Aging is unavoidable.
And when I say this, I don’t just mean the chronological passing of time relative to our own existence. I mean the physical and mental changes that occur as we age; changes to our cognition, health, looks, strength, perspective, etc. It’s these changes (specifically those perceived as deterioration) that we can find difficult, unpleasant or even frightening. Our culture’s idolisation of youth with its inherent subtle pessimism about aging make it all the harder. Vanity and the desire to feel well often incentivises us to do whatever we can to mitigate the aging process. This may slip us into a resistance to the reality that the passing of time is unstoppable and make it difficult to experience our aging with acceptance. And yet, there are shining examples of people who show us how to do this with consummate professionalism, humour and dignity. I’ve had the good fortune of being in close proximity to two of them lately and I would like to share them with you now.
Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave) is a true music legend and the original Soul Man. I had the privilege of performing with him recently as part of The Staks Band at the Cornbury Festival near Oxford, England. Sam is circa 83 years old and is a force of nature. He may not be busting the same moves he once did or even going for all of the jaw-dropping soulful high notes that he is so famous for, but his performance held thousands of people spellbound. Prior to the event, he took time out to rehearse with the band one afternoon where we were able to get to know him a bit. It was clear that his passion for music (and for songs he’s sung for 50+ years) was undiminished, often going into specific detail about how he wanted things to sound. He was a willing raconteur, generously sharing many a funny and fascinating story.
On the same bill as us was The Beach Boys led by co-founding member Mike Love. If I’m not mistaken, Mike is 78 years old. I watched the entire set from out front with Mike leading an incredible band, playing hit after hit after hit. He was up there standing, moving, singing and being the de facto emcee for over an hour and a half. His musicality and showmanship were flawless, and without the slightest hint that he, like Sam, has been singing many of those songs for over half a century.
What have I learned from these living legends? I’ll try to sum it up here in a few points in no particular order.
Keep your sense of humour – Sam was cracking jokes all the time when we were with him and Mike had a wicked, dry sense of humour that he employed when introducing tunes or band members. Both of them kept me laughing!
Don’t stop moving – even at their advanced ages, both of these men came over from the US to do gigs in England. They are not just hunkering down and living off their royalties.
Stay energised – these two guys have literally seen and done it all but are still approaching their work with enthusiasm.
Extend to others – both of these men were fun to work with and be around as evidenced by their levels of interaction with people both on and off the stage.
Pay attention to detail – both men made sure that in musical sense the bands they worked with did things accurately and authentically. Each of their performances was characterised by the aggregation of marginal gains.
Sam and Mike have nothing to prove to anyone and their places in music history are assured. However, they are still out there giving performances that are inspirational and entertaining – long may it last!