I still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test.
David Bowie was just twenty-five years old when his song, Changes, was released as a single in 1972. According to the artist, the tune began as a parody of a nightclub song and had more to do with his own need to distance himself from mainstream rock than from other interpretations that it represented a young man’s attempt to reckon with the future cycles of his life and how each of these “selves” would view each other as time marched on. I tend to think that Bowie, at the age of 25–completely enveloped in the character of Ziggy Stardust–could not have known then how his words would be taken by older generations of the 1970s, or even by his older self decades later. Did he know in his heart that the sweetnesses he was running wildly toward were going to be many and scattered throughout his life? Did he know they were going to come at strange, unexpected stages for all of his time on the planet? Did he know the power of the gears we set in motion at that tender age of 25 and how they propel the machine of our lives?
Think about it… do you remember your 25 year old self?
Depending on where you are now in your life, the hindsight of twenty-five can vary wildly. Over the weekend I met a woman–an artist–who, in her late 50s had just taken a very left-brained, clerical job position to deal with the shifting economic situation in her own life. She chuckled as she talked about the new skills she has acquired for her 9-5, the way she’s kept her creative life hidden from her new coworkers (if only just to blend in) and her experience of the 20-somethings that she works with. Mostly, she felt amused by their sense of how hard life was, though many of them had yet to be married, have children or own property, in contrast to their escapist tendencies to party every weekend and pay with wicked hangovers that gave them a twisted sense of pride.
I was impressed by the way she had taken this new, unexpected turn of her life with grace and humor and, truly, almost a sense of adventure. We talked about life transitions–family, professional, personal–and how each phase of our lives creates a new puzzle to figure out as we add more and more variables to our lives, and how the impact of decisions shift and evolve as time ticks away and we pass into our 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. She had a load of stuff going on in her life but she was energetically glass-half-full and her sense of humor about the ironies of life was contagious.
There are a handful of people I consult about this Monday blog when I’m trying to find a thoughtful topic. They are my favorite partners in conversation and dear friends who know me well and faithfully read my weekly missive, for which I am very grateful. They usually throw me a seed which I attempt grow into the column here by trawling the internet for corresponding expert opinions and current events. Today’s seed comes from a person close to me who will turn 50 this year and is in the middle of some big life changes that, while are not without some puzzles to figure out, are actually very joyous and positive. The idea was presented to me as some thoughts about how we look at the world and life at different stages as we age and how our perceptions of things like importance, happiness and meaning feel so different at the age of 50 than at, say, 25.
I thought about this topic with real purpose because, at the age of 43, I too am going through some big life changes and have recently thought a great deal about my 25 year old self. So, on my quest to find this Monday’s “hook,” I got a million hits for “Sixty Is The New Forty,” which was encouraging, I found a brand new article about how 20-somethings are the Go Nowhere Generation, which was less encouraging, and I recalled a recent radio interview with Patricia Cohen who just wrote a book about “middle age” called In Our Prime, The Invention of Middle Age, which was one of the most encouraging things I’ve heard about aging in a long time. Although aging is something I love to write about, it didn’t seem like the hook for today. Sometimes getting the hook for the post is the hardest part because I want so badly to be thought-provoking, inspiring and clever all at the same time. (Well, isn’t that what all writers want?!) But, I wasn’t feeling so clever and I was exhausted–plus I lost an hour this weekend, you know. By 11 o’clock, I still couldn’t get the angle so I read a few pages of my book and then nodded off to sleep.
And then an odd thing happened this morning. As the alarm went off and I attempted to rouse myself for a busy Monday, Bowie’s song, Changes, was actually going through my half-asleep brain. I have always been a sucker for a catchy tune with a saxophone solo, but I’d never thought too much about what Bowie might have been getting at as a 25 year old Ziggy Stardust (perhaps because I was only 4 years old in 1972!) and I believe that often, the most important thing about a song is what it means to you. My favorite line of this song has always been this one:
Strange fascination, fascinating me.
Changes are taking the pace I’m going through.
What’s it mean? To me, it means exactly what my friend suggested to me… changes deliver different meanings at different times, decisions have different impacts at different times and life moves at a pace that can be in step with us or not but it can all be strangely fascinating. Well, that’s what I think and I’m not growing up or out of it any time soon. While it remains one of Bowie’s most known and most requested songs, Changes never made it to the Top 40. And, at the age of 60, at his last live performance, this song was the last number he performed in front of an audience before his next set of changes.
TRY THIS WEEK: Turn and face the strain… look out your rock ‘n rollers.