One of the nice things about being married to a woman who’s exactly your age is that you rarely have to explain things to one another. As Mrs. T and I drove into Miami Beach the other day, she looked over at me and said, “The sun and fun capital of the world!” We dissolved at once in shared laughter, each knowing what the other was thinking. That was the tagline used by Johnny Olson every Saturday night to introduce Jackie Gleason and His American Scene Magazine, my father’s favorite TV program, which was taped in Miami Beach. Mrs. T and I both watched it faithfully when we were small, and recall the show with a fondness that has little to do with its intrinsic merit, such as it was.
Never having gotten myself too firmly entangled in the kind of red-sports-car relationship that Donald Fagen describes sardonically (but sympathetically) in his new album, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be romantically involved with a person who didn’t know what you were talking about most of the time. Mrs. T, who is four days my junior, almost always knows what I’m talking about. She saw the same TV shows, heard the same records on the radio, and sang along with the same commercials. Like me, she remembers with perfect clarity how it felt to be young in the Sixties and slightly less so in the Seventies.
To be coeval with your spouse is an insufficiently appreciated comfort as you steer your uneasy way through middle age, though it’s no less important–for a journalist, anyway–to keep one eye firmly fixed on the windshield. I like it when my younger friends fill me in on current events in the great world of pop culture, and from time to time I cultivate a fresh enthusiasm of my own (most recently for Janelle Monáe, to whom Our Girl in Chicago introduced me last year).
At the same time, though, I cringe at the idea of becoming the kind of ever-so-with-it senior citizen who engages in the blush-making practice of what one of Kingsley Amis’ characters refers to as “arse-creeping youth.” When I take an interest in something new, it’s because I like it, not because I want to be seen liking it, much less because I want to stun my younger friends with my hipness, which never works anyway. I’m not hip, nor have I ever been (though I do take pride in being one of the few jazz writers who can actually play the blues). I’m a fifty-six-year-old man who likes what he likes and does his best never to pretend otherwise.
This cuts both ways: I don’t like the pop culture of my youth merely because it was the pop culture of my youth. You couldn’t pay me to sit through an episode of The Brady Bunch or listen to Live/Dead straight through. Life’s too short to waste any part of it rehashing adolescent enthusiasms that didn’t pan out.
That said, I wouldn’t dream of denying that I miss the world of my youth, or that I think about it fairly often, perhaps more often than I should. Sometimes I even miss being young–though not usually–and no day passes when I fail to miss my beloved parents. But would I turn the clock back? Not a chance. Television at its best is infinitely better now than it was then, and most of the rock music to which I listened avidly in 1973 bores me stiff now. I vastly prefer my MacBook to the manual typewriter on which I painstakingly taught myself how to be a professional writer, just as I prefer my iPod (yes, I still have one) to the monstrous console radio-phonograph that I inherited from my father’s mother when I was a teenager.
What I really miss, I suppose, is the sheer simplicity of childhood, that precious time when other people make the decisions and all you have to do is be. Yet I don’t miss it enough to want to live any part of it over again. Colette, who was exceedingly wise about such things, said something in The Last of Chéri that I take very much to heart: “I love my past. I love my present. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve had, and I’m not sad because I have it no longer.” I loved my childhood, but I love my life with Mrs. T even more–and I also love it that she knows who Crazy Guggenheim was and can sing the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies from memory without getting a word wrong.