My husband turned 60 this month. There was little celebration in our house; he couldn’t believe he was 60 and our daughter Ruby cried. She wants time to stand still; for her parents never to get old. We had a quiet evening together and created an ode to our man on the dining room mantle. Interspersed between greeting cards and small pumpkins, we propped up photos of Matt as Aikido master, as BMW race car driver, as father, and husband. His expired driver’s license took center stage and we agreed he looked the same as he did ten years ago, except for the grey hair. Matt is quite a handsome man. Aikido and a macrobiotic diet keep him in very good shape. I promised him a party in December, after the reality shock eases off.
As a gift, Ruby gave her dad Levon Helms’s new CD, Dirt Farmer. Helm is 68. Dirt Farmer won 2008 Grammy for best Comeback Album. In the 60s through the 70s and off and on in the 80s, Helm was drummer for The Band, a landmark rock music group that recorded their own albums and backed up Bob Dylan. Helm recently came out on the good end of throat cancer, having had experienced a miraculous recovery. For while there, he couldn’t laugh or talk, and we all thought we were going to lose him, a beloved American music legend.
Friday, Matt and I listened over and over to the Dirt Farmer CD as we drove to Woodstock, NY, where Helm now lives and has a recording studio. “He’s really reachin’ for thosenotes,” I said, feeling both pity and pride for the man. “What did you expect?” Matt reverently answered and his question put me in my place. I might have cried, like my twenty year old daughter: no one wants our heroes to get old.
So listening to Dirt Farmer, learning the words as we made our towards Woodstock, caused me to think about men, and my man, and my long-time friend Steve, who we were on the way to visit and is a few years away from 60 himself. What do these guys worry about losing as they march towards their end game?
Helm–I must point out to every girl and woman who might have had a crush on him in the past–is still sexy with wrinkles and irresistibly masculine. Probably because he is so damn authentic. On the YouTube videos I’ve watched, when Helm plays the drums his shoulders shrug and his head turns in complete bliss and absorption. Yes, his teeth may be bigger and whiter than possible for any man his age, but rather than look like someone who’s out to bite you, or someone trying to hide his age, he’s absolutely kissable.
We arrived at Steve’s house. His wife decided to stay in Manhattan. Steve had his young son Noah with him. There I was with three men. “Oh, I guess it’ll be a guy’s weekend,”I said. Matt and Steve played guitar. They talked about their businesses. Noah played with his trucks. I kind of sat in the background and read a book.
For dinner, I made pasta. They guys set the table. We held hands and said grace. Matt thanked God for our food. We toasted Obama. “God bless our next president,” Steve added. With complete seriousness and innocence, four-year old Noah contributed to the guy’s weekend from his perspective. “God bless our penises,” he said.
Where can we find beauty in aging? In witnessing the fading human form? Enjoying the shift in an artist’s work? A voice shows maturity, as does writing, and a painter’s vision. My husband knows his business better than a group of twenty thirty year-old guys; so does Steve, I suspect.
We hold on. We hold on. We hold on to what we love. Stretching for notes when we sing, is not disagreeable. The world we live in is a public world with the young contributing the most information, gab, gossip, and art. Young men have so much energy, sometimes they run around like chickens with their heads cut off. Thank goodness in our world, which is indeed a public world, we have artists like Levon Helm holding their place in our hearts, on our websites, and on our iPods reminding us death is inevitable, miracles possible, time bends, and music continues without end.
In an interview, when asked about his experience with cancer, Helm said,” I just wanted to get through it, live, and play music.” On Dirt Farmer Helm goes back to his beginnings, to the tunes he learned as a baby, the tunes that made him love music.”
Our favorite song on the CD: “Poor Old Dirt Farmer”
Oh the poor old dirt farmer, he’s lost all his corn
And now where’s the money to pay off his loan?
He lost all his corn, can’t pay off his loan
He lost all his corn
Well the poor old dirt farmer, he only grows stone
He grows them on down till they’re big enough to roll
He rolls them on down to the taxman in town
He rolls them on down
Now the poor old dirt farmer, he’s left all alone
His wife and his children they packed up and gone
Packed up and gone, he’s left all alone
They packed up and gone
Well the poor old dirt farmer, how bad he must feel
He fell off his tractor up under the wheel
And now his head, shaped like a tread
But he ain’t quite dead
Well the poor old dirt farmer, he can’t grow no corn
He can’t grow no corn cause he ain’t got a loan
He ain’t got a loan, he can’t grow no corn
He ain’t got no loan