Mozart Began Composing at Age Five, But Grandma Moses Didn’t Start Painting Until She Was Seventy

As a former union rep, I’ve thought a lot about age.  For one thing, I’ve seen too many men and women in their forties and fifties get laid off from solid, middle-class jobs, the victims of cutbacks.  These good people find themselves in the unhappy position of being too young to retire but too old to have a fair shot at being hired elsewhere.  Yes, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age… just as it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of race.  Right.  Tell that to African-Americans.

Shifting to the topic of music for a moment, here are two observations:  First, given the generosity of today’s rock music fans, coupled with the extent to which “cross-over” country music has come to resemble edgy pop or centrist rock, would it be farfetched to expect the Rolling Stones to play at the Grand Ole Opry?

They’ve played everywhere else, why not Nashville?  Think about it.  If the convergence and mongrelization of musical genres continues at its present rate—if the genres continue to spill over and cross-pollinate—we’ll soon see every manner of music all bunched up together in the middle.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Arguably, the day will come when the polar extremes are staked out by thrash metal on one side, and Alpine yodeling on the other.

How cool would it be to see Mick Jagger standing on the exact same spot where Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones and Ferlin Husky once stood?  Ideally, Mick, who is now a 68-year old grandfather himself, would submit good-naturedly to being dressed up in bib overalls, Junior Samples-style, before wowing the audience with his signature rooster strut—the pesky drug rumors and counterculture weirdness instantly forgiven (if not forgotten) by an adoring redneck audience.

And, second, do we agree that, had we been a fly on the wall in the Stones’ dressing room, we would have heard Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood screaming at drummer Charlie Watts, urging the man to dye his goddamn hair?  “What the hell are you thinking, Charlie?  Put some shoe polish on it like the rest of us.”

Watts is now 70 years old.  His hair, unlike that of the other band members—but befitting that of an elderly gentleman—is now snowy white, as white as an egret’s feathers, which, alas, in group photos, is a stark reminder to rock audiences of just how old the Stones are.  Indeed, the group celebrates its 50th anniversary next year.  When the Stones were formed, in April, 1962, Barack Obama was eight months old.

Back to labor unions.  When middle-aged employees were laid off, the Local tried to supply them not only with leads on where to apply for work, but with a short list of job-placement tips, most of which they’d probably already figured out.  Lose weight, dye your hair, dress “young,” look hip, make no references to old-fashioned stuff (because the personnel manager is likely to be in his or her thirties), and appear energetic and eager to learn.

While there are lots of things people can do to enhance their job interview, there’s no way they can fake their age, so they should forget about trying.  Although the employer can’t come right out and ask how old you are, they will definitely ask you what year you graduated from high school.  Simple arithmetic does the rest.

Also, if you falsify your application—if, for example, you lie about your graduation date—you risk not only being fired when they find out, but if you happen to contract a serious (and expensive to treat) medical problem, companies have been known to pore over your job application, looking for discrepancies, no matter how minor, to avoid paying your medical expenses.

Companies have been known to disqualify people for something so minor as inadvertently jotting down the wrong numerical street address of a former residence.  If they find out you fibbed about your age—even if they subsequently hired you and you turned out to be an exemplary employee—they’ll pull the plug on you in a heartbeat, refuse to pay any of your medical, and you’re sunk.

The frustrating part of all this is that older people, despite the conventional wisdom, tend to make outstanding employees.  All that youthful nonsense—the uncertainties, the mischief, the searching for one’s identity, etc.—is behind them.  In most cases, maturity has supplanted squirreliness.

Also, clearly, fifty isn’t what it used to be.  The world is full of nimble-minded senior citizens.  Haven’t the Rolling Stones proven that?  Fifty-year old new-hires, whether working in a factory or office setting, can turn out to be extremely valuable resources.  Unfortunately, not many American companies see it that way.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor), was a former union rep. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net. Read other articles by David.