Often, when I'm driving, I turn the radio to our local "Oldies but Goodies" station. I'm amazed at how many of the '60s' and '70s' lyrics I recall, and how quickly I'm transported back to a simpler time.
Although I enjoy my driving stints as an unpaid backup singer, I've found myself mildly annoyed by all those lyrics moaning about heartache and heartbreak. I'm not there now. Rather than watching lovers walk out my door, I'm watching kids go to college.
The time has come to create our own midlife radio station: "WMID — You may be in the middle, but you're No. 1 to us."
We don't just want nostalgia, but songs we can relate to at this age. Take, for example, that 1969 hit "The Girl From Ipanema": "Tall and tan and young and lovely/The girl from Ipanema goes walking/And when she passes/ Each one she passes goes 'a-a-ah!' "
These days, it's unlikely that we turn heads when we go out walking. But that doesn't mean we don't have a bounce in our step: "There she goes that midlife mama/In stylish clothes but shoes she can walk in/She still feels good/Her gait and her purpose are sure."
One of the problems with pop lyrics from that era is that they tend to focus on break-ups and get-togethers of the most immediate kind. Any future that's implied is one of vague eternal emptiness (the lover leaves) or vague, eternal happily-ever-after (the lover stays).
But we're smack in the middle of that vague, eternal future, and it's not at all so clearly defined. Long-term love entanglements have their share of empty moments, as well as joyful ones.
Sometimes, the lover stays, and both parties figure out a dance with enough harmonious steps. Sometimes, the lover stays, but then goes off with a different dance partner 20 years later. True intimacy ends up being so much more complex than just "rockin' in my sweet baby's arms."
A few classic songwriters could still resonate for us now if we look at their lyrics more symbolically. In Carole King's hit, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" the narrator notices how sweet and attentive her lover is at night. "But," she sings, "will my heart be broken/When the night meets the morning sun?"
We can adapt that into an extended metaphor for midlife love. Never mind the next morning — will you still love me when I'm gray-haired, pudgy, or tired by 9? Will you still love me once we no longer have kids to raise, or when midlife angst grabs us by the ankles and messes with our equilibrium? Or with our passions?
Love is a gamble. That's why it's such rich fodder for songs. I'm sure we'll also hear some long-term love lyrics making their way into the top 40 on WMID.
"I've known the curve of your arms, your back, for 23 years or more
Can they still wrap me in a ribbon of tenderness as once they did before?
I'd no idea that the road we shared would be so steep and so wide
Yet yours is the hand I want tightly in mine as we walk to the other side."
We'll still allow some of the older songs on our station as crossover material. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" works well for many ages. Certainly by midlife, our experience of troubled waters is more comprehensive than it was say, back in our 20s. We also have more people to worry about now. But the operative word in that song is "bridge," a structure that allows for safe crossing over whatever turbulence is underneath. Maybe we just hit on WMID's theme song.
I can envision some new second-career options as we recruit more middle-aged songwriters to populate our airwaves. Long love, lost love, grown children, grandchildren — these are but a few of the largely unexplored topics we're waiting to hear about.
We will always need places where we feel valued and understood. So stay tuned to WMID! You may be in the middle, but you're No. 1 to us!
Mara Sokolsky is a freelance writer living in Providence, R.I. E-mail her with any comments at: [email protected]