Aging. Gracefully?


Several months ago, I got a renewed interest in the music group The Seekers.  I was converting some LP records to CD’s and owned two of their albums from back in the ‘60’s.  They were, and still are, a group based in Australia, with memorable hits for my generation like Georgie Girl, I’ll Never Find Another You, A World of our Own, and the haunting The Carnival is Over.  They were probably the last of successful folk-based groups, and managed to bump both the Stones and the Beatles off the charts in the days when those groups were expected to be on top.

The Seekers story is interesting.  They left Australia to try for success in Britain—booked as entertainment on a cruise ship to cover transportation costs.  Shortly after their arrival, their popularity took off.  Much of their sound came from the wonderful voice of Judith Durham—she was very much the “Seekers sound”.  But Judith had issues of her own, particularly ones of poor self-esteem and lack of confidence.  Despite appearing in the dreams of most young men at the time, she thought she was overweight and unattractive, and despite later being described by Elton John (he once played piano for them) as possessing “one of the purest voices in popular music”, she wasn’t even confident in that ability.  She decided to leave the group at the peak of their success to pursue a singing career of her own.  She did have that, mainly singing jazz in America with her husband pianist Ron Edgeworth.  The remaining Seekers had an assortment of replacements for her through the years, none of which was a Judith Durham.

In the early 1990’s, Judith approached the Seekers to reunite.  Then, in 1994, Ron Edgeworth died tragically of motor neuron disease.  The Seekers have since released several recordings, and made scattered appearances at sold out concerts.

They are just about to release two new studio albums, in commemoration of fifty years since the group formed.  They have a “sampler” of the content on Youtube, with video of them performing “then and now”.

I have to confess that looking at the video scares me.

They’re old!  Judith is 69, the three men, Athol Guy, Keith Potger, and Bruce Woodley are all into their 70’s.  And despite the joy with which Judith still sings, none of them have the voices they once had.

I know your easy response to my meanness in pointing out their age (and certainly for showing Judith’s Then and Now photos), and obviously—that’s what scares me!  Judith is only three years older than I am!

We baby-boomers live in an unusual time.  When we moved into our teen years, televisions were just appearing.  We had the ability, not shared by generations before us, of seeing our celebrities there on the tube, even if it was snowy black and white for a while.  We watched singers like Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, and, of course, Judith and the Seekers appear on shows like Ed Sullivan, and then we followed them through the years.  Some became popular, then peaked and faded.  Some, like the Seekers, disappeared off the radar for a time, sometimes a very long time.  We watched movies that featured stars that either have died by this time, or are looking elderly and walking around with pants belted under their armpits like Clint Eastwood.

Some stars return, particularly singers, rarely in renewed careers, but occasionally on PBS specials aimed at Boomer donations (I call it “whining for the bucks”).  Sometimes they appear in touring performances that attempt to make money off a career only recalled by those over fifty.  They frequently cannot sing as they once could, and, most frightening, time has taken its toll on their appearances.

A year ago my wife and I saw Glen Campbell in his “Farewell Concert” appearance in Moncton.  It was a short performance, probably fifty minutes, in which he had a few stumbles (and once left the stage thinking the show was over), but it was appreciated by his fans, most of whom looked our age.  Glen has Alzheimer’s, but was setting off on a world-wide final trip before he lost his abilities completely.  Glen is 76.

As you age, the face in the mirror can be troubling.  Photographs can be puzzling—how did my father get in that group?  We look out at the world through the same eyes we always did.  There is a feeling that things are the same behind the eyes, but they are not.  If we want that reinforced, we have only to take a close look at Keith Richards of the Stones… admittedly the look of having recently been run over by a dump truck might be significantly influenced by a time of drinking and drugs, but much of it, more unfortunately for us than him—is age.

I suspect the generations before the Boomers aged with less knowledge of their–dare we say it—deterioration.  They didn’t have this constant reminder in the faces of those celebrities journeying beside them.  And the generations after Boomers?  They probably take less notice.  After all, they are immortal at this stage—or at least think such—and the most common reflection of their faces is in the screens of their iPhones, so they perhaps play less attention.  Most of their “stars” seem more prone to crash and burn rather than have lengthy careers where their aging becomes obvious.

Forget the iPhones and the Wii, the tablets and the touchscreens, the eReaders!  Where’s that Time Machine you and H.G. promised us?  Well overdue.

Judith and the gang need it.

And, maybe me.

Youtube Video of the Seekers Then and Now:  Click

(Had to change the link to an interview session with the Seekers, as we became restricted from the original video because (apparently) we are in Canada.. changed March/13)

13 thoughts on “Aging. Gracefully?

  1. A very insightful piece, as always, getting those of us who might otherwise ignore an obvious truth to give it some thought. Luckily for some of us, as our mirrored reflections change (I won’t say “deteriorate”) over the years, our eyesight dims in equal measure, allowing us reassuring daily views of our only slightly hazy past glory. Or perhaps it is only the male of the species who can gaze at his worn and wrinkled self-image and declare, “Yep! I still got it!” In any event, I can rest easy with the knowledge that I will ALWAYS be four years younger than you!

  2. This is all about ageing, and our response to it. I’m guessing that I’m 5 years older than you. Besides black and white test patterns on TV that stayed there until 4:oo PM, I also recall relatives of all ages — and going to their funerals. Early on, I had a sense that ageing brought the freedom of staying up later, and girls became more interesting, and I had the freedom to make my choices re work, where I lived, what car I drove. And, it was certainly a given that I, too, would be the subject for a funeral one day. Since my parents moved our family around Canada frequently, friends came and went. Dad wasn’t in the Army but I think of myself as if I were an “Army Brat”.
    Change. It’s constant.
    I confess that I don’t understand at all why viewing old videos should be scary. You, and they, were once younger — even young! I DO understand that “they’re old” — because they are…. as I am older…
    You chose 2 very opposite examples of what ageing (and other ‘bad’ habits) looks like — Eastwood and Richards. For me, Eastwood (the personna) has aged fairly gracefully — someone I’d like to know. (I’d love to know where the image of Eastwood looking like his pants came up to his armpits was seen by you!) Richards is different. A ton of money spent on hard living has taken its toll. I don’t see ageing in Richards so much as destruction.
    I can’t help but comment on the “whining for the bucks”…. In my world, if I had to limit myself to just having one TV channel, it would be PBS. I see them as THAT worthy — and so do many other Canadians. I live in Alberta and the PBS station in Spokane, Washington, is currently doing fund raising. It takes money to do what they do and they do it without normal commercial advertising. The US Gov’t. used to contribute many more dollars than is currently done. So, a major source of their funding is diminishing at the same time as their costs go up — including, recently, the conversion to digital signals. So, thank goodness for a growing number of major benefactors and continuing support from the general public. Think of the many good works by Ken Burns; classical music that is seen nowhere else on TV. Think of the annual New Years Day concert from Vienna, previously hosted by Walter Cronkhite but now by Julie Andrews. In the last week, PBS Spokane told their viewers that a bit more than 50% of their ‘community’ funding is raised from Albertans. That seems shocking but Spokane, in eastern Washington in an area they like to call “The Inland Empire”, has a much smaller population base than does Alberta with 2 cities of over a million in population each. They ask for money. They cajole. It’s for a good cause. It no more intrudes on my life than does a Salvation Army Christmas bell-ringer, standing by the ‘kettle’.
    Most people think of me as a ‘tease’. When I look in the mirror in the morning — just once a day — I see eyes that twinkle and a smile. I’m lucky, and happy, to be here…
    A lesson I learned: 14 years ago this coming summer, my wife and I hosted our friends visiting from England with their 2 older children. We stopped to eat lunch at a popular burger joint — 2 drive-thru lines as well as 3 walk-up counters with outdoor tables everywhere. A panhandler was working the crowd but not getting anywhere — even getting some sharp rebukes. The husband in our English family just got up and went to the panhandler and asked what he wanted — “some money for a burger”. Our friend said he’d buy and walked him to the counter and told the poor fellow to order what he wanted, adding suggestions like “what about some fries with that?” and “how about a milk-shake?” At first, I just stared but saw the wisdom of not handing over money but helping to keep the fellow going. It was a beautiful thing to witness and made a VERY strong impression on me. I muttered something like “well done! Let Linda and I share in your good deed.”, as I slipped him some money. Life’s like that; lessons learned, old times remembered.
    Francis, you and I have never met but we both spent time on High Arctic weather stations. Wondering if you recall interesting stories or observations from your time there……

  3. Thought provoking when it’s put before you to ponder, I think I’m still in my 30 something, not realizing that when i gasp at the thought of my younger sister celebrating the big 50 , I too , am indeed older! The number never really mattered to me, and little too late, I didn’t realize that I was such a good looking gal, until the polished look of youth was years past; at which point I didn’t really think it was worth my time and energy to attempt to recapture , I don’t admire the look of 20 on a 50+ year old, I happened to stumble on a talk show last week and my mouth dropped open when i saw Kathi-Lee Gifford (not sure if the last name is still) with skin stretched so tight across her face , she looked like …well, I`ll just say, to me, it wasn`t pretty. And the last time I saw Larry King, I was so focused on guessing how many times he`d had plastic surgery , I entirely missed what his show was about. For me, it`s about looking past the cover and finding what treasures of wisdom or experiences are inside. I think that point of view is stronger for me now, due to my working with special needs persons. Many of these individuals are stared at, avoided, or pitied, fear I suppose, lack of understanding, but I have found some of the most beautiful , most interesting poeple I have ever met. I guess it boils down to how an individual perceives beauty. Thanks for the good article Francis.

  4. While conducting a practice with three young singers recently, one of the ten year olds referred to his mother as older than dirt. I turned to him and asked, “How old does that make me?” Thankfully, he didn’t reply, probably because he didn’t know what may be older than dirt! Age, I believe, is best dealt with in your mind. Our bodies start to die the moment we are born so it is our minds which promote our longevity, hopefully pushing us to look after ourselves, body, soul and mind. Enjoyed getting to know The Seekers.

  5. What a great article, Francis! and what a storm of comment it has aroused!
    Well, I’m a lot older than you guys and here is my comment. Being old, like being young and being in prime, has its bright and its dark side. Until I learned to laugh, it irritated me when the check-out girl leaned over with concern and asked, ” Are you all right with the packing?” In my Tai Chi class it puzzled me when the teacher passes by and says, “Don’t lean over, Mary!” (and here I thought I was upright as a young sapling). Also, I have developed a fear of the young giant girls you see everywhere. I don’t like to go too near them. Is it good nutrition only? No. I’m withering.

    The bright side is the invisibility cloak I have acquired. “Who looks at me?” Then again, when you are very young you are very busy looking and learning how to live. When you are in the middle, you are too busy working, working. Now you are old, you can look around. The cycle of the year astounds you. Here come the snowdrops again – and here am I, still. At unexpected moments bursts of joy come.

    The darkest thing is that, after all these long years I am no nearer solving any of the ancient questions…I saw an article in the paper by Richard Holloway. Asked to say which place in Britain he loved visiting and why, he said. ” I go to the Monks Graveyard in Nottingham and think…. the idea of all these people that have been born, that have lived, that have struggled, sometimes hopelessly, and have died – it just blows my mind. All with these longings, these clever little brains that we all have, all looking out at the universe and wondering, what the hell is all this about?”

    • “I go to the Monks Graveyard in Nottingham and think…. the idea of all these people that have been born, that have lived, that have struggled, sometimes hopelessly, and have died – it just blows my mind.”

      Maybe he could write an “Elegy in a Country Churchyard”?

  6. Nicely written, found this by accident after I had posted a few classic Seekers links to our website. However, having also accidentally run across the most recent videos/promos that were covers of their old material and new ones to me, not having kept in touch for 40 years, I found their voices better in many ways than I remembered. I have their greatest hits in my iTunes rotation on my desktop, but my breath was taken away when I heard Judith’s mature/aged voice for the first time.

    Being a boomer, at age 57 I entered the new global music business (self taught) and have started producing and releasing unreleased 60s-80s masters of well known bands, and on my journey when I find relatively new performances of old standards – Cotton, Keyes and Morris for instance – these performers had anything but deteriorated, and when teamed up together, run roughshod over their original versions and set new musical standards, a reinterpretation of classic rock/pop that no 1990s or millenial Johnny or Jackie come-lately could ever hope to accomplish in a lifetime of trying.

    Keep up the great work.

  7. A dear friend of mine wears a T-shirt that says it all……. It reads “the older I get, the better I was”…….. May God Bless each and everyone of us

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