I’m fairly sure I was the only person over 50 at the Village Underground last night. (The Village Underground is a club in the West Village.)
But divorce puts you in a funny position. You’re single, like lots of other people in the greatest metropolis in the galaxy. All of them much, much younger than you. Which is distressing, if you think about it for longer than, like, a second.
But what does that mean exactly?
How is one supposed to act? Sit home? Take up crochet? I already knit and garden and wear Danish clogs, that’s enough sensibly middle-aged boxes checked, it seems. Develop an interest in scrapbooking? Re watch Downton Abbey?
No. Not going to do that.
Besides, just like one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons goes; you know the one, two canines are tapping away on the computer and one says to the other, “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”. At the Village Underground, nobody can tell you should be home getting caught up back issues of The Atlantic and the political implications of instability in Syria.
At the Village Underground it’s dark. It’s loud. Nobody knows or cares about your age. The band is good. They want you to dance. They want you to be noisy. They ask you repeatedly to dance and be noisy. I’m good at both of those things.
So I’m going to talk about my dearest friend for a minute. He’s asked that I not write about him. So I’m not going to.
What I do want to mention, tangentially, is one of the very practical ways he has keelhauled me through the past few months. It will be just one of the very many ways. You’ll have to take that on trust, because he’s asked me not to write about him. So I’m not going to. Nope, really am not. Except to say this.
He encouraged me to listen to new music.
He said I should let my brain create new pathways, new memories. He said I should look forward, not back.
I have terrible taste in music. I like some cool guys just because I was surgically attached to the radio in my teenage years. It’s impossible to be my age and not like David Bowie, Bryan Ferry and early Elton John.
I like punk now, but I didn’t when it was the new thing. When punk was the new thing, I liked disco.
I liked the Carpenters. I still do.
I like glam. Twentieth Century Boy is my favorite song. I’ve visited the place where Marc Bolan died. Don’t bother Googling it. I’ll save you the trouble. He died in a car crash in south London. He did not choke on his own vomit.
I like opera but I don’t, with the exception of Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Django Reinhart, like jazz. I don’t much care for the Rolling Stones. Except for Gimme Shelter, which is awe-inspiringly magnificent. Also, there’s another song I like because I once waltzed to it in an empty ballroom with a Tongan. I was eighteen. Miss You, that’s what it’s called. Hard to waltz to, but the Tongan was a good dancer.
Without exception I hate musicals. And the exception is The Sound of Music. And the other exception is West Side Story. The Producers? Yes, alright. That too.
I don’t like country. I don’t like country, except for the country I do like. Wichita Lineman makes me happy, always has done. Always will do. I remember the first time I heard it. Glen Campbell is that good a singer. Wichita Lineman is my second favorite song.
Band of Gold is my third favorite song. I belted it out at eleven when I first heard it and I belt it out now.
I don’t like folk. There are absolutely no exceptions to that rule. Okay, maybe Janis Joplin.
But mostly, just like anybody, I like what I like. And I thought that was fixed.
It turns out, like so much I thought was fixed, it isn’t.
When my marriage screeched to a halt, I first turned to my old, old friends. George Michael, Kate Bush, Paul Weller, the Pet Shop Boys, folks like that. I would end my agonizing days on the floor with my feet on the couch and turn up the music. I would lie there for hours and hours. Some nights I fell asleep on the floor. More than a few nights, actually.
But my dearest friend started saying, hey, have you heard Frank Ocean, and Solange? And one thing led to another. Other friends sidled up to me and said, you like Frank? You’ll love Miguel. And Duffy. And The Roots.
So I started plugging all the new folks into Pandora and Songza. And they led me to other new people.
Now I know who Drake is. And Kanye. And the Weeknd. And TLC. And Mary J Blige.
I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I like the new Justin Timberlake song. It’s catchy, what?
And Maroon Five. And Swedish House Mafia.
Anyway. I’m at the Village Underground because my friend the Moroccan wants to dance on her birthday. I work with the Moroccan, and on Fridays in the basement of our building, she teaches a belly dancing class.
How did she learn to belly dance? I asked her, and she laughed. You just do, she said. You imbibe the dance, you don’t learn it.
She invited me. And the band was terrific. And the DJ was terrific. The DJ played old songs and new songs. And I knew the new songs. And I mentally thanked my dearest friend for that. Because of him, I can do old and new. I can dance with people who are 20 years younger than me.
Because of him, I’ll look back on this terrible, wonderful year and have songs to attach to the memories. For better or for worse.
And guess what? When the surprise guest vocalist turned up—the young man who’s going to play Michael Jackson on Broadway—the crowd went crazy.
They don’t know Michael Jackson, like people of my generation do, as the sexy young black superstar. They know him as the crazy, almost white, surgically-wrecked child molester.
But when that kid got on stage it didn’t matter. The older, creepy, sad Michael vanished. And we all went back in time together.