Any fan of Martin Amis’ “Experience” will remember his father, Kingsley’s, character, in that book, as a craggily-lovable figure of fun and foibles. But Kingsley is about 70, in this documentary (linked above), and Martin is two years shy of that now; does Martin come off any better, in contemporary interviews (see below), than Kingsley does up there? Kingsley could almost be said to have a “spring in his step” in comparison. Who would have thought it, reading “Experience”, back in the innocent year of 2000? Well, it’s just another cautionary tale about Time, isn’t it? Time and its accelerants, the Booze and Grief, both of which (come on) Mart has been liberally doused with. Can anyone imagine this new Old Mart pulling one of these….?
Martin’s anguish, in the clip below, is surely one with our own: the okay-looking Interviewer could not possibly fancy him…
To anyone with an interest in the subject (ie, anyone older than, say, forty-four), Time now appears to be a plague reaching sci-fi-epidemic proportions: cross-generational celebrities (whom everyone has looked up to, or despised, since their teens) dropping like flies, Novelists running all out of genius and pop stars running all out of new twists with which to dress up the old styles… is the Culture wearing out, running down, needing a nap after breakfast and smelling faintly of piss?
And it gets personal, too: models I’ve long been proud about for having fucked, twenty or thirty years ago, are turning up, with alarming regularity, on Facebook, and they look nothing like how we all always blithely assumed they’d look, one day, in their forties and fifties (like Catherine Deneuve in her 60s): they look like their mothers. They look like their mothers do now. Well, all but one, who is still a stunner at 50-ish (here she was, then) having always wisely avoided over-exposure to the booze or the sun or to the state fair foods. She, alone among those Wonderful Lovers, of my antediluvian antebellum, understood Time. She understood her twenties and thirties like Deneuve did.
And me? I never smoked, drank, over-tanned, blimped-out or crash-dieted; my face is wrinkle-free when I don the expressionless face of a career criminal in a line-up; I get embarrassingly strident erections when my Young Wife** (sure, I’m proud: you have no idea how many 20-something dick-pics she gets on Instagram’s private messenger) holds my hand in public. Women still, shockingly, flirt with me* … but I can’t and won’t fool myself: I’m not what I was at twenty. Or thirty. I might still be able to fight the forty-five-year old me to a gasping stand-off … easy to say, since I’ll never have to face him… but the next thirty-to-forty years are going to be a shirt-soaking marathon of attempting to continue to exist while also doing my damnedest to pole vault into the record books. Oldest couple to have a pregnancy scare? I want that one. Oldest man to not smell faintly of piss? I aim to score that one, too.
This is the thing about Time: it’s a springy coil: one end effects the other. (In both directions? Possibly, if the bestselling paperback Metaphysicians of the ’70s weren’t totally wrong about Everything, as we now suspect). Many of your decisions at nineteen, or twenty, or thirty-two, will shape your destiny at fifty and up. So, if you’re under ten and reading this: take up a musical instrument. If you’re under sixteen: don’t laboriously train yourself to not find the flavor of alcohol, or cigarettes, disgusting. If you’re under twenty: don’t get a tattoo, or any piercing more interesting than an earring. Never do anything, that’s more dangerous than possibly-humiliating, on a dare. Yes and you’re making a huge mistake if you even think about getting married under the age of thirty-five (as I did, the first time); you’re making a huger mistake if you’re a single over-fifty. Getting married (the second time) was the best Fully Adult Decision I ever made. My Wife and I are now twelve years [actually, Wife today informed me it’s thirteen!] into conforming our still-(barely)-malleable lives to a common shape it will soon be impossible to match to anyone else’s. Just in Time.
The thing about Fifty: that is the Real You. “Youth is the impostor, finally unmasked with Age.” Who said that? I did.
I know plenty of young people (defined as anyone capable of both crying at a pop song and laughing at a near-death experience) and they have no idea how generally generic they still are. They think their attitudes and opinions are their own and not right off of the first trays that were offered to them at the party. They have no idea how unformed they still are; how silly and standard their self-dramatizing crises; how borrowed so much of each facet of their tabula-rasa face masks, and personalities, are. To converse with most young people is merely to converse with the history of Youth. Most of my twenty-one-year-old opinions belonged to millions of other twenty-one-year-olds who had no idea where the opinions had come from, as blatantly obvious as the sources were: TV, Records. Movies. Teachers.
The myth of Youth is the myth of Culture’s cyclical reinvention at the fresh hot hands of Youthful Romance and Imagination, but Kurt Cobain didn’t invent Grunge, his middle-aged producers did. When Sylvia Robinson invented Hip Hop in 1979, she was forty-four. Vito Paulekis was born in 1913, and Eden Ahbez was born in 1908 and between them they somehow invented The Hippie Movement in the 1960s. Youthful Innovation is not a natural rule and the rare Young People who invent or pioneer things are geniuses and geniuses get more rare the older I get. Bob Dylan was once, briefly, a great singer and songwriter but he was never a genius; clearly, the guy who produced Bob’s folk songs, with arrangements for electrified rock, was a genius (Tom Wilson: thirty-four at the time, which was geriatric, to Dylan, at the time). Don’t ask me who “invented” Facebook, ask me who invented The Internet: it wasn’t a college kid. It wasn’t a young Bill Gates. It wasn’t a young anything.
Youth is a Prelude. Youth is a Rehearsal. A Queue.
How you spend Youth will determine whether you’re ready when The Starter Pistol finally fires or if, instead, you stagger or collapse at the very moment it really, really, really finally counts. And that’s one of the paradoxes: since, for the majority of hominid history, we’ve been reproducing in our early-to-middle teens, Evolution caters to a demographic too young to vote. Anyone over, say, thirty, is, essentially, post-Human… our attributes are incidental. We haven’t been optimized for reproductive advantages because DNA doesn’t care if Humans die fifteen years after becoming teen parents. We post-Humans are Off the Clock. Off the Ledger. Fucking around in uncharted territory. But, intellectually speaking… spiritually speaking… from the perspective of The Universe Making Sense of Itself: The Real Race is not between members of the Clueless Youth, who run, for running’s sake, that unfamiliar oval track (shaped suspiciously like a snake eating its tail), minds blown or oblivious. The Real Race is between post-Humans who already know the track from ten-thousand trial runs and can make some sense of its details. Almost everything that will happen to me next week will have happened to me, already, dozens or hundreds or thousands… or millions… of times. I know that oval track; the trick has been in holding it together well enough, for 58 years, to run it for the first of the next ten thousand times.
Or, change metaphors: twenty-one is the hallway to thirty-five’s waiting room to forty’s audition, in a muted auditorium, for a film Time will shoot in a decade. What will you be when you grow up?
The celebrities who helped outfit you with your terrible taste in music/ books/ films/ jokes/ vices, in your teens, will suddenly begin to die-off like flies and your legendary heroes and college flames will sag beyond recognition (except for the exceptional ones) and your old buddies will bitter up on you (and some will even begin to grow bushels of nose hair and smell faintly of piss) and cease being even slightly fun. But if you took the proper precautions at twenty, thirty, forty (all along the way)…
The one in the mirror with the engraved sneer: that’s exactly who you were born to become. Pleased to finally meet! And then it goes rather quickly.
Just look at Marty! Or, no: don’t.
*In fact I was fairly jaw-dropped last week when a beautiful girl, with a Brazillianish look to her… caramel-and-blonde curls framing a sweet brown face, dancer-type body in platform shoes and mini-skirt… stared me down on the U-Bahn with a half-smile, got off at my stop after pantomiming indecision, walked in the direction opposite of the one I took on the platform (stage right)… yet somehow managed to end up on my up-escalator with me, standing beside me, my heart beating in my throat, my Wife’s claim on my heart and cock too happily total. A very pleasant ordeal, though; good for the ego but a strain on the nerves. The last time that happened so unambiguously was with a medical student (Simone B.) who turned out to be gifted with light-to-middling psychopathy and strikingly similar striking hair. I was single at the time and defenseless. All part of the process.
**Her Beauty, among other things, keeps me going… but watch me lurch, from time to time, through the valley of the Smug. Well, an Artist needs it against that shitstorm of slings and arrows…