When I’m 64 – and what comes after

February 9, 2023
3 mins read
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It happens to the best of us. GARY STEEL reflects on turning 64 and what it means to someone of his generation.

This morning, while my little piggy eyes were still trying to focus on the delicate task of smashing my avocado onto the toast, the 8-year-old stole across to the lounge, activated the flat screen, opened Apple Music, and pressed play on ‘When I’m 64’.

Unlike the annual torture of submitting to “da-da-da-da-da-da-da-you-know-it’s-your-birthday!” this indignity was a once-in-a-lifetime event. It’s something I’ve been dreading for some time.

Ironically, our daughter was familiar with the song not from hearing the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, but from an animated series called The Beat Bugs, during which the wee insects sing a variety of Lennon/McCartney songs as covered by a selection of today’s music stars.

I was the same age as our daughter when Sergeant Pepper’s came out in 1967, revolutionising the world of music, but didn’t get to listen to it all the way through until 1970, by which time it already sounded rather quaint and old-fashioned to my Jimi Hendrix-saturated ears. Apart from ‘Day In The Life’, that is, which blew my tiny mind.

As a boy, and then a young man, I could never get my head around ‘When I’m 64’. Why would The Beatles write and perform a song in the first person about a sad old dude? I figured that it must have been a coded message, an anti-old person song, or at least a piece that obliquely critiqued a generation and its sliding into cosy, humdrum existence.

 

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Clearly a Paul McCartney song, everything about it made me a little nauseous: the clammy ballroom jazz arrangement, the celebration of aging, its relishing of the mundane, the thought that as you head towards the dying of the light you’d withdraw into a kind of pleasant reverie rather than rage like an exploding star.

It painted a picture of joy in the ordinary, as if reaching the grand old age of 64 was something to look forward to, despite everything it described sounding absolutely horrid to someone whose life hadn’t really even begun yet.

Whatever McCartney had meant by the song, it was hard to fathom that a mere 24-year-old could have – would have – come up with such a conceit.

But hang on a moment, the overall package is so reassuring that it’s easy to miss the lyrical sting in its tail. For instance: “Doing the garden, digging the weeds, who could ask for more?” That sounds like bitter irony. And an addendum like “Yours sincerely, Wasting Away” is rather desperate, as it suggests that McCartney had already considered the horror of age-based deterioration of the body. “Will you still feed me?” is also horrifying, as it suggests that he’ll be unable to feed himself in his dotage.

In 1967, life expectancy for males was just 72 in the UK, so there’s inevitably a world of fear within the cosy and claustrophobic confines of ‘When I’m 64’. After all, the poor chap would likely only have another eight years on the planet.

I guess that having the song foisted on me over breakfast on my 64th birthday should have made me happy. While the 8-year-old regularly reminds me that I’m the oldest dad of all the kids in her class, she still thinks I’m cool. I’m already resolved to the likelihood of being considered old and boring by the time she hits the ‘tweenage’ years, but at least I won’t have to hear ‘When I’m 64’ on my birthday ever again.

In 1967, it would have been next-to-unthinkable for a 64-year-old to have two young kids, to still be working and to be planning a future, so I guess ‘When I’m 64’ is a salutary lesson in appreciating how lucky I am that things have moved on and that – despite the doom and gloom that meets us everywhichway we turn – in many ways life has improved since The Beatles’ heyday.

But perhaps McCartney did have a latent understanding and appreciation of aging, despite the more caustic lines. At 64 (2023 version) my world has shrunk, and I do enjoy weeding and solitude and quietude. The party can go on without me, and I won’t miss it.

 

 

 

 

 

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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