Poignant is the word that comes to mind. Perhaps in stark contrast to my listening to My Chemical Romance, I’ve also been listening to the latest albums by artists such as Bruce Springsteen (Letter to You) and Meat Loaf (Braver Than We Are). And Leonard Cohen (Thanks for the Dance). In the last case the album was so late as to be posthumous. Before that I spend quite a bit of time with David Bowie’s Blackstar. These albums are, at least in part, about growing older and dying. Now death is nothing new to rock-n-roll, but it seems as if as some of my favorites age they’re sending a message out from the autumn of their careers. We may still be here, but we won’t be forever.
I’ve never really been afraid of dying. In fact, as a kid I often imagined myself as an older man with some anticipation. Now that I’m approaching that threshold of elderhood the view is just a touch different than it was to a small boy with a lifetime in front of him. Leonard Cohen, at least, was dealing with aging as early as Various Positions, the album where he gave the world “Hallelujah.” And Springsteen has toyed with it in various places, such as Devils & Dust. What I’m hearing in these songs, however, is a kind of acceptance that isn’t really fearful at all. It’s as if rock suddenly matured. So many of the original pioneers died young and tragically, and those who survived have been calling to us like ghosts to let us spend our worn-out days in peace.
Perhaps it’s just that it’s November. Light is becoming a rare commodity, and it will remain in short supply until around the middle of March or so. Music helps us through the transitions. There are albums that convince me I’m immortal. If I weren’t so tired at the end of the day I might continue to believe that. On a weekend when I had a few free moments I went to a local CD store. Wearing mask and gloves, I could see that only people about my age were there to buy actual discs. We’re not the streaming generation. It gave me some comfort to see the names of bands I’d almost forgotten. These artists, of course, will continue to live on after they’re gone. They’ve left us a legacy. We’d be wise to consider their advice from time to time. And take a moment or two to reflect on the coming of December.