You guys can debate on Next Avenue all you want (I’m talking to you, Jim Pagliarini!), but for me the definitive song about growing old is “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan. The first thing you should know is that I’m a Steely Dan freak. I’ve been listening to them since I was a teenager and their music has been the soundtrack of my life. Whenever they come to New York City for a few nights (usually at the Beacon Theater), I go to every show.
Like this one here:
I was 22 when I first heard “Hey Nineteen,” the second track on Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s pristine 1980 album Gaucho. “Hey Nineteen” is a pervy, little story of a nearly middle-aged dude hitting on a young girl who has never heard of the Queen of Soul. It was once described perfectly as a song about “growing old disgracefully.” I remember all but skipping over the lyrics No we can’t dance together, No we can’t talk at all and instead focused on how cool it would be to be a more experienced ladies man, picking up hot and horny roller skating girls who’d share the Cuervo Gold, the fine Colombian and make tonight a wonderful thing.
When I listen to “Hey Nineteen” today, the cool has turned wistful, the mix of tequila and weed now sounding more like anesthesia than aphrodisiac. The song’s bemused narrator seems desperate to hang on to his youth, knowing full well that the more he tries to hold on to it, the older it will make him feel. There’s a certain sadness about not being able to share something you loved — ‘Retha Franklin — with someone who will never understand its sway over you.
The last time I saw Steely Dan, they were playing each of their albums in their entirety, and I had never before seen them perform Gaucho, one of my favorite SD albums along with Katy Lied and Aja. I looked out at the audience and saw a sea of bald, bobbing middle-aged heads, happily singing along to every tune. Other than time spent with my kids, nothing gives me more pure joy than being with other Steely Dan fans who feel the same love for them as I do. And I guess it’s no surprise that the singing grew most fervent on “Hey Nineteen.” We all stood as one, belting out The Cuervo gold, the fine Colombian, but the line that brought the house down and became our anthem for that evening, and perhaps for the rest of our lives was: She thinks I’m crazy but I’m just growing old.
So please continue to tell us which songs about aging you’re most crazy about and make tonight a wonderful thing.