Thought I might get a rocket
When I was child
, but it was a lie
That I told myself when I needed something good
At seventeen, had a better dream
Now I’m thirty-three and it isn’t me
But I’d think of something
better if I could
from All My Friends, by Counting Crows, off the album This Desert Life
Seventeen has turned thirty-five
I’m surprised that we’re still living
If we’ve done any wrong
I hope that we’re forgiven
from Cherry Bomb, by John Cougar Mellencamp
When I listened to the above songs, it was only then that I realized how close these two people came to the same age gap, one that spans only fifteen years or so but one that encompasses a lot of change within it. Hitting your thirties as a musician, perhaps, means hitting a time of retrospect, for the thirties has been seen for generations to be the beginning of middle age, the very edge of time where it changes.
Most of us are at similar stages at seventeen; we can’t help that. We are likely finishing up high school soon and thinking about (or being forced to think about) college or what it is we are going to do with ourselves once we get booted out of the house. If we don’t have a car available to us by this age, we are wanting for one and are less interested in getting our parents to drive us places. It might be when you first begin experimenting with drugs or sex. You may have been employed and having your own spending money, but in either case you’re likely to expect money in some form. You can’t vote, or die for your country, but you can drive. You can’t buy cigarettes but you probably can anyway. You may really think you’re in love, or think you know everything, and the word forever may pass easily from your lips.
I am not yet 30, 33, or 35, but I’m seeing that time creeping closer and closer. For me, seventeen to twenty-five is long enough to see that so much has changed. But yet the above musicians can make an even broader jump in less than 3 lines. So much happens in just a few years for us now. There isn’t as much unwilling wading through time. You don’t stay in a job for 20 years like you used to, but I’m sure that’s not what these two guys are talking about. For John, that time may have been spent raising kids, living in the thick of a lot of activity where he didn’t always feel in control. For Adam, maybe it was the loss of his girlfriend Elizabeth (who he sings to in two songs on two albums). But for both, I’m sure touring, being on the road and adapting that lifestyle also took its toll on them.
So much happens to us in those years, as we take form and shape for the first time. Marriage, kids, divorce even. Hard times, easy streaks, lonely periods, crash course relationships, friendships that manage to survive despite the distances as you move away. The highs and lows can be so close to one another that you can barely make out the difference, riding from peaks to troughs like corrugated cardboard. The din of activity becomes white noise, something you would notice only if it left you.
It is hard for me to imagine being thirty-three and not being married or wanting to have kids, to not have a home that is warmed by things like shared meals with someone who is there and who isn’t going anywhere. I once was asked if I could imagine having kids at all, could I see myself having more than one, since I was raised an only child and have seen the pros and cons of it. I replied that I would likely be so in shock that someone actually married me at all that I’d be willing to try almost anything. The only thing I can equate with hitting thirty is marriage, since any other aspect of my life seems so vague to me that I can’t hope for one thing over another. I don’t want to be one of those middle aged people who cling desperately to their former years that it becomes embarrassing. I’ve seen people who do that, and it’s so clear to me that I wonder if they think they’re fooling anyone. I’m already getting gray hair at 25, and my body has already shown me that it was never really young to begin with, so I’m hoping I can act my age when my age acts like me.