Senior status isn’t what it once was. Nowadays there are far more recreational opportunities available for older individuals than were ever imagined back when our parents were considering their array of options.
It may be the fact that today’s seniors grew up in a time when possibilities seemed endless and the combination of rock and roll and a freewheeling lifestyle made life all the more open-ended from early on. The ’60s were, after all, a cultural collision of new ideas, freethinking individuals and a rejection of the mores and attitudes that had been instilled in the generations that came of age in the decades before. Suddenly the world presented itself with a new multi-hued, technicolor reality, one best summed up by one song in particular.
“The magic’s in the music, and the music’s in me,” the Lovin’ Spoonful sang with an exuberance and enthusiasm that practically defied the listener to resist its beckon call. Rock and roll became a mantra, a statement of purpose, a reason to live life on the very edge, often with daring and defiance.
It’s somewhat odd at first to see a group of 60 and 70 year-olds still celebrating that paean of promise and unbridled optimism 50 years later, even after the harsh realities of life, love and turmoil threaten to put a damper on those attitudes and the temptation to simply fade into the twilight, those early ideals no longer considered feasible or even remotely realistic.
So when I recently found myself taking part in a celebration of ’60s music, the euphemistically dubbed “Flower Power Cruise,” and observing hundreds of older individuals dancing to the sounds of their long ago youth, clad in tie-dye, bell bottoms, psychedelic shades and dangling, oversized peace signs, it all seemed a bit surreal. Several genuine ’60s survivors — the aforementioned Lovin’ Spoonful, the Beach Boys, the Box Tops, the Cowsills, the Jefferson Starship, and Tommy James and the Shondells, among them — offered up a veritable jukebox of classic hits for their audience’s delight and suddenly it seemed as if a massive flashback was taking place and overwhelming us all.
Granted, most of the groups could boast only a handful of original members, but it didn’t phase anyone at all, given that the melodies still remained intact and that the emotions that accompanied them appeared as vital and vivid now as they once were back in the day.
There were some incongruities of course. Most of the musicians clearly showed their age, and it wasn’t unusual to find at least a few still performing well even at age 80 or beyond.
Several joked that instead of dropping acid like they might have done in an earlier drug-fueled days, antacid was now the remedy of choice. When the Cowsill’s Paul Cowsill recalled how he was once compelled to c change his younger sister Susan’s diapers, she quickly noted that the time was rapidly approaching when she would inevitably be responsible for changing his.
Likewise, the lyrical content sometimes seemed a bit out of sync. Songs like the Spoonful’s “Younger Girl” or the Beach Boy’s verse about “fun, fun, fun till daddy took the T-Bird away” obviously didn’t jar with present circumstance.
Likewise, some casual patter about what it be like to shed one’s clothes and opt for an all nude cruise brought shudders from a crowd that wisely chose to keep their clothes on.
Inevitably, some of the artists fell victim to the unkind consequences that advanced age can inflict. One performer, who only moments earlier had walked into the crowd and mingled with his admirers, suffered from an onset of dehydration, forcing him to sit on the drum riser before shuffling offstage. Another performer was tethered to an oxygen tank.
However most took the aging process in stride. Bassist Steve Boone, an original member of the Lovin’ Spoonful, wisely insisted there was no reason to bemoan the inevitable effects of aging or losing ones hair. Comedian Tommy Chong, of the dizzy duo Cheech and Chong, remarked that at age 81, he was looking towards the finish line, but had no regrets about doing so.
For all its obvious sentiment and nostalgia, the Flower Power Cruise offered more than an echo of innocent days. It demonstrated the possibilities that can come with clinging fast to one’s ideals and never forgetting that those things that inspired us early on need not be abandoned or locked away in a treasure chest of memories.
Life’s journey goes on, so why not bring that eagerness and those ideals along for the ride?