Wednesday, July 01, 2009

My Tribe

You must watch this YouTube video of The Zimmers singing The Who's anthem, "My Generation." (This is a new edit of the original video which did not allow embedding, but even this one won't play on Facebook.). The ending is priceless.

The Zimmers are the world's oldest band, 40 British senior citizens with a combined age of over 3,000 years. The group's name comes from the walker which in England is called a Zimmer frame. Their lead singer, Alf, is 90, and the oldest member is 102. If I'm a little late for this phenomenon, I apologize, but it gives me hope that my upcoming 70th birthday will only be the beginning. U2 producer Mike Hedges took the ensemble into famed Abbey Road studios in London to produce "My Generation." Since Roger Daltrey is now 65 and Pete Townshend only a year younger, The Who's two surviving members, they would have fit right in at the recording session. Released in the spring of 2007, the single reached #26 on the British record charts. Nearly 5 million have watched the YouTube video. For a followup, they recorded The Prodigy's "Firestarter," and last year released their debut album which included Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" and a cover of the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right To Party." The group now has toured the world with their message that life after retirement need not be one long bingo game.

"It's been so exciting, every day has been different," sextagenarian rocker Dolores Murray told the BBC. "One day in the studio, the next on a plane to Germany, then back for a radio show, a trip to a school, off to Downing Street and then onto a photo shoot. I never knew retirement would be so full. People come up to us in the street and thank us for what we are trying to do. It's quite overwhelming at times when people tell us that they feel empowered after meeting us and hearing what we stand for."

Everyone must find their own path through the mine field of aging. Mine at the moment is hedonism. Here I am enjoying the cuisine at a restaurant on a Ko Samed beach last weekend. It was my third trip to the island paradise just a short 5-6 hours away by bus and ferry from Bangkok. Most of the good beaches on the narrow island face east and the sunrise on Saturday and Sunday was gorgeous. Not long after, three monks in their bright orange robes walked on the path past our seaview room on alms round. Heaven was sitting on the beach all day, swimming in the warm clear water and reading in the shade of an umbrella James Crumley's terrific novel, The Last Good Kiss. At night the restaurants turn on their colorful lights and spread mats on the sand for diners to recline, just as the heathens did at Pompey. Some feature fire shows, young men twirling batons soaked in gasoline to tempt the gods. Vendors sold rockets to light up the night sky. The thumping base of a sound system could be heard late into the night. One morning Nan and I walked south over the rocks beyond Ao Pudsa where Molly broke her foot several months ago. I wanted to see Ao Wang Duan, the island's southern outpost. We hiked past the small cove of Ao Nuan where the cheap bungalows were undergoing repair, and over the hill to Ao Cho with its broad beach and long pier. We saw few people, most of them Thais apparently waiting for tourists to arrive. But this is the slow season during a year in which the tourist industry in Thailand has been devasted by political disruptions and a failing economy. We heard one swimmer cry out in pain from an apparent jellyfish sting and watched as her friends pulled her and the baby she was holding to safety. Our destination featured another wide beach with white sand fringed with restaurants and low-priced accomodations. had a number of upscale guest houses and resorts but, as elsewhere, few customers. The setting, however, was breathtaking. We returned to our hotel in a green pickup truck, paying a premium price since there were no other customers for the bumpy ride over a rutted dirt road.

Everywhere I saw dogs, mostly of indiscriminate breed. Most looked healthier than the mangy soi dogs so visible in Bangkok. They sat patiently by your table in the restaurants waiting for a handout, and they curled up in the sand after digging a hole for their bed. Ko Samed is certainly a paradise for dogs as well as people. One evening by our table on the beach at the Samed Villa restaurant, I watched several dogs playing with a crab that had bravely come out of its hole. Although I kept waiting for the crab to find a canine nose, it never happened. Marcus had warned me to watch out for dog poop on the beach. His recent trip here was fraught with calamity. Everywhere he saw poop, trash and pollution. Either I'm blind or the island has cleaned up its act. All around me I saw only beauty. The clarity of the light was breathtaking and the clouds were sculpted to best effect. No doubt the scarcity of people made it easier to observe and appreciate nature. At times the speedboats and jet skis reminded one of the tawdriness of Pattaya. But for the most part Nan and I delighted in our break from the real world. I imagined myself reborn as a beach dog in my next life. That must be a reward for something. Of course, one always has to pay, and my ticket was a nasty sunburn on my chest because of insufficient sunblock and too much time in the water. Liberal doses of aloe vera have eased the pain.

School is out for the beginning of Pansa, the Buddhist Lent, and I have too much time on my hands. Also called the Rains Retreat, Pansa lasts three lunar months and is a time for Theravadan Buddhists to refrain from travel and renew their spiritual vows. Because of ceremonies associated with the holiday, I have no classes to teach for nearly three weeks. The last thing I want to do is stay home and meditate. One afternoon on Ko Samed, Nan and I walked up to the temple near the port at Na Dan. We watched monks swimming in a pond while workmen swept leaves off the paths. An enthusiastic monk sold us candles and incense for the altar in front of a giant Buddha image. Then he rummaged in the pocket of his robe and found several amulets which he also offered for a generous donation. Nan was upset that the monk was so mercenary. "Why can he do that?" she asked me. Because the offerings from tourists are slim right now, I thought. Walking with Nan hand in hand down the narrow lanes of the island, I felt incredibly fortunate. Even though several generations separated the two of us, I felt that my tribe would understand. Growing old should be a liberation rather than a defeat. Even though cultural rules continually try to suck us under, the only way to live through the horrors of aging is to take deep breaths and swim like hell. Rock on, Zimmers!


Unknown said...

Okay Will--let's start a band of 60-plus singers, musicians, crazy people...I'm serious. Bangkok awaits.

Unknown said...

PS I'm only tone deaf in Thai.