Magical Thinking and Mortality
It was early in the morning and still dark outside. I was barely awake when I heard the news on the bedroom television. Rock star and personal guru David Bowie had died. He was 69-years-old, ten years older than me. As upsetting as the news was, I sighed with some relief as I realized there was still time for me. The game was still going on and the fourth quarter awaited me. I could breathe.
Three months later, I received a text from my wife, “Prince died! He was only 57!” This report hit me harder than Bowie’s death. Prince was two years younger than me! Practically my age! PANIC! The game could almost be over for me, except for – ironically – “sudden death” where I could perhaps count on a few more years. This rollercoaster ride of magical thinking was exhausting for me. My daily habit of glancing at the obits always entailed a focus on the age of the deceased. If the person died in his/her 80s or perhaps, 90s, I was relieved; there was still time. If the person was my age or younger at time of death, I’d often feel the pang of anxiety invade my morning. The clock was ticking and I obsessed over how much time was left for me to enjoy. As Leon Russell had said in a lyric, “How many days has it been since I was born? And, how many days until I die?” Where was I on the timeline of my life? Of course this way of thinking is illogical and silly. The death of a cultural icon and the age he died at has no bearing whatsoever on my life. However, there was a mystical calm that would occur if the person was older, and even a jolt of adrenaline if he was much older than me.
Thoughts of aging and death are now inevitable for me as I approach the sixth decade of my existence. But rather than dwell on the inevitable, morbid outcome of all living creatures, I’d rather be grateful for the time I have left on earth. In fact I am extremely grateful for growing up during the time that I have been alive. I might have been born too late to physically experience the Beatles or Stones live in concert at their infancy, however even at the age of five, I was very aware of their music and cultural impact. My impressionable years took place in the late 60s and early 70s, a time of free love, great music, and an irrepressible notion that I could change the world.
I had a lot of FUN as an adolescent. No helicopter, or snowplow (clearing the path for their children), parents hovering over me. I was self-sufficient, free and filled with a passion for sun, fun and new adventure. There was no social media to record and distribute my developmental mistakes and mishaps. I wasn’t preoccupied with Advanced Placement (AP) or Honors classes in high school and I didn’t jockey for the best possible options for college. In fact for me, college was an afterthought, not a priority.
I really, really enjoyed my high school years, filling my time with a variety of good friends, recreational drugs and great concerts. During my junior and senior years in high school, I practically lived at the Aragon Ballroom and other Chicago concert venues, experiencing iconic bands including Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, Yes, Hawkwind, Genesis, Aerosmith, T.Rex, Grand Funk, Mott the Hoople, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Fleetwood Mac, Rush, and Kiss, just to name a few of the acts I saw in the early to mid-70s.
When I wasn’t at a concert, I was skinny-dipping at a local watering hole, listening to Joe Walsh while smoking a joint, or hanging out at the forest preserve with several hundred of my closest friends, cruising the parking lot on a sunny day in search of beautiful women, new music, and a free beer. My head wasn’t down looking at an electronic device; my eyes and senses were open to the world around me. Best of all, I had no regrets of the past, and no stress about the future; I was in the moment and the promise of my life to come.
David Bowie was part of the soundtrack of these really good times and now, he’s gone.
Later, in the 80s, during a decade of nightclub dancing, international travel, and establishing a career in cultural event programming, Prince was part of that soundtrack, and now, he’s gone.
It’s all a part of the sad fact that now that I’m older, some of my friends, cultural icons and family members have either died or probably will sometime soon. Everyone seems to be freaking out about the long, laundry list of rockers who have passed away recently, but it was bound to happen sooner than later. Men -- especially those who indulge in sex, drugs and rock’n’roll -- tend to die beginning in their late 50s, and unfortunately, no amount of magical thinking will change that reality.