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Cranky Cuss

Cranky Cuss
Ossining, New York, United States
February 28
I am the author of "Send In the Clown Car: The Road to the White House 2012," currently available on Amazon and CreateSpace. I'm currently semi-retired after 23 years in a corporate environment. My motto: The conventional wisdom has too much convention, not enough wisdom. Corollary: Even Einstein was wrong sometimes, and you're not Einstein.


Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 23, 2012 12:10PM

Even a Beatle Gets Old

Rate: 61 Flag


Dear editor,


In your weekly review of new music, the entirety of your comment on Paul McCartney’s standards album was:


Paul McCartney, Kisses on the Bottom: I can’t. I just can’t.


Did you mean you can’t listen, or can’t write about it?

Well, I can.  I admit that I cringed when the project was announced.  Standards albums seem to have become de rigueur for baby boomers; oldies acts recording songs that were already oldies when they were born – très gauche!  But I listened to McCartney’s and think it is pretty good.  The critics for The New York Times and The Washington Post thought so too. And how did I live this long without ever hearing “My Very Good Friend the Milkman?”


But I’m not here to defend the music.  I’m here to ponder why you – and I – cringed.


I get it.  You’re young and snarky.  I used to be young and snarky. Now I’m older and I’m still pretty much a smart-ass. Honestly, I admire the pithiness of your “review.” I might just steal it for my own use.


But getting older changes your perspective on life. When I was young, I thought I knew everything. I eventually learned that I didn’t know squat. One of the humbling things about reaching AARP status is realizing just how much squat I don’t know.  When I was young, I believed that the world revolved around me.  I eventually learned that six billion other people believed the same thing.


I hate to tell you this, but even if you eat vegan and exercise religiously, you are going to age. That nice beard in your photo?  It will turn gray and then white. That nice head of hair?  It will start falling out.  Those eyeglasses? The prescription will escalate.  That music you love?  It will grow harder for you to hear.  You’ll start getting aches in places you didn’t know existed.  You’ll find yourself walking into rooms and forgetting why you entered. And those spontaneous erections you get when you see a hot object of desire? Enjoy ‘em while you got ‘em.


When you realize that you have far more days in your past than you do in your future, it makes you focus on things of real value and discard those things without it.  One of those things I’ve discarded is the concept of coolness. 


When I was young, I disdained anyone or anything that wasn’t “cool.” Now I look back at some of those “cool” things – like drugs - and see very un-cool consequences.  I’ve learned that a lot of those people I considered “cool” were, in private, rotten bastards – junkies, angry drunks, serial philanderers, wife-beaters.  Being able to say “I did it my way” often comes at a price – feelings unnecessarily bruised, relationships unnecessarily severed, bridges unnecessarily burned. Not cool at all.


James Dean was cool.  Fortunately for his image, he died long before he could become un-cool and start making cola commercials and Law and Order guest appearances. Marlon Brando was cool – until he became a parody of himself. Kurt Cobain was cool – until he put a shotgun in his mouth and left his daughter fatherless.


When I was five years old, I would take my allowance money to the local record store and buy Elvis Presley 45s.  Who was cooler than Elvis circa 1956?  Certainly not the fat, druggy, white-suited Elvis who died sitting on the can after decades of crappy movies and garish Vegas shows.


I came of age in the 1960s.  What cool music: the Beatles and the Stones, Dylan and Hendrix, Motown and Haight-Asbury. We weren’t going to make the mistakes of our parents.  We were going to change the world with peace and love.  Take a look at the news to see how that worked out.


In the early 1970s, I thought Miles Davis was the coolest thing since sliced bread. (Miles: another guy who wasn’t so “cool” to his women.)  One day, I read an interview in which Miles talked about his influences and he said the only trumpet player that mattered to him was Louis Armstrong.


I almost fell over.  Louis Armstrong?  You mean that old dude I used to see on The Ed Sullivan Show singing that wretched “Hello Dolly” song?


Trusting Miles’ taste, however, I dutifully bought a collection of Armstrong’s music from the 1920s and 1930s and I was wowed.  Even though the recordings were a little scratchy and some of the music seemed a little tame by modern standards, I saw that the modern jazz players that I loved were still applying the lessons they learned from Satchmo, which may explain why he’s now one of my favorite artists.


See, I understand that you’re going to promote new bands; that’s why I have a subscription to your site. (BTW, thank you for introducing me to the Mates of State and the Rural Alberta Advantage.)  Pushing music forward in new directions keeps it vital. Showing disdain for old directions, however, is like disdaining the ancestors whose DNA is coursing through your veins.


Music history didn’t start five minutes ago.  It didn’t start with Kurt Cobain, it didn’t start with the Beatles and it didn’t start with Elvis.  It didn’t start with Miles and it didn’t start with Satchmo.


It’s like the lesson I’ve learned since my kids were born. We may believe we are autonomous creatures, but we are really just leaves on a branch on the massive tree of humanity.  I swore I’d be nothing like my parents – but I am.  I see it when I look at my aging face in the mirror.  I see it when I ponder my behavior.  When I look at my wife, I see and hear her parents.  When I look at my kids, I see, for better or worse, their parents; to deny it is to deny evolution.


When I was their age, I lived for music. I attended a lot of cool concerts in my youth – the Who performing Tommy, the Concert for Bangladesh, even Miles himself – and I still have a massive record collection. But if never hearing another note of music for the rest of my life and wiping out every musical memory embedded in my brain would ensure that both my kids lead long, healthy, happy lives, I’d make that deal in a heartbeat.


So I understand McCartney’s urge to pay tribute to the past.  He has more right to do so than most rockers.  Early Beatles albums contained several covers of Tin Pan Alley – Paul singing “Til There Was You” from The Music Man can still make me smile. Old pop songs were staples of their shows in the band’s infancy; the first Anthology CD contains several live examples. In addition, McCartney’s father was a bandleader who introduced Paul to many of these songs, so the record is also a tribute to his parents. His appreciation of Tin Pan Alley song craft formed his own songwriting – and informed his ability to experiment with the craft.  His warm voice is well-suited to the straightforward emotions of these songs.


No, the record is not going to replace Revolver or Abbey Road on my iPod. Hell, it won’t even replace the Mates of State or the Rural Alberta Advantage.  But I am glad I have it.


I think much of McCartney’s recent music has been lackluster and that he’s often resting on his laurels (but what laurels!). Certainly, I’m jealous that he seems richer than God.  However, he’s reached this point in a very successful life without bruising feelings, severing relationships or burning bridges. He’s adopted some good causes, he loved his late wife Linda devotedly, and his kids seem well-adjusted and seem to love their dear old dad, which means a lot to me. He’s earned the right not to pander to anyone’s idea of what is cool. Which is cool. 


So when I see you write, “I can’t. I just can’t,” I hear, “I just can’t bear to acknowledge that someday I will be old.” Take my word for it: you’ll have no choice.




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All devoted Fats Waller fans have the lyrics to "My Very Good Friend the Milkman" engraved in their hearts.
I've already told you how much I enjoyed reading this eloquent and wise piece. Now I will add that I wish I knew half us much about music, and could write about it half as well, as you do!
Generally I dislike music reviews. This did not seem to be so much about music as it is about something something etc.
Which I did like.
Sigh . . . anyway, although I'm not nearly as old as you, CC, I can relate. I grew up learning to appreciate classic jazz as well as the contemporary stuff, broadway muicals (up to a point), folk and bluegrass, and some rock. Cool wasn't part of the equation. But then there's what's cool to me . . . and some of that has been pop . . . and my son makes fun of me . . . and it's all good . . .
What a wonderful post. You nailed it. Didn't we all think we were so smart when we were young. Come to think of it I'm still not. But maybe by the time I'm eighty something will click dementia! R
I can't just for the album title alone, just sayin'.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Maturity means acknowledging that fact.
Music as life. What a wonderful post.
suffering with this very topic, although I am not denying growing older, I'm just not enjoying the physical effects.
Shaking my head the whole way through. We have similar brains, I tell you. Was alway such a huge fan of Mccartney for the reasons you mention.
Loved this post.
Oh, I've been having so many of these kinds of thoughts myself. I have found myself "friending" some people from my past on Facebook, and I have to say that I am shocked, yes, shocked that they are all so old! :-)

That you tie it all in to some young whippersnapper dissing McCartney is quite clever.
You hit the nail on the head, Cranky, with "Old pop songs were staples of their shows in the band’s infancy." Especially McCartney. His musical sensibility was heavily influenced by the music hall tradition in Britain, home to much of the production and appreciation of British and American standards. The way he infused these traditions was an essential element of the magic of the Beatles. Entire books could be written on the subject. Mr. Snark should just take a listen to a song like "Martha, My Dear" to get a bit of schooling. That George could have played the sophisticated chords of "Til There Was You," including gems like the C+ and Gb7b10b5 at the age of 19 was simply brilliant. It shows how paying attention to the classics grows the palette. Yes, the British Invasion and its American cousins rejected all that went before--supposedly--but McCartney and Brian Wilson were no three-chord wonders. So if Paul wants a go at a few standards, backed by Diana Krall's tight band, he has every right to, and we have every right to expect he'll do right by the project.
A sermon worthy of the most august professor.
This is a cool post. Cranky, certainly, but cooler because of that. : )
People are stupid
Kids do not even know who Paul Mccartney is and I wrote about it I was so pissed..
Ah Cranky, once again you have inspired me to write my own take on "ageing" but then again, why should have said it all right here in this very entertaining piece.

For myself, it was not until I was grown and away from home that I rediscovered my mother's two favorite musicians: Tommy Dorsey and Glen Miller.
Great post, Cranky. Thanks. Esp. from a life-long Beatles fan. They had voices, they had talent, and they wrote some great songs, and thus, they've kept their staying power. I like it that Paul was a good husband and a good parent, and has earned the love and respect of his children.

But about this age thing...Why wasn't I TOLD????? =o)

I loved this review just wish I still loved McCartney as much as I once did. His voice has aged and your review says that I should appreciate that as much as I appreciate anything else about an artist. Maybe I'm the cranky cuss because I felt the very same way listening to Mick at the White House the thrill as BB used to sing was gone for me. Perhaps I want to freeze them in time when their music either moved me my feet or soothed me after a long day.
Such a perfect piece to read on my Birthday! You nailed it Richard.
"One of those things I’ve discarded is the concept of coolness." ha! We need to start a whole new trend (but do we have time?)
spend a lot of time in sunshine and you age well — music plays on despite the ages.
Nice piece. I have not heard the new McCartney album but like you I wonder why they feel the need to secure their legacy by interpreting the music their parents listened to. The result is usually unfortunate. I still cringe when I hear my hero, Bruce Springsteen, sing "Froggy Goes Acourtin." I kinda wished tho that he would have sung it at the Super bowl. R
Sheer brilliance! This reads like poetry! I can only say that I agree with everything you've said here! Loved it!!
Kate F: Long time no see! Welcome back!
Cool? What about groovey, fresh, chill, da bomb, whatever? I don't like to think of rock stars ending their careers performing at the Old Folks Home.
Thank you for condensing almost all of my emotional baggage into a neat little post. You freed-up a whole lot of my mental disc space!
Ringo has been the coolest living Beatle for some time now. Sad, really.
I love the connections through the generations, the melodies that play across the ages, the looking back and moving forward motion of this! A great post!
Would you have written the same post had Phil Collins been the subject?
Great piece Cranky! Your argument made with such good nature and generosity of that is "Cool" to me....
For once we agree. I've always been a Lennon girl but McCartney has a way with a ballad that can't be denied. Together they were magical. And yes. If we're lucky, we'll all get old, like it or not.
This made getting up at 2 a.m. worth it. A lovely read. I'm back in the sixties, watching the Ed S. show. I'm listening to Sergeant Pepper, first time ( a little stoned). Thank you.
I really enjoyed reading this, thanks for another insightful piece of writing...I'll have to get Paul's new album, even though in my mind nothing could ever be as good as the early Beatles. I'm old....
You said it.

The only thing that I have found that slows aging down slightly is a little silliness, after a lot of seriousness.

Fantastic post.
Ah, a man after my own heart -- and fallen arches. I'm not a serious student of music, and I'm afraid my appetite for new music isn't what it used to be -- I don't have an Appetite for Self-Destruction -- time is doing a very good job of that without my help.

While I do know a bit about the musical past, I am constantly shown how little I really know. To have only recently discovered that Lonnie Johnson was playing modern blues guitar back in the 19-teens or that Charlie Patton was such a heavy influence on John Fogerty that JF paid for his headstone and wrote Green River to honor him -- well, let's just say I'm ashamed it took me so long to discover my own musical roots.

See, the thing is, ALL music is synthesis. Mozart didn't just suddenly invent something brand new out of the blue. He -- all of us who pretend to create something new -- are standing on the shoulders of giants, some of whom, many of whom, nobody ever heard of save for the artists who learned from them.

As for Paul, he's never been my cup of tea -- too Tin Pan Alley for me. Don't know if you've heard the story, but it's said he came to John with this lovely melody and asked for some advice. Working lyrics? "Eggs and ham, oh, I'd really love some eggs and ham". That was scratched in favor of "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away".

While I, like billions of others, like that song, unlike billions of others, I think the lyrics suck. The lyrics are an endless string of cliches that would barely rate a C on a high school English assignment. Yeah, I know, who am I to criticize Paul? Read 'em -- without the music -- and weep.

But if Paul and Rod Stewart want to pay homage to good music that was around before they were born -- and make a few more millions in the process -- more power to them. But me buy Paul's CD? I can't; I just can't.
Is this post a review of an album? A review of a review? Nope, better than that. This post is a discerning review of one interesting facet of human nature. Well done!
totally awesome music writing!
Bravisimo!! (standing ovation) That's all I can say. Rated with zest.
The editor would do himself a favor if he took this post to heart. He would be a step ahead of his contemporaries in learning one of life's great truths.

Read this yesterday: "Age is mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

I'm not sure what he [the editor] can't ... can't review or listen, or both. I'm guessing. But why? the question.

Unfortunately, my two favourite Beatles are dead. I respect Paul's writing as a Beatle but that silly song 'Silly Love Song' did it for me. And the title of the album? ... Kissing Bottoms. Bottoms of what? ... The barrel? Not saying it is bad, I haven't heard it so I can't comment but the title leaves itself wide open. I enjoyed this blog though. Just spent a day at the RnR Hall of Fame with my 21 year-old. I'm still not sure whether I'm feeling young or old today ...
@Scarlett: The title refers to the bottom of a letter (it is an unfortunate choice, though). Hope you enjoyed the Hall of Fame; we went about 7 years ago and yes, it made me feel old.
Loved this! How beautiful to see someone puncture and deflate the overblown concept of coolness. It's practically Twain-esque. I'm 52 now and probably should consider myself to be a curmudgeon in training.

Coolness was something I abandoned at least two decades ago. Life is better when things don't need to be cool to be respectable, to be admired, or to be simply accepted as part of the grand tapestry of existence.

Having said that, it is still possible for things to be cool, and I still think jazz is fucking cool. I think John Coltrane is cool, and Thelonius Monk is cool, and Monk and Coltrane together is even cooler. Bill Evans is cool. You Must Believe in Spring.
I loved. I just loved. Plus you got to use pithiness . Remember, we were young for the first round of the greats. They are still around and so are we. Not so much 98 degrees....
Your an angel for giving such an honest review here.

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Some deep truths here, old speaking to young without sounding like an old fart. Long before even Satchmo, there was J.S. Bach. Humbles us musicians.
I read this yesterday (Yesterday) and couldn't think of a comment because I also hate to see these rich guys selling out. But, you're right, his dad did play him the old tunes and he wrote "When I'm 64" at 15. It has an old time beat, and he loves to sing "ditties'. So, more power to him!
Gosh, this was cool (and I'm not even a McCartney fan). Rated.
this is a brilliant piece. thank you. 'Take a look at the news to see how that worked out.' this line where it occurred was great observation and super timing. i laughed out loud.
Thank you. I grew up in England with the Beatles: the first gig of our little band was the day before the Beatles released the 45 "Love Me Do." You hit the nail on the bloody head - well done. I am only a couple of years younger that Sir Paul, and agree that aging brings us a different perspective. He is aging well, and - like others from the 60s still rockin' - still plays good music. Of course, music hall, 1940s dance music, early trad jazz, & much more influenced the Fab Four - and everything else that followed musically.
"Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs"
I just re-read this today, and I have to say, this was such a damned zinger of a post. Really, truly great. Almost too good "just" for those of us who skulk around here on OS. You should rewrite a little and submit to Time/Newsweek or some other major consumer-oriented or music magazine.
Great post, Cranky. Truthfully, I'm just glad Sir Paul is still here and still making music, it gives me hope. Kurt Cobain would have been 45 now, ( age), but he is gone, so is Whitney. Paul is still here, let him do what he wants, I'll listen.
Now, THIS was a very cool essay! Thanks!
wonderful article. I have been thinking the same but I just couldn't put my thoughts into words.
Truer words were never spoken --- "When I was young, I thought I knew everything. I eventually learned that I didn’t know squat. One of the humbling things about reaching AARP status is realizing just how much squat I don’t know. When I was young, I believed that the world revolved around me. I eventually learned that six billion other people believed the same thing."
I hated the Beatles passionately up until 1974. Right, four years after they officially broke up. Funny thing, though, is that I realized that they were such a cool band as I was really getting going into puberty, poetry and people. Go figure. Then, as I listened to more and more of their stuff, I realized that I really never hated the Beatles. There were way too many songs that I knew -- and didn't really know it was the Beatles -- for me to have ever actually not liked them.

It would be the beginning of a musical awakening that sent me spanning 600 years of recorded music in one form or another. I still have a hard time with much of C/W, Rap and Metal Rock. There aren't too many artists I could honestly say I don't like at all. And my liking or not liking them isn't contigent on how I feel about the music they make.

This awakening, this love of music in nearly all forms, makes of me a tiny hypocrite at times. And being aware of this, I guard my opinions of music closely -- and provide myself with opportunity to hear what I am being told is "cool" today and then giving it an honest evaluation.

There's a lot of good music out there. There's also a lot of crap. Always been true, I suspect.

Getting older allows you several advantages (especially if, while younger, you realized electrically amplified music can be dampened in its severity on your ears with a decent set of earplugs without lessening the joy of a concert) that the young aren't typically going to be aware of in a way that resonates.

For the same reason, you have to be at least 35 years of age to run for President. The best advantage is your quote:
"But getting older changes your perspective on life. When I was young, I thought I knew everything. I eventually learned that I didn’t know squat. One of the humbling things about reaching AARP status is realizing just how much squat I don’t know. When I was young, I believed that the world revolved around me. I eventually learned that six billion other people believed the same thing."

That perspective allows you a vantage the young should be willing to kill for -- if it could be stolen, taken or given at will. Sadly, youth is wasted on the young in many ways. And from this vantage point, try hearing Cat Stevens' song about the Young Man and the Old Man. I can't quite recall the title, but it starts off with:
"It's not time to make a change
Relax, take it easy,
You're still young, that's your fault,
There's so much you have to go through..."

No matter how many times I hear it, I can still resonate with the young man's response:
"How can I try to explain
Each time I do he turns away again
And it's always been the same,
Same old story.
If they were right, I'd agree,
But it's them, they know, not me.
Now there's a way, and I know,
That I have to go
I have to go."

Youth provides the drive to rebel against established ideas, the past, authority, tradition. Age provides the backdrop to appreciate those established ideas, our past, authority and traditions -- it doesn't mean we have to suddenly embrace them wholeheartedly.

In fact, I suppose it's age that should provide direction to the youth's drive to rebellion, questioning of authority, traditions and established ideas. We know, as we get older that being cool is not an act, nor is it a "place" to arrive or the clothes we drape upon our frames.

What's cool, really cool, is being in the position of guiding people and providing them with insights, while at the same time, learning to appreciate the need to rebel, the drive to change and create new things. It's even cooler if you can still drive and rebel, but it doesn't have to be at anyone else's expense.

And remember, there's not a person out there today who can say, "I did it my way," without recalling or hearing in their minds, Frank Sinatra singing, "My Way."

And Kissing Bottoms. Maybe it does hearken back to the days of real honest to god letters sent through the mail being kissed at the bottom by lovers. Make not the mistake, though, that the use of Double Entendre is limited to the young in rebellious cleverness.

Kissing Bottoms is eerily similar to Kissing Ass and there's nothing about Kissing Ass that doesn't also imply respect for those that provided for you the means to get where you are. Along with that comes the concept of Respect.


Tell you what it means to me...

See? It's all about the music. And that's very cool.

Excellent writing on this. One of the best pieces like this I think I have yet to read.

I coulda sworn I or my alter ego, your sister, commented on this, but I can't find anything and I know whatever I or she might have written wouldn't have been bad enuf to be deleted. I'm thinking I or she somehow must've gotten distracted before writing it.

So now I'll say, speaking for your sis as well, that I agree with those here he suggest you send this up the flagpole to some media outlet with a much greater readership. This is truly superb. It will resonate boomingly with our Boomer generation. And I learned a few things, too - most importantly that Mile Davis credited Louis Armstrong the way he did. My regard for Armstrong was the same as yours. I played cornet in high school and college and had always thought of Armstrong as a trumpeter who was known more for his gravelly voice. I've always been a big Miles fan. Now I'll hafta go find some Armstrong. Thanks, Crank, and, btw, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOU OLD DUDE!