Updated a year later with different video link.
Today I turn 64. So let me introduce to you the act you’ve known for all these years: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, performing “When I’m 64”:
Notes about the song:
When the song finishes, the rest of the album will play – stop it if you wish. See also the playlist, at bottom.
- If you don’t know the song’s history, you must read it on Wikipedia. Did you know Paul started it as a teen, and the song features a clarinet trio?
For months (actually years) I’ve been planning to write this happy, cheery post using this song. Then, as I wrote yesterday, my brother died last week, on top of two other close deaths (including another brother) in the past nine months.
Celebrating a birthday is hard to do in the same spirit when people close to you are dying. The Beatles sang of cheery near-retirement grandparenting. It’s harder to be cheery about when it’s in your face that some people don’t make it.
Mixed feelings. Sad, but also glad and grateful that I am here – and freshly aware that I’m fortunate. I’m unspeakably glad that I’ve lived to know my granddaughter Zoe, glad to be with my daughter for this part of life, so very glad to hug my wife day after day after day – and glad to still be talking to my mom at 84, a titan of a family leader.
Retirement may be an illusion for most Americans today, but grandchildren aren’t – not when I’m 64.
About the number:
In MIT terms 64 is (2×2×2)², or 1,000,000 binary. Yes, for the next year I’m binary millionaire: a nerd, a geek, and proud of it. I love me some math, I love me some data, I love me some logic. As I said in my AMIA keynote, “Come to the dork side: we have π!” (You can buy shirts that say it.)
About that era:
My age became conspicuous to me when, this month, we reached 50 years (a half century!) since The Beatles arrived in the US.
As a boomer born in 1950, I often reflect on the decade when I came of age … age 10-20, years 1960-70:
- In his farewell address, President Eisenhower, the heroic World War II general, warns of a “military-industrial complex.” (Note: it was a general, not a hippie, who warned us.)
- Students stage the first sit-in at a segregated lunch counter
- The first televised presidential debates are held
- 1961: the first Freedom Riders ride mixed-race buses into the segregated south. I couldn’t understand what we saw on TV.
- 1962: the Cuban missile crisis. (I lived outside Fort Belvoir, outside DC, and Boy Scouts were cancelled that night – most scout leaders were military officers.)
- November 22, 1963: JFK is shot
- 11 weeks later (2/9/64): The Beatles arrive
- Also 1964: the U.S. Civil Rights Act is passed
- 1965: the Voting Rights Act is passed
- 1966: Medicare, the first US Federal health care program, is enacted
- 1967: The Beatles record Sgt. Pepper
- 1968 (when I was 18):
- Martin Luther King is killed
- 2001: A Space Odyssey is released
- The musical Hair opens on Broadway, with its hippie politics and nude scene
- June: Bobby Kennedy is killed
- I want to point out that by this time it felt like the whole world was falling apart. Assassinations were rare in America, and now they were common. What was happening to the life I knew, where the police took care of everything? Answer, coming right up:
- August: Mayor Daley’s “Whole world is watching” cops beat up legal demonstrators outside the supposedly liberal Democratic convention.
- This was quite hard for an innocent, trusting Midwest boy to comprehend, especially just before:
- September: I left Minnesota for college in Boston – quite the radical change of scene.
- November: Yale announces it will admit women.
- Apollo 11 lands on the moon
- The Whole Earth Catalog begins publication
- 1970: The Beatles broke up. Hard to imagine they changed the world like that and were gone six years after arriving here.
Whoosh. Compare that to how much social change has happened in the past ten years, since 2004. Whiplash, while the world around you goes to pieces. No wonder Wikipedia says about the 60s:
Some commentators have seen in this era a classical Jungian nightmare cycle, where a rigid culture, unable to contain the demands for greater individual freedom, broke free of the social constraints of the previous age through extreme deviation from the norm.
Well, that’s the context of where my life was, a half century ago. And now I’m 64.
The search for meaning
I was already thinking about all that stuff long before my brothers died (and my dad in 2005). Today I read a book about meaning and purpose that I’ll write about soon.
Look, it’s all complicated. All I know is, I’m glad to be alive, I’m so glad for the people who are still here with me (including you), and I’m looking forward to the coming decades. We have so much more change to create, before we’re done.
More about the album:
p.s. Here’s the track list of the whole Sgt Pepper album:
01. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 0:00
02. With a Little Help from My Friends 2:02
03. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds 4:45
04. Getting Better 8:14
05. Fixing a Hole 11:02
06. She’s Leaving Home 13:38
07. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! 17:14
08. Within You Without You 19:52
09. When I’m Sixty-Four 24:55
10. Lovely Rita 27:35
11. Good Morning Good Morning 30:16
12. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) 32:58
13. Day in the Life 34:17