Sunday, May 29, 2011 | Categories: Michael's Essays
The redoubtable Golda Meir was 70 when she became Prime Minister of Israel.
When someone remarked on the fact, she blew rings of cigarette smoke: "Being 70 is no sin," she puffed.
At 70 she had reached the pinnacle of her political ambitions.
On the other hand, Casey Stengel the redoubtable manager of the1960 New York Yankees was fired after losing the World Series in the Seventh Game.
Said the Old Perfessor: "I'll never make the mistake of being 70 again."
Being 70 has its ups and downs.
Better than the alternative, said Bernard Shaw, of course. And like being caught in heavy air turbulence, there's not a heck of a lot you can do about it.
Seventy is a banner year, an important turning in a life.
It is of course the Biblical span, three score and ten. It also effaces all those useless euphemisms about getting older---middle age, early middle age, late middle age.
Seventy , let's face it, is old. It is the age your grandpa and grandma were when you were 12. It is the age of austere Popes and white-haired philosophers.
People who were 70 could remember back to before the war,. Before the Great Depression, maybe even back to the Twenties when things, though often dire, seemed to make a manageable kind of sense.
Bob Dylan turned 70 on Tuesday. Radio stations around the world played as much Dylan as their transmitters could safely carry.
Aside from that it was pretty much ignored. President Obama didn't mention it on his visit to Buckingham Palace. The Queen was mute on the subject. The Vatican maintained an ecclesial silence.
This has been a popular year for age 70 in the life of a lot of musicians. Had he lived, John Lennon would have been 70 in October. Joan Baez turned 70 in January. Paul Simon is coming up.
Which means that they, like Dylan, were in their early teens when rock and roll broke across their musical horizon.
Suddenly, there was a musical conversation that they could take part in. Music was no longer the private preserve of parents and mainstream radio.
This was remember, a long time ago when things were very different. For most people, talking about the Fifties is like describing Periclean Athens.
But if you were a teenager like Dylan it was a time of urgency. It was a time of ordinary things now consigned to history's warehouse----typewriters, 50-cent a gallon gas, milk delivery, turbo prop air planes, evening newspapers, one phone company, the Dodgers in Brooklyn, the Giants in New York.
For me Dylan will always be London, 1965. I was living in a bed-sitting room near Putney Bridge, trying desperately to keep warm, fed and employed in an unusually cold English winter.
But hey, it was the era of Swinging London, of Carnaby Street and mods and rockers, of Twiggy and Chrissie Shrimpton and all-night parties where you fell down a lot.
The owners of the Putney house where I lived were South Asian. The father was a pilot with Air India.
They adored Bob Dylan. In 1965, he had undertaken a grueling tour of England in April and early May. My landlords followed his every move.
A few months later at the Newport Jazz Festival, he shocked his folkie fans by going electric.
My landlords didn't care. Their addiction to his music was blood borne. Their favorite song was Mr. Tambourine Man which they played over and over again.
Dylan at 70 is almost unrecognizable in his music along side the Dylan of 1965. But then not much in the digital world resembles Dylan's world and ours of the Sixties.
But can he really be 70?
He has survived as an artist in the full exploitation of his gifts and in human terms he is closer to the end of things that the beginning. And he has pushed beyond the three score and ten.
George Will, the prince of American pundits, turned 70 this year. Writing about beating the Biblical odds, he said: "After turning 70, one has, ever after, the pleasure of playing, as it were, with house money. For what exactly, would one now give up red meat and martinis.?"
Seventy there is no negotiating away from; about 70 there are no extenuating circumstances. It is there in your face, not to be toyed with.
So birthday greetings to Bob Dylan.
You were right about so many things.
The times, they were indeed a-changing.
We just didn't know how much.