Sunday, July 27, 2008

Restart me up: Mick Jagger at 65

“What a drag it is getting old,” Michael Philip Jagger told us in 1966, more than half a lifetime ago. In the two generations that followed, Jagger and his band, the Rolling Stones have redefined not just rock music but also the idea of cultural longevity. Despite record sales that have increasingly declined over the years, Jagger and the Stones have carved out a niche in pop culture that reflects a staying power beyond the music that made them famous (they’ve just changed recording labels again).

The fact of Mick Jagger’s 65th birthday on Saturday speaks to relatively clean living, despite the occupational hazards of his profession. The fact that he’s still very much on the A-list of pop culture says as much about that culture, and our rapidly shifting ideas about age and vitality, as it says about him.

We’ve all heard the phrase “40 is the new 30,” or some variation thereof (“50's the new 40,” “30's the new 19” … whatever). The takeaway from that elastic saying is that growing knowledge of nutrition, exercise and any number of advances in medical technology have effectively rolled back the clock on the corrosive impact of age.

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For Jagger, it seems, 65 may be the new 50. As the father of seven children — five of them sired after he was 40 years old — Jagger’s never exactly respected the idea of slowing down.

In his day job as lead singer for the Stones, Jagger still has much of the onstage energy he exhibited in his earliest years with the band, which started in 1962. Part of it is his own longstanding embrace of physical fitness; part of it is genetic (his father Joe, a former phys ed teacher, died in 2006 at the age of 93); and part of it may be the various, uh, pharmaceutical enhancements common to the rock-star lifestyle.

Whatever combination of genes, inclination and plain old dumb luck may be in play, Jagger’s 65th birthday is obviously a cause for celebration for him, and also for us. With Jagger as a barometer, it seems the age of 65 isn’t necessarily the walkup to death’s door our youth-besotted culture has always insisted it is.

So raise a glass or three to Sir Mick. He said it was a drag getting old at the age of 23. He didn’t know what “old” was, back then, and he probably won’t admit to knowing what “old” is today.

Maybe “old” is as much a state of mind as anything else. Maybe time’s on our side too.
Image credit: Jagger: Jagger onstage: Gonzalo Andres, republished under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

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