i caught the clark episode on, of all weird, things, the E! new year's round up. their saccharine frame for clark (and his touching message to the world) was hilarious given the rest of the show was about botox types getting naughty at afterhours - you could just hear the producer choking to have to put an 'old guy' in the mix. it had that scent of unavoidable entrophy that one hopes to avoid so early on in the new year and for that, i was surprised and maybe even pleased.

3:03 PM

 
Blogger Ali said...

You seem to be touching on what I've been calling my Beautiful Old Man Theory, for the last year or two. Julia Margaret Cameron, a photographer from the first days in the 19th century, took portraits of what she called Beautiful Old Men (BOM). This is one, and this as well. My BOM theory is simply that we seem to be living in an era where BOM's are dropping like flies. We can draw our own conclusions as to what that means culturally.

To name a brief few:
Saul Bellow, Johnny Carson, Peter Jennings, Eugene McCarthy...and a whole slew of political figures that tend to spark debate- Arafat, Renquhist, Pope John Paul II, and almost Sharon..."Beautiful," is of course not meant literally, or necessarily positively either; it conveys a sense of power and duty to our culture, which is precisely why your post caught my attention.

11:25 AM

 

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