Older and wiser?


But not if you're over 55?

A couple of items of news pose the intriguing question of what impact an older population will have on politics. To take the more trivial first, research in the UK suggests that over-55s are blocking the development of wind power, consistently leading campaigns against wind turbines that would benefit future generations. On a rather more serious scale, Republican success in the US midterm elections is being widely attributed to the voting patterns of an older electorate.

In the past, there has been quite a lot of hopeful propagandizing for the view that the radicals of the 1960s will turn into the public-spirited utopians of the 21st century. Theodore Roszak, once the chronicler of the counter culture, speculated in his recent book, The Making of An Elder Culture, that upcoming generations of older people would be like no others we’ve seen.

‘The old are not a good audience for a dog-eat-dog social ethic,’ he wrote. ‘If anything, they create an ambience which favours the survival of the gentlest.’

Yet the ambience of the midterm elections was overwhelmingly angry. The tea party movement is the outgrowth of that anger and, according to Ed Pilkington of the Guardian, who spent much of the campaign on the Tea Party Express bus, the average age of those attending its rallies was over 50, with pensioners particularly visible.

In Florida, where 35% of voters are aged 65+ (compared to 23% across the nation) Marco Rubio was the tea party’s most prominent success. The 65+ vote across the United States went Republican by a 20 point margin. Not so much for liberals to cheer about there, then.

The British writer Fred Pearce has speculated that rather less testosterone in world affairs could turn out to be a very good thing and that the ageing population may bring about ‘a permanent end to patriarchy,’ given that it will probably be dominated by women. Anyone who assumes that this will mean a less confrontational, more empathetic and environmentally conscious group of elders should look at the research published in the last couple of days, which suggests that only six out of 10 over-55s support the development of wind farms, compared to 86% of 16-34-year olds and 100% of under-24s.

So will the very large group of older people associated with the ageing population be more idealistic than the old have ever been before? Or will they carry into old age qualities that owe more to those other babyboomer features, self-centredness and a sense of entitlement?

After Tuesday’s elections, the ambitions of those who believed, with Theodore Roszak, that ‘free-market economics and the elder culture are not a good fit,’ must feel rather shakier. The hopefulness that characterised the presidential elections in 2008 has evaporated. Apart from anger, the defining attitude of the electorate as expressed to exit pollsters was pessimism.


Rock’n’roll to age by

Scissor sisters

Scissor Sisters

When I was young, one night a week my father would tuck himself away in our recently built, paper-thin extension, and listen to an hour of big band music to recapture his youth. I was told not to interrupt his reverie. That was the music he liked as he got old, music that made him feel young. What will be your playlist for old age?

Well, over at the Guardian’s music blog they run a competition every week for readers to nominate songs for a playlist around a theme. Last week the theme was growing old. It produced a fine crop of melancholic songs about going grey.

Of course, when rock and roll first started to make popular culture it was haunted by early death as a marker of the live-fast die-young generation.  Now, hard-working, ageing rock and rollers are leading the way in showing that you can grow old and stay young at the same time. No industry is more determined to defy death than rock.

Yet most of the songs on the Guardian don’t reflect modern reality but instead a mawkish, sad, fearful account of growing old as loss and disappointment, from Pete Hamill’s Autumn, which is about what happens when your children leave home, to 10cc’s Old Wild Men which wonders what happens when yesterday’s firebrands become today’s has-beens.

Randy Newman’s Mikey’s is about old age as an extended opportunity for bitterness and bigotry. The main antidote to bitterness is either nostalgia, in the form of Gladys Knight’s The Way We Were, or rage against the dying of the light, as with Neil Young’s Old Man. The moving Warren Zevon song, Play It All Night Long, with the repeating line ‘keep me in your heart for a while’ didn’t make it onto the list, and neither did Elvis Costello’s Veronica who is so old she’s not even sure her name is Veronica. Clive Dunn’s Grandad, recorded when he was just 50, made the B-list. See the Top of the Pops clip.

The thought of growing old depressed everyone at the Guardian so much the next week they had to cheer themselves up by compiling a song list about euphoria.

Early entries included Katrina & The Waves’ Walking On Sunshine; Nina Simone’s Feeling Good; Van Morrison’s Joyous Sound; The Monkees’ I’m a Believer and Donna Summer’s I Feel Love.

But surely all those songs can apply to being old?  Indeed, for a generation of oldies determined to have a good time, perhaps helped by mood altering drugs, Feeling Good might be quite appropriate.

Once again, Jarvis Cocker proves he’s the best policy-wonk in rock when he reminds people that social isolation is the enemy of ageing well: ‘One time they were just like you. Drinking, smoking cigs, and sniffin glue. Don’t just put them in a home, can’t have much fun on their own.’ Scissor Sisters take this thought a step further with their recommendation to ‘take your mamma out tonight…get her jacked up on some cheap champagne’ which sounds like a great idea.

But perhaps, as so often, the final word belongs to Abba when they remind us in When All Is Said and Done that the old people are ‘not too old for sex.’

What would be on your playlist to accompany a raucous old age?