It’s that awkward time of year. Baseball season ended in November, and I’m not sure when it will resume, as players are locked out while they argue with team owners over a few billion bucks and some change. College football’s long hiatus has begun, and it will be seven months until the Dawgs can defend their title. The Super Bowl will be played later than ever, on February 13. Tom Brady will be eligible for Medicare by then.
So I’ve begun my annual “I’m so bored I will clean up the den” exercise. Our den is the repository for all the junk that gets shoved aside while I’m watching baseball and football.
I started with my audio and video tapes. I have stashed away hours of myself, on radio and television since the 1980s. After watching and listening to a few tapes, I can now confirm: I wasn’t very good at either job.
I blame part of that on my youth and inexperience. On radio, I used far too many cliches, tried to sound like an adult when I clearly was not, and mispronounced some words while reading the news. For instance, “indicted.” How was I supposed to know the “c” was silent? Somehow that never came up in school. At least my boss got a good laugh out of it.
On television, I looked sweaty, pale, and tired. I’ll give myself a pass on the last part, because my show was on early in the morning.
As for my pallid appearance, I remember thinking I did not need any makeup powder, because I was 25, and did not apply cosmetic products to my face. I later learned that George Clooney, The Rock, and Brad Pitt wear makeup. It is important to point out that they live in mansions, and I clip coupons.
But I really did get better at my job as I got older. On my most mediocre days of the past 20 years, I have been wiser, better prepared, and more professional than I was as a kid.
This discovery coincides with a question I have been mulling over for decades. Why did the most successful musicians of our lifetime, almost all of them, do their best work before the age of 30? If they were great songwriters at 18, or 22, or 25, they were surely better at their craft by age 40 or 50, right? You know, like dentists and doctors.
According to music researchers, most American adults recognize and cherish songs like “Yesterday,” written and sung by Paul McCartney, “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, and “Sister Golden Hair” by America. These are songs that have been played repeatedly since they first hit the airwaves decades ago. They are embedded in our brains. Each of them were written by someone who was under 25 years old at the time.
Those same artists still write, record and perform music today. They have never stopped creating songs. But what have they written and recorded since they were 35 that you can sing along with today? Almost nothing. The always-prolific McCartney has recorded 20 albums since 1978, when he was 36. But the last McCartney song that most of us remember is “Silly Love Songs,” released when he was 34.
He still sells out large arenas, and will occasionally perform one of his more recent songs during his concerts. For his fans, this is what is known as a “beer run” or a “bathroom break.” Ninety percent of his live show consists of songs he made famous during the first 15 years of his career. His songs from the last 45 years are largely met with shrugs of indifference.
It’s not just McCartney. The same goes for his musical peers. In their 30s, did they suddenly lose the magic? Did they forget how to write a memorable melody, or how to tell a compelling story?
In all fairness, many of these legendary hit makers may have been better able to relate to us when they too, were young and struggling. When they wrote their now-familiar songs, they were not yet wealthy, and they were involved in youthful relationships (or breakups).
At that point in their life, they were writing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” What would they write now? “I Can’t Find My Glasses?” Or, “I Can’t Find a Good Arthritis Medication?”
And before you say, “They were ultra-creative at the time due to the influence of some strong drugs,” let’s be honest. These days, they have access to much stronger medication. If anything, their creative juices are probably even more juiced.
I suppose we should be thankful that doctors aren’t like rock stars. I wouldn’t want to have to switch doctors because he did his last successful surgery at the age of 30.
David Carroll is a Chattanooga TV news anchor.