Tuesday, December 15, 2009

YOUTH ISN'T ALWAYS WASTED ON THE YOUNG



"You are a genie
All I ask for is your smile
Each time I rub the lamp
When I am with you
I have a giggling teenage crush
Then I'm a sultry vamp, yeah sultry vamp"

Those are lyrics from "Poetry Man," a 1975 No. 5 hit by Phoebe Snow, who remarkably and somewhat unbelievably, was only 22 when that single charted. If you've never heard the song, you can check it out below. Listen closely to the words, and note how she doesn't reveal until near the end that this "poetry man" is married, making it more love song than cheating song. Does this sound like the voice or the point of view of someone only a few years out of her teens?

Chronology is a peculiar thing. People around my age tend to dismiss early twentysomethings as too immature, too inexperienced, too young. And for the most part, they're right. But when you get right down to it, the number of years you've been on the earth is not always the best indicator of emotional development. I know people in their 30s and 40s who may have experience on their side but not much else.

When I was 23, I was dating my first boyfriend, who was five years older, and he used to marvel at the way I would handle people twice my age in conversation, with such wit and confidence. Despite my lifelong battle with bashfulness, I've always had a strong point of view. If there is nothing to say, I won't be the one to say it. But give me something to talk about, and I'll run with it.

Today in pilates class, a couple of ladies struck up a conversation with me. They were surprised by two things: A) I'm not mute. B) I was actually speaking their language. Like so many Argentines dealing with people from the U.S., they probably assumed that I couldn't communicate in Spanish when, in fact, I just never had anything to say to them. I'm not particularly into small talk, and I don't go around chatting up strangers -- in any language.

I wish more people who take pilates classes in the studio felt this way, so I could have some peace and quiet while I'm working out. Furthermore, it's hard for me to hold a conversation when I'm trying to concentrate on breathing in, breathing out, while keeping both legs suspended in the air at a 45° angle and pushing a bar with my hands to raise my upper torso. Ouch! Damn those abdominal procedures! And damn those chatterboxes!

But beside the point of their interrupting my pilates with their yammering, the bottom line is that we make erroneous assumptions about people all the time. You might be able to judge wine by its age, but people are a bit more complicated. I can't remember the last time I was impressed by the maturity of anyone 19 or younger; despite her alleged talent, Taylor Swift, who turned 20 yesterday, is no old soul: She acts and sings her age. Still, a lot can happen in two or three years.

My new friend Nico (see GIRLS AND BOYS), who turned 22 on November 6, and I had an interesting conversation on Saturday night. We were on the balcony of my apartment, so it was the first quality time we'd spent alone together, not talking over loud music with drunk people in the background.

I discovered that we have a lot in common, despite the 18-year age difference. We have a similar life philosophy (in a nutshell, live and let live), we both tend towards reclusivity when we're off the town, and we have the same favorite book (Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand). Although his party buddies are mostly close to his age, he told me that the people he feels most comfortable having sober, deep conversations with are friends who are twice, thrice his age. One, he told me, is 64, only one year younger than my mother!

Though, of course, what does age have to do with it!

Consider this:

1. Bob Dylan had just turned 22 when "Blowin' In The Wind" came out as a single in 1963, and he was two years older when "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Positively 4th Street" were Top 10 hits.

2. Stevie Wonder recorded four of his five "classic period" albums -- Music Of My Mind, Talking Book, Fulfillingness' First Finale and Innervisions -- before his 25th birthday.

3. R.E.M. released its first two full-lengh albums, including the post-punk classic Murmur, before lead singer and main lyricist Michael Stipe turned 25. Life's Rich Pageant, Document and Green all came before he was 30.

4. Tracy Chapman had just turned 24 when she released her self-titled debut album, a huge commercial and critical successful with a lyrical heft that most singer-songwriters in their 30s and 40s could never touch.

5. Sinead O'Conner was 20 when she recorded her debut album, The Lion And The Cobra, and 23 when I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got became one of the first unanimously acclaimed albums of the '90s.

Whoever griped that youth is wasted on the young was probably just a late bloomer.

Phoebe Snow "Poetry Man"
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