Feeling Old in a Good Way

Last night I Netflixed (it’s not quite renting, is it?) a film I haven’t seen since it was on TV when I was a kid: The French Connection. Filmed in 1971, it really brought back my childhood: the so-called “New Look” buses that were “the old ones” by the time I was a teenager; the black-and-white police cars with the gumball-machines on top; wooden turnstiles; yellow-and-black street signs in Manhattan and black-and-white street signs in Brooklyn; the subway cars I now think of as “redbirds,’ not only before they were painted red, but before they were covered with the graffiti whose removal led to the red paint scheme.

Subway graffiti digression…
I was at the press conference in 1986 when Koch and then-MTA-director David Gunn proudly announced that they’d cleaned half the subway fleet of graffiti. Koch or Gunn, I forget which, was supposed to ceremonially wipe the last bit of magic marker off of a car. So we’re standing on the (rather narrow) platform at City Hall, unusually lit by all the TV lights, watching the ceremony, with the center of attention the newly cleaned train on the local tracks. And what comes in on the express track but a downtown IRT express, completely covered in burners and scribble and looking like its previous stop was on the set of Escape From New York. So of course all the cameras whirl to get a shot of the Mayor and the graffiti-scarred train (at which point a WPIX cameraman almost knocked me, a lowly print reporter, onto the tracks) and from the look on David Gunn’s face you knew every dispatcher on that line was going to be working nights in the South Bronx the next week.

On similar note, silvertide made a great mix tape of mid-90s new music, all dating to 1994-97. Most of the bands on the CD (it’s not a tape, for dog’s sake, talk about showing your age) — Radiohead, Cornershop, No Doubt — are bands I still think of as “new.”

Now, I got my first Beatles album in 1976: Yellow Submarine. At the time, it was the same age as the music on that mix tape. Last time I was in England I saw Duran Duran’s reunion performance on the Brit Awards, and again: their first hit was 22 years ago. When I bought the 45 of “Hungry Like the Wolf,” 22-year-old music would have been Bob Dylan’s first album, Bobby Darin, Patsy Cline, and the first of Elvis’ soundtrack albums. So what once seemed like ancient history is now time that I lived through and remember quite well.

But that’s the good part of growing old, at least in my book. Having a sense of history, knowing what went before, so that the memories of how things used to be color your view of what still is. In a good way.

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