Slit Skirts

townshend

Aging gracefully is one of the great challenges in the life of a rock’n’roller. Many artists have pissed away their maturity chasing the tail of their youth. Just as many have gone to an early grave without having to confront the challenge. Then there are the few who tackle it head-on.

Pete Townshend was a great help to me when I was a teenager. He found words for thoughts I was too inarticulate to express. His band’s Quadrophenia was blaring in the background of my first kiss. And as he got older he found words to express the bittersweet nature of aging.

 Slit Skirts, from Townshend’s 1982 album All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes takes on the subject with his usual musical bravado and some unusually literary lyrics.

Can’t pretend that growing older never hurts…

I was just thirty-four years old and I was still wandering in a haze
I was wondering why everyone I met seemed like they were
Lost in a maze
I don’t know why I thought I should have some kind of
Divine right to the blues
It’s sympathy not tears people need when they’re the
Front page sad news.
.
The incense burned away and the stench began to rise
And lovers now estranged avoided catching each others’ eyes
And girls who lost their children cursed the men who fit the coil
And men not fit for marriage took their refuge in the oil
No one respects the flame quite like the fool who’s badly burned
From all this you’d imagine that there must be something learned
.
Slit skirts, Jeanie never wears those slit skirts
I don’t ever wear no ripped shirts
Can’t pretend that growing older never hurts.
Knee pants, Jeanie never wears no knee pants
Have to be so drunk to try a new dance
So afraid of every new romance
.
Slit skirts, slit skirt
Jeanie isn’t wearing those slit skirts, slit skirt
She wouldn’t dare in those slit skirts, slit skirt
Wouldn’t be seen dead in no slit skirt
.
Slit skirts, slit skirt
Jeanie isn’t wearing those slit skirts, slit skirt
She wouldn’t dare in those slit skirts, slit skirt
Wouldn’t be seen dead in no slit skirt
Romance, romance, why aren’t we thinking up romance?
Why can’t we drink it up true heart romance
Just need a brief new romance
.
Let me tell you some more about myself,
you know I’m sitting at home just now.
The big events of the day are passed
and the late TV shows have come around.
I’m number one in the home team, but I still feel unfulfilled.
A silent voice in her broken heart complaining that I’m unskilled.
And I know that when she thinks of me, she thinks of me as him,
But, unlike me, she don’t work off her frustration in the gym.
Recriminations fester and the past can never change
A woman’s expectations run from both ends of the range
Once she walked with untamed lovers’ face between her legs
Now he’s cooled and stifled and it’s she who has to beg
.
Slit skirts, Jeanie never wears those slit skirts
And I don’t ever wear no ripped shirts
Can’t pretend that growing older never hurts
Knee pants, Jeanie never wears no knee pants
We have to be so drunk to try a new dance
So afraid of every new romance
.
Slit skirts, slit skirt
Jeanie isn’t wearing those slit skirts, slit skirt
She wouldn’t dare in those slit skirts, slit skirt
Wouldn’t be seen dead in no slit skirt
.
Slit skirts, slit skirt
Jeanie isn’t wearing those slit skirts, slit skirt
She wouldn’t dare in those slit skirts, slit skirt
Wouldn’t be seen dead in no slit skirt
Romance, romance, why aren’t we thinking up romance?
Why can’t we drink it up true heart romance
Just need a brief new romance

Wildwood Sketch Pad

“The beach is a place where a man can feel
He’s the only soul in the world that’s real.” 
– Pete Townshend

I spent last week on the beach in Wildwood, NJ, a place I’ve gone for vacation since before I can remember. Even more than the beauty and fun of a week at the beach, I enjoyed the break from life’s routine. Such experiences can’t help but readjust a person’s focus, and the endless horizon of the Atlantic Ocean, stretching toward the “old world” of my ancestors can’t help but provide perspective.

Lying on the sand, staring up at the sky and clouds, I found my thoughts drifting to the extremes of joy and agony I’ve experienced at the place where the water meets the land: playing pinball in a boardwalk arcade; returning from the beach in the afternoon to shower and make love before heading out for dinner and drinks; watching the sun rise out of the ocean and set into the bay. When I was small, my brother, my cousin, and I were pulled away from the beach by a riptide and had to be rescued by lifeguards in a boat. In one of the most intensely painful incidents in my life, a wave lifted me up and pounded me headfirst into the sand, compressing a vertebrae. As I age and my bones stiffen, I think that particular one will give me more trouble than any other.

Still, there’s something about the seashore that is hypnotic and seductive. There are the scores of healthy young bodies, proudly on display; the gentle hush of the endless waves; and the eternal, unblinking force of nature pounding rock into sand. I hear the fudge is good too.

In 2009, my first novel, The Zoo, was published. It contains this passage in which the protagonist visits a special beach with the planet’s oldest being, a fish named Ella:


            “Here we go,” Ella grunted, beaching herself on a wide expanse of white sand.  Margarita followed slowly, afraid now that she couldn’t breathe out of water.  But, to her amusement and delight, she found that she could breathe air as well as water.  Ella’s small front flippers pulled her heavy body further from the water until she collapsed in the sand, exhausted by her efforts.  “It’s been a while,” she finally gasped to Margarita who struggled to keep up with her.

            “Take a good look around,” Ella gasped.  “You’re on sacred ground.”  Margarita looked around and saw a beach glistening with beauty but she didn’t see anything to make it sacred, or even particularly different from any other beach.  “Oh, but it is different,” Ella informed her.  “It’s the differentest place in the world.  This is where it all started.”

            “Where what started?”

            “Crawling, walking, flying.  This is where we first left the water.  Right here. But that was a long time ago,” Ella smiled.

            “How old are you?” Margarita wondered to herself. 

            “Old enough to know better,” the ancient fish laughed.  

            “How old is that?”

            “It’s impolite to ask a woman her age,” the fish giggled.

            “A hundred years?” Margarita asked.

            “Oh, dear.  A hundred years to me is like an afternoon to you.”

            “A thousand?”

            “I was an old lady many, many thousands of years ago.”

            “A million?” the girl’s fishy eyes widened.

            “Hundreds of millions, dear.  Hundreds of millions of human years and I remember it all…every day…” her eyes glazed over with overwhelming recollections, “…everything.”  Ella looked out at the waves rolling toward the beach.  “I remember it all.”