Thursday, October 15, 2020

You're Only As Young As You Feel

I was thinking about Bucky Pizzarelli the other day. In fact, I gave him a shout-out when I was a guest on WEEU radio's "Talk It Out" with Dan and Tyler on October 8th. We were paying tribute to some celebrity musicians we lost in 2020, beginning with the legendary and deeply-missed Neil Peart of Rush, and proceeding through the year to Eddie Van Halen. (You can listen to it here:  

But as I went through the list of other musicians who left us in 2020, in among the bigger names like Charlie Daniels and Helen Reddy and Kenny Rogers, there was Bucky Pizzarelli, a widely-respected jazz guitarist, whose music I used to play when I worked at a jazz radio station in New York in the mid-1970s. He died of COVID-19 on April 1, at age 94. He was still performing well into his late 80s, and was someone who never let his advancing age (or arthritis, or anything else) stop him, as you can see in this music video from 2012, when he was about 86.

As some of you know, I have a friend named Judy Valentine. She is a former radio singer and children's show co-host on TV. She's 96, and sharp as can be. She still loves to entertain, but since the pandemic, she can't go to the activities she used to attend. She misses that. She has told me she sometimes wishes she could find some part-time work, something where she could still make people happy. But let's be honest-- in our culture, we don't quite seem to know what to do with older people, especially those in their 80s or 90s. Agreed, some are frail and suffer from various illnesses. But others are not, and all they want is to still feel useful, in a society that continues to worship youth.  

Stereotypes about "the elderly" (or the euphemistic "senior citizens") still permeate popular culture. While Alzheimer's is a tragic, and thus far incurable, disease (and many of us know people who suffered from it), not every older person has it. When someone forgets something, as all of us have done at one time or other, that doesn't mean the person is on the way to cognitive decline.  Yet, it still seems a common belief that older people are no longer capable, because they've "lost a step." Agreed, someone in their 80s probably can't perform brain surgery; but I've run into some older folks who are even more intelligent (and have a lot more common sense) than people who are much younger.         

The other day, Pres. Trump sent around a doctored photo of Joe Biden, photoshopped to make it seem like he was sitting in a nursing home, in a wheelchair.  Mr. Trump's supporters probably thought it was hilarious; I mean, it's a common discourse on the right that Mr. Biden is elderly and senile (he is neither). I not only didn't think it was funny-- I thought it was sad, because it confirmed all the stereotypes about older people.  Whether you're a fan of Mr. Biden or not, he's still out there doing what he loves, and doing it effectively. Is he the same politician that he was 30 years ago? Probably not, but why is that the standard? He has continued to keep up with changing times, and he has continued to keep himself relevant. I think that's commendable.

And that's why I admire people like Bucky Pizzarelli, who did what he loved for as long as he could do it-- he played music and he made people happy. Instead of marginalizing people who are aging, we should give them the chance to perform at their best, whether in entertainment or business or politics or whatever. I've long believed we sell people short when we stereotype them based on their age.  There's a quote attributed to baseball legend Dizzy Dean, and while it may be apocryphal, it has some truth to it: he supposedly said, "I ain't what I used to be, but who the hell is?"  My point exactly. 

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