Musings on the edge of the seventh decade
A feature of having a December birthday is that if you are minded to review the year gone by you can run a parallel between your own and the calendar one. If however you are on the cusp of closing off a decade it is less easy to draw seasonal parallels because the task that daunts is to review several tens of years in one go. I am choosing to not do that.
This blog has in the past discussed rock stars that have influenced me (in particular Bolan, Bowie & Mercury) but one musician I have not so far discussed is Renato Zero.
I came across Renato Zero when I was living in Venice in the summer of ’74. The TV guide described him as the Italian Bowie, yet his look, which not only channelled but also out-camped British Glam Rock was very Freddie. His music was more challenging to get into because it was, and in 2017, still is, not really rock. It generally consists of power ballads played by swirling acoustic orchestras, over which his deep gritty voice (all Italian singers sound like Rod Stewart) rasps in tones of great drama, deep injustice or extrovert melancholia. Subject matter tends to range from dark vice ridden alleys to the bright vice ridden circus and back to the dark alleys again. The Italian public long ago accepted Zero as a national treasure and he still tours and records today. The look has changed, after all 40+ years of success have taken a toll and let’s face it, if you live in Rome and are an economic success there is little point in remaining pale wan and thin when you are surrounded by the best food and wine the planet can offer. Nowadays he wears all-covering black cloaks and ‘professor’ glasses in the style of Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka.
There are two reasons why I feel it appropriate to mention Renato Zero in this, the last blog of my 50’s:
- He has been with me since I was 16. The same time as my Holy Holy Rock Trinity began, except he is still alive and somehow manages to cast occasional tunes of tragedy and nostalgia over my ageing ear drums.
- When in 2010, Renato reached the big ‘Six Oh’ he produced a music album and a book called ‘Sei Zero’ (Sei is the Italian for 6 and for ‘you are’) and so archly translates as ‘YOU ARE NOTHING’. This was supported by a written reflection based on him being told when he was a child that ZILCH was all he would amount to. When therefore he selected a stage persona, he went for ZERO with a sense of irony and an erect middle finger. All good stuff.
Perhaps it’s quite easy to look back at your detractors and laugh at them if you are sixty and still famous. You have eager record company executives, publishers and a loyal fan base. The inner artistic demons might still be present but if you can create products, the platforms are there. Renato Zero used a mini essay to rebuke his early critics but turned most of his 60th celebration into a positive dedication to the city of Rome and people he lives among.
Over these last 60 years I have learned that if you are not widely known there is little point in digging up ghosts from the past because the humiliation you might wish to inflict will fall on a wasteland and will just make you look foolish. So although there are people who I’d have liked to sneer at (mainly maths teachers and the odd work-place boss) I neither have the platform nor the need and will instead look, like Mr Zero at the good in the places and people around me.
This is a positive position and one that remains staunchly stoic. On the plus side, things are more or less under control and are not so bad but I have to say too that on the disappointing side nothing has really amazed or stunned me. I’ve seen my children born and grow, I’ve seen my football teams win championships and The World Cup and I have been present at death. I have even contemplated various metaphorical navels and earlier this year I embarked on a project whereby I pursued the joys and detailed thinking afforded by SILENCE. (See blog from February 2017) yet like Blue Tack, nothing really stuck for long. I once looked off a mountain top in The Rockies, said ‘wow’ aloud and tried so hard to be awestruck but somehow my inner me checked it off a minor bucket list and gently, without risk, I skied down to safety.
My eldest daughter recently told me she was disappointed in my current mindset because I only seem to engage in comedic entertainments (film, TV, theatre, books) and my desire for documentary and serious deep drama has waned. She is right. I find myself attracted to television programmes from which I can walk away and even if I’m at the 85% mark, I feel no regret when I do so. I avoid so-called Box Sets because I don’t need any more commitment in my life and will still only read a book if it has a maximum of 330 pages. My years are getting longer and my attention span is getting shorter. This is not a fear of my dying before reaching the end but is to do with the fact that I have experienced every kind of denouement and nothing can pleasantly surprise me anymore.
Story tellers and philosophers tell us that the joy is in the journey and not the destination and as I get on, this is ever clearer but I must also add that avoiding pain along the way has become a priority.
As I walked to work this morning I passed the spot, as I do every day, where I had a motorbike accident in 1975 (ok, it was a 50cc moped).
I was young, drunk and considering I flew headlong into the glass window of what is today a bank, lucky to be alive. I learned this the following morning when a nurse strapped up my shoulder and berated me. That moment, when I was 17, was the last big risk I took. It re-shaped me and even if I was a potential risk-taker before the collision, I never was afterwards.
This is not a note of regret, just an observation and it is with this approach that I shall carry on. It’s not as if nothing really matters, because it does but if I have succeeded in one thing it’s to have established a benevolent split persona. My inside remains the frustrated 20th Century Boy with dreams and artistic pretentions, yet the success I seek is no longer that elusive publishing deal (I achieved that one) but simple approval (and payment) from 3rd parties that hire me to mark exam papers and to give the odd lecture on my own philosophies (I quit acting in the 1980’s because I was bored with reciting other peoples’ words and the same applies to delivering seminars and training sessions). My outside is a much better and fortunate place. I am surrounded by a group of females I had never expected. Women were a deep mystery to me as I grew up. I either avoided them or over-killed (myself) with them. Now my wife and three daughters give me a before–the-fall King Lear strength I had never envisaged. As a family we are like an office chair with 5 wheeled feet (4 wheels were deemed unsafe some 20+ years ago). The chair gets shoved around the office yet stays upright. It bangs into desks and chips the paint, but never falls over. Even if any one of the wheels gets sticky or becomes loose the chair remains stable albeit a touch wobbly.
And so, returning to the message of the Stoic, I hereby count my blessings because tomorrow, or tomorrow’s tomorrow something will attack them and by committing the good things to paper, or indeed a blog, their confirmation in the here and now exists forever.
How do you know that you’re right?
If you’re not nervous anymore
It’s not so bad, it’s not so bad
I feel my vision slipping in and out of focus
But I’m pushing on for that horizon
I’m pushing on
Now I’ve got that blowing wind against my face