Friday, June 23, 2006

Birthday Songs

When "Sgt. Pepper's Lonley Heart's Club Band" was released in1967, it was called the most influential rock album of all time.
While that may have been laying it on a bit thick, I do rememberdigesting it like a fine meal, savoring every nuance, every flavor. And so didmany of my friends, not star-struck teenagers but people with careers andfamilies.
Such was the popularity and importance of the Beatles at the apexof their career.
And now Paul McCartney is 64. Lots of people turn 64, of course, but only Sir Paul had the foresight to write "When I'm 64," which appeared on Sgt. Pepper and cemented his rightful place in the birthday hall of fame.
Depending on how you interpreted the song, he was either mocking old age or hoping for a soft landing when his time came. Of course, in 1967, being 64 was impossible to contemplate. And his quaint view of enduring love was almost comedic, a song that sounded like it was written and performed by Lawrence Welk smack dab in the middle of a rock masterpiece.
So here's to those of us who have made the journey with Paul and reached 64. Here's to Brian Wilson. And Muhammad Ali. And Michael Bloomberg, Dick Butkus, Clarence Clemmons, Michael Crawford, Michael Eisner, Mick Fleetwood, Aretha Franklin, Stephen Hawking, John Irving, Erica Jong, Wayne Newton, Muammar Qaddafi, Roger Staubach, Barbra Steisand, Michael York. To name a few.
But unlike the lyrics of the song, a lot of us are not "yours sincerely wasting away." Indeed, it used to be that most Americans retired at 65, then got sick and died within a few years. Today, according to a MacArthur Foundation study, nearly nine in 10 Americans ages 65-74 say they have no disability.
Of course, those who make that statement don't count the usual aches and pains that come from dealing with the unrelenting pull of gravity for more than a half-century. Maybe they just forgot. That happens a lot when you're 64.
Nearly two-thirds of baby boomers say they feel younger today than their actual age, up from just under half in 1998. And eight in 10 Americans reject the notion that "my retirement is or will be similar to my parent's retirement." Today, on average, 64-year-olds can expect to live more than 16 years, about four years longer than they would have in 1967 at age 64, according to government statisticians.
So to what do we owe this endless summer? Medical advances? Healthier life styles? Viagra?
According to many experts, various factors contribute to an individual's longevity. Significant factors in life expectancy include genetics, access to health care, hygiene, diet, exercise and lifestyle.
Moreover, the Census Bureau says that life expectancy in the U.S. will be in the mid-80s by the year 2050 (up from 77 today) and will top out eventually in the low 90s, barring major scientific advances that can change the rate of human aging itself, as opposed to merely treating the effects of aging as is done today.
We've had some good times in these 64 years. We've gone through a lot of down times as well. Wars, recessions, natural disasters, terrorism, the dark side of humanity that it seems to confront every generation.
Ironically, it has been no bed of roses for Sir Paul. The comfortable retirement with a life-time partner that he sang about eluded him. His first wife, Linda, died of breast cancer at 59, after they had been married 29 years. Last month, he announced his separation from his second wife, Heather Mills, who is 38.
Of the Beatles, only Paul and Ringo, who is 66, made it to 64. John Lennon, who would have been 64 this year, was shot and killed at age 40. George Harrison died of cancer at age 58.
For those of us still standing, look how far we've come.
"The slogan back then was never trust anyone over 30," Jeff Greenfield, a CNN commentator, who is 63, told the New York Times. "We thought people would be dead or in a home by their 60s."
And life today seems to offer a lot more than we were promised in Paul's song:

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.

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