Nostalgia not what it was?
“I dread to think how old your children, Richard and Jo, are” wrote a friend to me in a catch-up email, expressing the universal ruefulness about the passing of time.
I saw my doctor this week, and during the inevitably masked consultation she, being a very pleasant person, struggled to express herself courteously. “Your skin gets drier when you, er, when you become …” “Old” I supplied firmly, and she laughed. Nothing wrong with being in my seventies — a lot of people I have known, some well, have not been granted that privilege.
Of course I would prefer the life expectancy of a younger person. But then when I was fifteen or sixteen we suspected we were all soon going to go together in a cloud of radioactive dust. And this was by no means a morbid adolescent fantasy. I remember my very level-headed friend Keith saying grimly that he did not expect to see twenty-one. Mercifully he did, and still has the same lively and critical mind.
Everyone sometimes thinks “Where did all the time go?” Yes, as my friend emailed, you realise when you think about it that the children are no longer children, to say the least. It’s one of those stages that included — for me — discovering I was no longer automatically the youngest (adult) in the cast of whatever show I was doing. And then at twenty-three I found I was the oldest in a company. Mind you, that was a very concentrated cast, and two of the other men were also twenty-three, but I was the eldest by months.
In this year’s Lockdown I have somewhat re-explored Bob Dylan’s early recordings. I went back to actual LPs and found my Dylan albums encouragingly well-preserved considering how much they got played. Only one has a post-it note on it saying, in effect, “do not play”. I presume I couldn’t bear to actually chuck it.
In “Bob Dylan’s Dream”, from his second collection, the great singer writes (with rather premature nostalgia) of “many a road taken by many a first friend”, adding sadly “And each one I’ve never seen again”.
Well, I have stayed in touch with old friends. Not just re-discovered them in the days of, first, Friends Reunited and then Facebook — though these have helped. For several years after leaving school a group of us used to go on holiday together. (Then people started getting married.) That was our equivalent of what Dylan sings about — “Our words were told, our songs were sung … Talking and joking about the world outside”. And definitely, as his song says, “ … till the early hours of the morn”.
What did Dylan mean by saying in the song that he and his friends never thought they could “get very old”? Much in his writing is ambiguous, in various ways. His generation was four years older than mine; four years’ difference is a lot when you are young. Did they feel youth would last for ever, or — like me and my own early ’60s contemporaries — that life, perhaps, wouldn’t? The recollection being Dylan’s — possibly something of both?
I’ve no general point to make, no summing up. As the great song writer says, it’s all right. “It’s life, and life only.”