Beatles’ tune still rings in my head, but it doesn’t ring true in today’s world

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Reflections from my Notebook


I turned 64 earlier this week, an age that wouldn’t be considered a milestone to me except it is — and I blame the Beatles for that. All week, I haven’t been able to get the Beatles’ popular song, “When I’m Sixty-Four,” out of my head.

I would never have imagined that it would stick with me 50+ years since I first heard that song. When it was released in 1967, I didn’t think much of the song as it seemed like a throw-away tune that paled in comparison to the great songs on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album that included “A Day in the Life,” “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Of course, I was only 12 then and 64 seemed a long way off. Even the milestone birthday I was most looking forward to — 18, which brought so many adult privileges — seemed far away at that age. I couldn’t be bothered to look much past the next day at that youthful age and I couldn’t even imagine my life at 64 back then.

Many popular musicians in the 1960s reinforced those youthful fantasies that emphasized the present. For example, a favorite song of mine, the Who’s 1965 hit, “My Generation,” in which writer Peter Townshend extolled youthful rebellion, had lead singer Roger Daltrey sneering, “I hope I die before I get old.”

Even the Beatles’ lyrics painted a gloomy picture of life at 64 — mending a fuse, knitting a sweater by the fireside, digging the weeds in the garden, ”Who could ask for more?”

Well, I’d have to say I could.

Paul McCartney wrote the lyrics for the song pre-Beatles when he was just 16. The Beatles performed it with just a piano in the band’s early days when the amps broke down or there were other technical problems. John Lennon has stated that they added a few words to it, mostly about grandchildren, before releasing it, presumably because McCartney’s father was turning 64 at the time of “Sgt. Pepper’s.”

The song, about a young man anxiously looking at aging, ending with the lyrics, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64,” has never had any special meaning to me and still doesn’t — except it keeps intruding on my thoughts during this birthday week.

Yet, the song is bringing up all sorts of questions now at my advanced age.

For one thing, who would have thought at age 64 I would still be listening to the Beatles or that individual Beatles would still be performing? My wife and I saw McCartney at Target Field in 2014 when the singer was 72. And, it isn’t just nostalgia keeping me hooked. I listen to other rock ‘n’ roll music, including songs by modern bands made up of musicians younger than half my age.

When I was 12, my perception was that old people over 30 only listened to Lawrence Welk and Bing Crosby while ancient people over 60 didn’t do much at all.

Back then, 64 was a lot older — or at least nearer the end of life — than now. The average lifespan of a male in the United States back then was just three years past 64. Today, men are living, on average, about a decade longer than they were in 1967.

A bigger transformation is that the behavior of 64-year-olds has changed drastically since I was a kid. Call it a refusal to grow up or changes in society that contribute to the observation that “60 is the new 40,” but older people certainly don’t act like they did when I was young.

Many 60+ residents in our area pack fitness centers and some take on tough physical pursuits or go off on adventures to exotic places. Others are so involved in their communities that they are busier than when they were working.

It helps that older people today are in better health, have more financial security and are better educated than their counterparts years ago. The opportunities older Americans have today are amazing.

Still, it seems ironic that in some ways I am more anxious about the future than I was as a burgeoning teen. I never thought much ahead in my personal life as a young man. Things just happened — graduation, college, marriage, kids, career. There were twists and turns in my life, but I just kept moving.

Now that I have a shorter future ahead, I think about the future more than ever.

There is the non-teen angst of not knowing an ending date, something that seems morbid, but is key to retirement planning. I’ve seen people retire and then die shortly after, never taking advantage of all the opportunities life affords after moving on from work. On the other hand, experts warn us about the danger of leaving work too early, eventually finding out the finances to provide a comfortable retirement life run out.

I guess I should just be happy I am enjoying a 64th birthday, so I’ll channel my inner youth for a while and not worry about life’s surprises awaiting me. However, that mindset still leaves one burning question: If I ever move into senior housing, will I still be able to crank up my tunes?