News From The Woods.05


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published November 27, 1996

"Reflections on The Big Five-0"

Being a part of the "baby boomer" generation... At the forefront, actually.... Has placed me in a strange sort of state-of-mind. I remember when Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman was thumbing his nose at the establishment yelling "Don't trust anyone over thirty". It sounded reasonable at the time as I didn't figure I'd last much past 40 anyway. Well, as it turned out he died at 52, apparently by committing suicide via. a massive dose of barbiturates, and I'm still here and alive to tell about it.

And wasn't it James Dean who said "Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse"?.... Which he did. Everyone seems obsessed about getting older. It's just so fashionable for Rock n' Rollers to live such a decadent life-style and then crash & burn on drugs, food, or psychopathic behavior. Some things never change. My generation had Jimi, Janis, and James (Morrison).. And those are just the "J's". Now there's Curt Cobain and whoever's waiting in the wings for their chance to become immortal.

Gimme' a break. I'll settle for mortal and live a little longer to smell a few more roses. And that's what this article is about. I'm here to tell you that it's not so bad. Not that I didn't have my share of close calls. But after 30 years of Rock and Roll, 3 pretty spectacular automobile accidents that I was lucky to have walked away from including driving a jeep over a 45-foot cliff, experimenting with drugs in the 60's and 70's, 15 years as a disc jockey, getting shot in Tulsa at a gig, 3 marriages, over 20 years of late-night recording sessions, and a 5-year stint as a concert promoter.... I can't believe it but here I am.....FIFTY YEARS OLD....A half of a century old......... And I'm feeling pretty good about it. The waist size has increased some since the "salad days", and I depend on my hot tub now like I used to depend on my back when I was lifting all that heavy band gear. But all in all, I'm still in pretty good shape.

I STILL play Rock & Roll drums, just not with as much wild abandon. I'm more seasoned now. I play with a lot more taste. And I can play more styles that I used to. I'm more careful about my hearing now, because my career depends on it. I have learned to listen more than talk. I tend not to waste my time doing nothing, unless nothing is what I choose to do, like "doing nothing" while watching the sunset or "doing nothing" while listening to some music.

Just to set the record straight, I really do not feel 50. Much less act 50. Ask my friends. Ask a couple of my ex-wives. I sort of "locked in" at 19 and stopped counting birthdays. Well, actually I DID acknowledge the passing of 21, 35 and 40.... I just didn't pay any mind to the significance. Yeah, sometimes I've positively juvenile. I KNOW when I'm doing it. I can see the eyes roll and the heads shake, but I'll bet they'd do the same thing if they thought they'd get away with it. I truly believe that's one of the things that "keeps me young". Rather than stick around here for the passing of the big Five-0, where the temptation would be too great on my friends to try and organize some kind of mass public humiliation, I decided to go visit my daughter in Orlando and spend the event celebrating with The Mouse.... Which I did. Now, I didn't ride the thrill rides like Space Mountain and Tower of Terror, but then I probably wouldn't have done that as a teenager either. I had a blast in George Lucas' Alien Encounter where I practically squeezed my girlfriend's hand off and almost personally wet myself. And other than my feet hurting more than usual I was ready to go on the next day.

Point is, here I was, (seemingly) the middle-aged bozo (with apologizes to Willard Scott) with a pony-tail driving around Florida with the top down and living every minute of it like it was the first time I had ever done it. But I haven't always felt this way about living life. There was a time when I didn't think about much more than "today". I didn't look past my nose, so to speak.

All that changed for me after the gunshot incident in Tulsa. At first the doctors told me that I would never play music again. I was devastated. While I lay there immobilized in a hospital bed for over 7 weeks all I could do was work my mind.. After a couple of weeks thinking about EVERYTHING else I started thinking about my life and what I had accomplished up to that point. Being so close to checking out really made me sit up and realize just how fortunate I really was and what a wonderful opportunity life hands you every day just living it. I made a promise to myself at that point in my life (I was 28) that I would do what I wanted to do with my life and live it to the fullest extent that I could. That decision has caused a lot of hardship to me because I refused to "settle in" to a "normal" life-style, but I don't regret a moment of it and at least I have been honest with myself and those living around me.

I never CARED about reaching 50 when I was 20. I doubt if most young people think about it. But it might be a good idea to consider your hearing 20 or 30 years from now and wear earplugs while you're cracking that snare at levels above 120db. Or you might think that back brace might look "silly" on you as you lug those P.A. cabinets down the stairs to the van, but you'll wish you HAD after the fact..... When it's too late. Cigarettes, drugs and alcohol abuse will take their toll as well. Will the difference be worth it? It might add 5, 10, or 20 years to your life. Remember, no one lives forever, but I'd like to live as long as I can stand it, and I'd bet you'd like to be around a while too.

I think Pete Townsend summed it up pretty well: "But perhaps if I'd died before I got old, I might have been forgotten. You tend to hope you'll become James Dean or Jimi Hendrix, but a lot of dead people aren't remembered at all. So I haven't been able to achieve that one great ambition I had when I was 19. But I've tried to compensate by actually making myself happy."

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