Death can be tragic, but it’s what we do, so stop being so miserable
I feel no yearning for my youth or fear for my future, just gratitude that I finally cheered up in time to relish my life
Surely the reason Rod Stewart keeps himself busy with covers of sophisticated standards these days is because he just can’t stomach the idea of wriggling round a stage croaking Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? in his seventies.
Lionel Richie’s still a fine figure of a man – although just a few years Stewart’s junior, he probably doesn’t do much Dancing on the Ceiling any more. But the granddaddy of all the put-away-childish-songs must be The Who’s My Generation, written by a 20-year-old Pete Townshend when, somewhat surreally, the Queen Mother had his car, which happened to be an old hearse, towed away after she was irked by it on her daily drive through Belgravia and he had to pay £250 to get it back.
There’s something pleasingly perverse about what was thought to be a wail of existential anguish on behalf of a whole generation – “Hope I die before I get old!” – turning out to be the niche peeve of a privileged pop star. My jeering, sneering, hearse-chasing punk tribe – via the admittedly rather substandard band Generation X – had a scoff at how one generation is effortlessly trumped by the next in their song Your Generation: Trying to forget your generation / The ends must justify the means / Your generation don’t mean a thing to me!
How we rotters cheered when we heard Elvis had died! I think that’s what I’ve got against the young these days – how grumpy and un-triumphalist they seem, like worrywart parents: “Don’t do this, don’t do that. Arrrrrgh, the world’s coming to an end! Repent your sins and put down that plastic straw!”
We certainly had our fun and that’s why I can’t get overexcited about the fact my generation are now dying because they’re getting old: in the past week we’ve had a hat-trick, with Keith Flint, 49, Luke Perry, 52, and Magenta Devine, 61, “joining the majority”. How I love that phrase; that we all – the living and the dead – go on together, and that nothing can divide us. A sort of socialism of souls. Others are not so stoic, especially on social media: “Can everybody please stop dying!” is the silliest one I’ve seen. Of course we’re all going to kick the bucket; what’s the alternative, for us to be revenants roaming the Earth in undead desolation?
A hundred years ago you’d be lucky to live till 50; with the advances in medicine we’ve become so blasé that it’s not unusual for someone to say: “Oh, 75 is no age!” I’ve actually heard halfwits saying that one of their grandparents dying traumatised them. Unfortunately, that’s what grandparents do, like spoiling you and tutting. As clever old Bertrand Russell (dead at 97 – no age!) said: “If one lived forever, the joys of life would inevitably in the end lose their savour – as it is, they remain perennially fresh.”
I’ll be 60 this summer and feel no yearning for my youth or fear for my future, but rather a feeling of extreme gratitude that I finally cheered up in time to relish my one and only life on Earth. It’s not just me but the generation I named the YOLOAPS in 2018: “Those incorrigible codgers determined not to go gently into that good night but preferring to have a good night out instead ... those superannuated sex machines whose rate of STDs has increased 23% over the past five years, compared with just 11% for those under 60.”
Yes, it can put the kibosh on our illusions of glamour when we realise that we’re nearer the age of Steptoe (50) than Son (37) at the outset of the long-running sitcom, but then you need only to contrast the naïveté of youth with the pleasures of being a worldly old roué and you’re winning.
I like to read obituaries – not in a gloating way but with a real sense of camaraderie and tenderness. I don’t for a minute think of myself as famous, but I have lived a sometimes notorious public life as a writer since I was a teenager and I’m pretty sure there will be a few obituaries of me. Along with the usual stuff about being a good writer, a bad mother, a drunkard and a droll, I hope they remember to mention that my life turned out to be so interesting that dying was literally the least of my worries.
Though a life snatched away is a tragedy, when a life has been lived honestly, successfully or just completely, death is merely the punctuation mark.
– © The Sunday Telegraph