“We’re not that old,” my wife Diane said to me. “We’re not!”
Thus was her first, most visceral reaction to the Jackson Browne concert we saw at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia last month. We’d arrived 20 minutes before show time, picked up our tickets from Will Call and navigated to our seats, two faces amongst a sea of middle-aged and – dare I say it? – old people. Many had gray hair, others sheer white. A few men wore the stereotypical jumpsuits of the shuffleboard-set. Even more sported canes.
Though the show was billed as a “solo acoustic” outing when I bought the tickets, it turned out to be Browne and a sparse band whose members included opening act Sara Watkins. (He explained that he made the change just prior to hitting the road.) Highlights of the 18-song set, for me at least, were the three songs he performed from his classic Late for the Sky album, including the title track, “Fountain of Sorrow” and “The Late Show”; “The Pretender”; “A Child in These Hills”; an impromptu rendition of the Temptations’ “My Girl” (!); a slowed-down “Running on Empty”; and the closing “Take It Easy,” the Eagles hit he co-wrote with Glenn Frey and recorded himself on his For Everyman album.
Of course, anyone who knows rock ‘n’ roll history – or listens to Classic Rock radio – is aware that those songs hail from the 1970s. Browne’s eponymous debut (often called Saturate Before Using) came out in 1972; For Everyman in 1973; Late for the Sky in 1974; The Pretender in 1976; and Running on Empty in 1977. So a 30-year-old fan in 1974 would be 68 now. And while my wife and I aren’t that old, the fact remains that we are – dare I admit it? – decidedly middle-aged.
Now, in the scheme of things, there are far heavier things to confront and contemplate. That goes without saying. But it’s still disconcerting to attend a show, look around and realize that, as at the Bob Seger show Diane and I saw last December, the only young people in attendance are in the company of their parents. Or that a new artist – like Rumer – whose music you’re enamored with is singing to a room full of people your age, not hers.
It seems like just last month that I was walking across the quad at PCS while Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” wafted on the wind around me. That would have been 1974, a year before my family moved to Hatboro - we lived in Saudi Arabia at the time, and my brother and I attended a Western school, the Parents Cooperative School in Jeddah, with other expat children. (I plan to write about some of those experiences in future posts.) Music was a known entity tome by then, but I was 9 – a few years shy of my music-obsessiveness kicking in. Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” was my idea of a good time.
In 1978, when I began making my weekly pilgrimages to the Hatboro Music Shop, one of the first 45s I bought was a re-issue of “Doctor My Eyes” that had “Rock Me on the Water” on its flipside. And over the next few years, courtesy of both the Hatboro Music Shop and RCA Music Club, I picked up his first three albums and Running on Empty. I’d be lying if I said I loved them. Lyrically speaking, Browne deals with subjects – love, disillusionment and death among them – that were beyond me at that point in my life. Yet there was a song or two on each of those albums that led me to buy the next, regardless, and through the years – and decades – I came to treasure the heartfelt insight of the songs I once dismissed. Has there been a more elegiac song about loss than “For a Dancer”?
Which leads me back to the start, Diane and I amidst a sea of aging men and women who’ve lived the experiences Browne sings about. Perhaps that’s why a younger crowd didn’t turn out that evening. His songs don’t speak to them. Yet.
Or maybe I’m fooling myself.