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The Most Awesome Playlist About Aging

Smart songwriters and exceptional performers make it sing

By Jim Pagliarini

A few years ago, as I began working on what has become Next Avenue, and pondering a gray hair that somehow showed up uninvited in my eyebrow one day (more on that later), I began to collect songs about aging.

Who can forget when Simon and Garfunkel came out with the album Bookends? I was 15 and remember closing my eyes and singing in an achingly heartfelt falsetto:

Can you imagine us years from today? Sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy

And by the way, it’s terribly strange to be 61, but that wouldn’t have rhymed with quietly.

(MORE: The 15 Songs That Defined the Boomer Generation)

I am going to offer a few of my favorite songs on this topic here. But I challenge the readers of Next Avenue to help me create The Most Awesome Playlist Written and Performed by Smart People About Growing Old. I will try to convince our Editor-in-Chief, Sue Campbell, to publish it in a future newsletter. (That means sign up for our Next Avenue e-newsletter now. Click here.)

I challenged my Facebook friends similarly to send in their favorites. The best they could do was Forever Young by you know who. (He is from Minnesota.) It is pretty good. (That is Minnesotan for: It is ^%#& incredible!)

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

But to get you started on our quest to build a spectacular playlist that goes beyond the predictable, here are a few songs by some lesser-known singer-songwriters that I think are extraordinary.

(MORE: 15 More Songs That Defined the Boomer Generation)

What If We Were Born Old?

David Wilcox wrote two favorites. The first, Get it Out of the Way, is a smart, clever song that takes us through a journey of what life might be if we were born old, lived life backwards and left these earthly shackles as a glimmer in someone’s eyes. What could be better, he says, than on your first day of work, being awarded a gold watch and being taken to your corner office! Then as time passes, you get tired of all the pressure and start doing more and more simple things. Until finally, near the end of your backward life, you become Zen-like and choose not to use words at all and just observe the world with infant eyes of wonder and bliss.


Wilcox’s second, more serious, song, Young Man Dies, blends a beautiful melody and guitar playing around the imagery of an older, wiser man, sailing away from his youthful spirit. The chorus reminds us that we can’t have it all: In the years it takes to make one man wise, the young man dies. Wisdom does supplant the naivety and innocence of youth.

Two More to Add

I have two from another favorite singer-songwriter, John Gorka. The first he wrote and the second I first heard Steve Goodman perform, but was written in 1968 by Peter Michael Smith. Morningside, Gorka’s composition, begins with the line: Am I a fool at this late date, To heed a voice that says You can be great. Then the chorus which I challenge you not to sing along with, if you know the tune:

Don’t want to waste what I have to give, in all of the time I've left to live…
I can do more than I thought I could
Work brings more luck than knocking on wood
There's random bad and random good
Work brings more good luck

Smith’s composition, but performed beautifully by Gorka, The Dutchman is a sparse, loving portrait of an aging couple, the senile Dutchman and his loving caregiving wife, Margaret. Listen to all three interpretations: Smith's, Goodman's and Gorka's. 

When Amsterdam is golden in the summer
Margaret brings him breakfast, she believes him
He thinks the tulips bloom beneath the snow
He's mad as he can be, Margaret only sees that sometimes
Sometimes she sees her unborn children in his eyes.

(MORE: Ringo Starr and Other Rock Stars Reflect on Aging)
A Serious And a Silly Challenge
Having read this far you will notice a couple of things.
First, why are there no songs here about women? A challenge to you.
And second, you are wondering what ever happened that grey hair I found in my eyebrow. Well, I wrote a song about it. Only if this blog gets shared by 500 people will we post the link of my performing this heartbreaking yet, hopeful song.
As you might gather, I found great joy and inspiration in song. So please share.

Jim Pagliarinibegan his career inspired by the work of Fred Rogers and the people at Sesame Street, seeing what an incredible impact television could have in the lives of children. Over three decades later, he is still thriving in the PBS world as the President of Twin Cities Public Television in St. Paul, Minn. — the organization that incubated and created Next Avenue. Read More
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