One morning back in second grade, my beloved Mrs. Phillips—who last I heard had left teaching to pursue a career in country music—asked us tykes to scrawl a few sentences about life in the year 2000. I vividly recall thinking this assignment preposterous, because hanging around until the ripe old age of 32 seemed inconceivable. Years before I discovered James Dean, the motto "Live fast, die young" already resonated in my egg-shaped head.
Yet here I sit, five weeks after passing said milestone, in better health than I ever imagined. So I'm gray around the temples. Big deal. If you held those hairs under a microscope, you'd find the name of an ex-boyfriend etched on each and every one. And maybe I'm thinning just a touch in front, but that's hereditary. I still have all my own teeth (with no fillings!) and nary a hint of crow's feet. Why, just the other evening, a gaggle of new acquaintances estimated my age in the ballpark of 25! And we were only on our fifth or sixth round . . .
Most folks in the music industry, however, have not aged so gracefully. Which is why I initially had zero interest in catching Joe Strummer—songwriter-singer-guitarist for UK punk stalwarts The Clash—in concert. But my upstairs neighbor, who skipped school back in '81 to wait in line all day to purchase tickets for the Sandanista! tour, was deaf to my protestations. Besides, the previews all claimed the set would be heavy on Clash classics. Heck, I thought, maybe old Joe will play "The Magnificent Seven."
Naturally, not all the assembled that night were quite so blas鮠Looking around, it was apparent many of these folks probably hadn't checked out a show in 10 years. You've never seen so many white sneakers. At least the crowd wasn't clutching at lost youth with the quiet desperation of the assembled at last year's Bauhaus reunion, or the recent Siouxsie gigs. Squeezing yourself into a fading Iggy Pop T-shirt that's now a half-size too small is forgivable; shoehorning a decade's worth of flab into a PVC miniskirt isn't.
Joe is pretty damned foxy for an old guy. He'd have looked even finer had he not surrounded himself with a band of adolescent hotties—the Mescaleros—half his age. After opening with the pulsing new "Yalla Yalla," from his forthcoming X-Ray Style album (on Hellcat), the quintet ripped into a chugging rendition of "London's Burning." From there on out, they stuck to a one-to-one ratio of Clash material and new songs.
Sadly, those fans who'd come expecting to hear material by Strummer's "old band" were not treated to a rare rendition of the 101ers' "Rabies from the Dogs of Love." On the plus side, he didn't play anything from Cut the Crap or his . . . how you say . . . unfortunate solo albums. "Rock the Casbah," a song which divided my friends in high school, had much the same effect 15-plus years later. Beer-soaked jocks whose midsections had long since surrendered their muscle memory punched flabby arms in the air and shouted along phonetically. The rest of us seized the opportunity to visit the men's room.
Time stands still for nobody (except perhaps Siegfried and Roy). As Joe gave shout-outs to Joey Ramone and the Beastie Boys, I caught myself checking the time. Sue me. We're none of us as young as we once were. The first time my date saw the Clash, she got so hammered on vodka that she a) couldn't remember the gig (fortunately she also had tickets to the follow-up show) and b) made out with at least one person who wasn't her boyfriend. I once told my parents I was going to the library before sneaking out to a Public Image Ltd. gig, apparently expecting them to believe the stacks were open until, oh, 3am.
But there's hope for aging rockers still, even those of you who haven't been dutifully moisturizing for the past 10 years. Want proof? Seek out Viva El Amor!, the latest from The Pretenders. Chrissie Hynde turns 47 this year, but judging from the catchy chorus of "Who's Who"—"I got better than you"—there's life in the old girl yet. Anybody who name-checks Kylie Minogue in a lyric is okay by me. "Nails in the Road" recalls the brighter moments of Learning to Crawl, and "Baby's Breath" bristles with the distaff cool of Hynde's earliest gems. (So what if Spin rated the record 4 on a 1-to-10 scale—do you think those joyless bozos would know a good time if it sat on their face?) As Chrissie sneers on the new song "Popstar," "They don't make 'em like they used to . . ."