I was 15 when the Beatles’ Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band arrived at Record Bar. Those younger than about age 50 need know that Record Bar was a popular chain of music stores ubiquitous in malls across the South. If you’re so young you need to know what a record is, ask your smartphone.
I bought the album and wore it out on the turntable in my bedroom--over and over, lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, absorbing every note and lyric.
It was 20 years ago today,
Sargent Pepper taught the band to play.
Decades later I can still sing the A and B sides of Sargent Pepper all the way from the opening title track to the haunting, 42-second, final chord of A Day in the Life. I’d love to turn you on.
The album captivated all my friends. Some of them bought Nehru jackets. It became the soundtrack for every stupid teenage notion and fantasy.
I get by with a little help from my friends.
Gonna try with a little help from my friends.
The album even captured my mother. I remember she came into my room and joined me on the bed to listen to the touching She’s Leaving Home. She listened through it twice. I did not appreciate it then, but she was still a young woman, and I think it spoke to her.
She breaks down and cries to her husband, Daddy,
Our baby’s gone.
Sargent Pepper is different than any LP, eight-track, cassette, CD or MP3 I’ve ever purchased. It is at varying spots provocative, weird, contemplative, whimsical and laugh-out funny. There are jokes on that album I didn’t catch for decades. It never grows old.
When I get older, losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
One of my favorite tracks then and now is When I’m Sixty-four. As a teenager the song was a melodic spoof of my parents and grandparents and the odd, constrained lives they occupied. To my 15-year-old mind, the world of 64 was a distant planet, light years away.
I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.
But that sneaky Lennon and McCartney had the gift of prophecy. Wrapped up in the joke was the question of relevance in a dwindling life.
Will you still need me,
Will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
I am now 64 and the need-me, feed-me questions are very much on my mind.
What is my role in the lives of those around me?
What are my priorities in the time I have left?
What will be my legacy to children and grandchildren?
Will I be able to provide for my wife and myself as we grow older?
Sixty-four was ancient in 1968, but it feels pretty young right now. I feel like I’m still growing. I still want to learn. I still dream. I still anticipate some good and better things.
The worst part about turning 64 are the commercials. It is through ads that you realize what the world really thinks of you and your remaining days. Watch some nightly news and you will observe a three-act summary of my projected future.
Act one is the carefree, driving-down-the-highway-wind-in-my-hair stage of aging. I’ve got Cialis in my overnight bag and plenty of money. Endless nights in charming beds-and-breakfasts await. I take up sailing. I’ve never had it so good.
But the curtain falls on Act 1 quickly. Act 2 begins and ends at the pharmacy. My once-indestructible body turns fickle and lets me down at the most inopportune moments. I spend too much time in the bathroom, probably contemplating my increased risk of stroke due to A-fib. My hip and knees prevent me from doing the things I love, which are now gardening and woodworking. I’ve always hated gardening and woodworking, but apparently I am soon to miss them.
In Act 3 my world narrows to little more than hearth and home. I drink a lot of coffee in the kitchen. I get some life insurance without a medical exam. I get a reverse mortgage to pay for the life insurance. The highlight of my day is the moment the postman arrives with a box of new catheters.
I don’t like this play, and I don’t want to star in it. My faith tells me that God ordains my future, and I will accept what he has in store, but my prayer is that the Lord will write me different script.
Around age 34 the number 64 took on additional meaning for my life. My brother-in-law John and I went on a motorcycle trip through North Carolina to the Outer Banks and back. Our route included extended portions of U.S. Highway 64, which altogether runs 2,326 miles from Nags Head on the eastern shore to a desert terminus near the four-corners of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
The idea came into my head somewhere around Highlands, North Carolina that, in the year I turn 64, I would a motorcycle the length of the highway west to east, and maybe write a book about it. I did the math as I motored along—2017. That’s when I would take the time to do it.
In my thirties, I had everything but time. My life then was filled with young children and a demanding business. The idea of low-stress days exploring more of highway 64’s scenic riches was epic and romantic. No rocking chairs and burial policies for this guy--I’m going to ride my motorcycle across the country. Eventually. In 31 years.
Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight,
If it’s not too dear.
We will scrimp and save.
Grandchildren on your knee,
Vera, Chuck and Dave.
There is a voice in me that says riding across the country is expensive and self-indulgent. The real adventure in my life is my wife, children and grandchildren, and I know that is true. Yet I hope they will all forgive me for wanting something more. Not better, just more.
And the voice says that a cross-country motorcycle trip is passé. It’s been done and written about by lots of people. But lots of people are not me.
Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away.
I’ve chewed on this idea for too long. I am running late for a 30-year-old appointment. It’s time to go or find a new song.