In the time we’ve been together, my wife and I have taken some of our greatest pleasures from live concerts: all kinds of acts at all manner of venues—from Aerosmith at MSG, to Chris Cornell at the Beacon, to the Black Crowes at Radio City, to Cher at Jones Beach, to Prince at the Staples Center, to Ray LaMontagne at the Greek, to Pink at the Wiltern, to Billy Joel at Dodger Stadium.
We share a love for U2, and have pretty much seen the band on every tour since we started dating. So when they came around this past summer to play the Rose Bowl for their thirtieth-anniversary Joshua Tree show, we didn’t so much as hesitate the moment tickets went on sale.
The Rose Bowl, if you don’t know, is an enormous pain in the ass to get to. (We’ve seen U2 there before, on the U2360° show they recorded for home-video release.) It’s an outdoor football stadium in Pasadena, tucked away in a morass of winding residential roads where the streets have no name, and like damn near everything else in Los Angeles (Downtown, for instance), you can’t really fathom why this particular location was selected over, say, any other. And once you’re down there, you’re there to stay for the duration, as the ways in and out are limited whether you’ve come by car, bus, or shoe leather.
This past May 20, the day of the concert, we arrived early, having taken an Uber to the stadium. It was hot as blazes as we waited on three long lines: first for T-shirts, which were all several sizes smaller than advertised, then for printed tickets at will call (the concert was “credit-card entry,” but the card I’d used to purchase our admittance months earlier had since been replaced due to fraudulent activity), then finally to wend our way into the sprawling venue itself.
By the time we made it inside, we were fatigued from the adventure, sticky with sweat. Guzzling our Guinness Blondes—what else?—it was pretty clear we both wished we’d stayed home, and the question on our minds at that moment practically voiced itself: “Have we finally gotten too old for this shit?”
That’s a question, I’m discovering, that seems to apply to more and more things these days. I was even talking recently to my “hetero lifemate” Chip about a movie series we’d loved as kids: Lethal Weapon (Buddy Love—“Professional Love”). Back in those halcyon VHS days, we saw what was inevitably a future version of ourselves in Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs, the reckless young cop with a knack for martial arts and snappy wordplay (not to mention what can only be described as an awesome eighties “mullet cape”).
These days, though, when I rewatch those films, it’s Danny Glover’s middle-aged, risk-averse Roger Murtaugh with whom I empathize. (Is it any wonder, being that Murtaugh’s memorable catchphrase was—say it with me—I’m too old for this shit?) Riggs, on the other hand, now just seems so… young. So careless. I don’t find myself fantasizing about kicking ass alongside him then going for drinks so much as gently sitting him down, like Murtaugh would’ve, to say, “C’mon, pal—get your shit together.”
In an entirely different conversation in this same timeframe, my childhood friend Matt and I were texting about Major League (Golden Fleece—“Sports Fleece”); he was watching it one night on cable, recalling the time we snuck into a theatrical showing of it when we were twelve. The star of that movie, when we first saw it in 1989, was unequivocally Charlie Sheen’s Wild Thing, with his unbridled energy and hair-trigger temper.
Nowadays, though? I identify so strongly—even uncomfortably—with Tom Berenger’s Jake Taylor, the forty-year-old catcher whose career never quite fulfilled its initial promise, who knows only too well the opportunities to grab the Golden Ring are rapidly receding—if not already behind him forever. For me, Major League has almost become too affecting—too close to the bone—to revisit; it’s not the laugh-out-loud comedy it was all those years ago. But the thing is, Major League hasn’t actually changed in the intervening years. Neither has Lethal Weapon, for that matter.
We do age out of things, don’t we? There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens—and then that time passes. There’s a time to be impulsive and kinetic—like Gibson and Sheen’s characters—and a time to be conservative and introspective—like Glover and Berenger. The latter isn’t a repudiation of the former, merely a subsequent landing on the staircase of maturity. And like it or not, we have to keep climbing.
It’s part of the reason I get so incensed at grown men who still obsess over superhero fiction: We were never meant to cling to those fantasies forever. They were there at a particular stage of our development to inspire our receptive imaginations, and maybe teach us a moral or two, and then they were supposed to go back in the toy box for the next wave of children. Comic-book superheroes may themselves remain forever young, but they are imprinted with a generational expiration date.
It’s also the reason I’m always so taken aback—though I suppose I shouldn’t be—whenever I learn a contemporary still smokes pot. Really? I think to myself. Still? Disclaimer: I don’t oppose the recreational usage or full federal legalization of marijuana, I just can’t imagine anyone over, say, thirty years old (on the outside) still cares to partake. When Bill Maher, a bright man and important political commentator, comedic or otherwise, gleefully offers himself up on a near-weekly basis as the poster boy for cannabis—at 61 years old, no less—all I can think is, “Dude, grow the fuck up. Pot is for sixteen-year-olds.”
That sounds judgmental. (Because, admittedly, it is.) Apologies. I simply offer up superheroes and pot as suggestions of pastimes that I consider fine—at a certain point in our life… and then we grow out of them. This is natural. Accepting that—hell, embracing it—is for me the very definition of aging gracefully, a term I’ve been struggling to define and to put into practice here in my forties. Just because we’ve always done something—read comic books, smoked pot, played videogames, attended Coachella—doesn’t mean we always have to. More to the point: It doesn’t mean we’ll always want to. It’s okay to listen to that little voice inside when it says Enough’s enough. That isn’t a renunciation of activities we’ve enjoyed in the past, merely an acknowledgment that their time is over.
Even our beloved fictional characters—who now in our era of ongoing franchises enjoy longer lifespans than ever—have learned on occasion to change with the times. When production on Escape from New York wrapped, actor Kurt Russell personally saved the Snake Plissken outfit on the assumption that it would one day be needed for a sequel. And, as he explained at a screening of Escape a few years ago at the Egyptian Theatre, when he and director John Carpenter finally got around to the belated Escape from L.A., Russell not only still had the original costume, but was delighted to discover it fit like a glove.
And yet, despite this, he and Carpenter opted to give Snake an all-new look. They reasoned, per Russell’s account, that if we meet this guy again fifteen years later, and he’s still wearing the same clothes, then he’s a cartoon—he’s someone who never changes.
The Star Trek movie series—the initial six films that ran from 1979 through 1991—not only confronted the reality that those actors, and by extension their characters, were fifteen years older than they’d been on the television show, they often made it the thematic preoccupation of the story (notably, even poignantly, in The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country). Kirk and Spock frequently wrestled with getting older, the nature of mortality, and the agonizing question of whether they’d outlived their usefulness.
As egotistic as actor William Shatner is reputed to be, he didn’t pretend that Kirk in his fifties was the same man he’d been in his thirties; he wasn’t afraid, over the nearly three decades he essayed the role, to let the character change, to let him age, and, eventually, to let him die. That’s more than Generation X has done for Kirk and company, which would prefer to keep them forever young—even if that means recasting them and rewinding the clock every decade or so. That’s a shame. What made those characters so real, and so relatable, was that they aged along with us, and imparted the hard-earned wisdom they extracted from their brushes with mortality to the audience.
Hell, even Mel Gibson’s Sergeant Riggs, by the time he was on his fourth adventure, was feeling more like a dull butter knife than a lethal weapon:
Bully for Russell and Shatner and Gibson. We ought to let our fictional, serialized heroes change, and age, and die. Keeping them mint-in-box on a shelf, just the way we remember them, isn’t a denial of their mortality; it’s a denial of ours.
THIS IS WHERE YOU CAN REACH ME NOW
On the subject of aging heroes who refuse to submit to the passage of time, the aforementioned U2 show was a blast—a back-to-basics presentation after the last few elaborate, even groundbreaking, stage productions. It was maybe even a last hurrah—for me and my wife, that is—because come the next morning, we hadn’t changed our minds: We’re kinda done with that shit.
I mean, we even had tickets to see Depeche Mode at the Hollywood Bowl this month (purchased prior to the U2 show), and we’d been trying all week—all summer, more accurately—to conjure the requisite enthusiasm for the event; when it failed to materialize, I sold the tickets the day before the show. It felt good to be free of an obligation we weren’t relishing. We wouldn’t have felt that way ten years ago, or five, or even last year, but it was undeniably how we were feeling this year. And I’ve already passed on tickets for shows scheduled for next year. You gotta listen to that little voice inside, you know?
I submit we do a lot of things sheerly out of habit—or out of misguided obligation, or nostalgic yearning, or obstinate refusal to acknowledge our own bygone youth—that we probably stopped enjoying a long time ago. We’ve all found ourselves tuning into that weekly TV show that hasn’t entertained us for the past three seasons, or reading the latest book in a once-favorite ongoing series that ran out of steam six entries ago. We’ve all gone to that annual family holiday party—the one we’ve attended since time immemorial—and been struck with the sinking feeling that the old magic just ain’t there no more (and probably hasn’t been for some years, if we’re being honest).
We’ve stayed at jobs that don’t inspire us, or in apartments we’ve outgrown, or in relationships that have long since run their course, because the alternative—initiating change—is a bigger commitment than we care to take on; it’s easier to just keep on doing what we’ve always done rather than upend our lives. How much time do we spend doing things not because we enjoy them, and not even because they’re necessary (like laundry and exercise), but simply because we’ve been doing them since we can recall?
Circumstances change. We change. Sometimes that’s welcome and sometimes it isn’t, but it is inevitable—and, when it happens, undeniable. Embrace it. And when you can’t do that, then just accept it. The late screenwriter and storytelling guru Blake Snyder once wisely observed that stasis equals death. As we move from one phase of our lives to the next, sometimes we mourn the finality change brings about and sometimes we celebrate it, but all of it serves as a reminder that it isn’t just time that keeps marching onward—we do, too. That sure as hell beats the alternative.