Month: January 2017

“Where do the good times go?”

In 1987, when I was a very young man, Kenny Rogers still had his natural face. He was quite a superstar with hit records, movie roles, and concert tours. And he came out with a song that year called “Twenty Years Ago.” Apparently “life was so much easier” then. So, 1967 was a good year for the songwriter, I suppose. I remember listening to that song on the radio, and relating to it even then. I’m not sure what was so difficult about life for me in 1987. I was just a kid; no responsibilities, no bills to pay, no mouths to feed, no vices either. It was before I’d picked up any of the bad habits that adults find so hard to shed. Even in 1987 though, I was sure that life had been easier before.
Flash forward thirty years and here I am twenty years out of high school, the same as the writers were thirty years ago. Thirty years is what it takes sometimes to gain a little perspective. Back then, I was listening to the song dreaming about the things I’d never seen. Thirty years is a generation, you know. You lose a lot in a generation. I often think of how my grandfathers’ generation is currently on the way out the door. The last guys to put out a crop with a team of mules… well, the last non-Amish guys to put out a crop with a team of mules, they’re almost gone. The boys that stormed the beach at Normandy, and remember their dad’s first Model T, are departing daily. Once that’s gone there’s a good piece of history that none of us can really know about. Oh, we can dream about it, and read about it, and imagine what we think it was like. But we’ll never really be sure because we didn’t see it with our own eyes. We will never know what it was like before electricity was a given; when you had to study by the coal-oil lamp on a long winter evening. Hopefully we won’t find out what it was like during the Depression when my Grandad says they would set rabbit traps all the time just so they would have something to fry up for breakfast in the morning. Dirt-poor used to have a tangible meaning, the key word being dirt. I’ve never known it though. Most of the dirt-poor people I know these days don’t know much about it either.
There are other songs I remember from my youth with much the same theme as Kenny’s from ’87. “Like a Rock” from Bob Segar is pretty similar. I wouldn’t have equated the two back then… no perspective, you see. Now I know that both songs are not singing about a year in time. They are about a year in the life of a man. The other day while we were filing away some things with the changing of the year, a photo appeared in one of the drawers of a much younger version of me. It was from early in my career when I thought I knew much more than I actually did; such an arrogant guy. I remarked that there was so much I’d like to tell that guy I used to be. It’s interesting to think about what you might do differently if you were given the gift of writing a letter to your former self. If there really was a way to get a message to a younger version of you, what would you say? It doesn’t matter. Cocky as I was I’m sure I wouldn’t listen anyway. Still, twenty years ago if I’d known half of what I’ve learned I would be a very dangerous man. Come to think of it, that sounds a little cocky. Perhaps I haven’t lost it all yet. The thing about it is, time has a way of mellowing you out a bit. Some of the most interesting people I knew twenty years ago have gotten quite mellow these days. I’m not talking about my peers. The guys I knew… my mentors twenty years ago have settled down quite a bit in their fifties and sixties. It seems that I’m not the only one time has changed. Life was anything but easy for them twenty years ago. They were scratching and clawing at success back then, sometimes making great strides and sometimes falling on their face, but they were taking the big risks back when I had very little skin in the game. For some of them, fortune has shined brightly. Others have passed the years and made bets in all the wrong places, squandering what little they might have had. Some are still my heroes, and some are goats.
As I look back twenty years at my eighteen-year-old, and twenty-eight-year-old self, I’m struck by how at each year since eighteen I’ve learned more and more, and known less and less. When you’re young, you think you’re gaining knowledge with experience. The older I get, the questions just get bigger, and the answers more elusive. And that, perhaps, is why life was easier twenty years ago. To quote the lyrics: “It almost seems like yesterday. Where do the good times go?” Ah well. If I get another twenty years, maybe I can figure it all out.