Tag Archives: Willie Nelson

I Have a Thing for Older Men

cousteau.jpg (483×357)Settle down, now. That thing isn’t sexual attraction, though that now that I’m getting older myself, a mad crush might not be inappropriate.

No, the thing I have for older men is admiration. There are just some men who strike me as Cool Old Dudes. That “Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis commercials would be one if he were only real.

What are the qualifications for making my list of Cool Old Dudes? They don’t have to be hunky or even distinguished looking. But they do have to have had interesting lives. Done things. Gone the distance. Remained relevant. They are men who have impressed me with their depth and special qualities that count far more than looks.

Probably the first man who ever made my Cool Old Dudes list was Jacques Cousteau. The man invented SCUBA gear, for God’s sake, and then used it to explore “The Undersea World” and make all those extremely cool documentaries that I watched as a kid. As he got older, he just kept getting cooler, sailing the Calypso to somewhere new where there was something to discover. Long after you’d have thought he would have given it up, he kept strapping on the tanks and out-diving men half his age.

Patrick Stewart makes my list, too. From the time he played Jean-Luc Picard while eschewing a wig, he seemed cool to me. How many actors portraying leadership, non-comedic roles are willing to take that leap? Then he became even cooler when he championed causes like domestic violence, women’s rights, Amnesty International, and PTSD. There’s nothing like using your fame to support righteous works to make my list.

There’s also his friendship with Ian McKellan. It’s Cool to see Old Dudes just goofing around like that. Stewart’s Totally Cool video of him singing country and western songs for charity shows that though he’s an actor with numerous Shakespearean roles under his belt, he’s not so stuck up that he can’t be silly on occasion.

One of my personal heroes, Willie Nelson is a Cool Old Dude. Starting at a time when Nashville just didn’t understand his kind of music, he kept doing it his way until finally the rest of the world caught up with him. One of the Coolest things about him is that he’ll sing and play with literally anyone, from Keb’ Mo to Julio Iglesias. Over the years he’s put out albums of blues, reggae, old standards, and tributes to everyone from Lefty Frizzell to Frank Sinatra.

Add to that his work for Farm Aid, even after all these years; his movie and TV career; his appearance on Steven Colbert’s Christmas special; and his membership in the country supergroup The Highwaymen, and you’ve got a non-stop Cool Old Dude who’s also known in Democratic circles for his liberal politics.

Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama, also makes my list, not just because he is a religious leader, but because of his world travels, his many appearances promoting peace, his support for Tibet, and his beautiful smile. He lives as a refugee in India and promotes the welfare of Tibetans,  as well as speaking about the environment, economics, women’s rights, non-violence, interfaith dialogue, physics, astronomy, Buddhism and science, cognitive neuroscience, reproductive health, and sexuality. Hardly anyone, young or old, is that completely Cool.

Bob Keeshan, perhaps better known as Captain Kangaroo, was also a Cool Old Dude. Nearly everyone (at least those my age) remembers him from his children’s show, which offered nonviolent, engaging content for youngsters. Outside of his show, Keeshan was a tireless and passionate supporter of and speaker on children’s causes, including abused and neglected children and violent ads shown during children’s programming. He’s also one of my Cool Old Dudes that I met in person, when I interviewed him for Early Childhood News.

And no list of Cool Old Dudes would be complete without former president Jimmy Carter. As a president, he gave up control of his peanut farm to avoid conflict of interest. As a former president, he is still living his faith and working – actual physical work into his 90s – building homes with Habitat for Humanity. He continues to speak out on issues such as torture, women’s rights, and reform within the Southern Baptist Church.

There are other Cool Old Dudes out there, in private life as well as in public. Do you have someone to add to the list?


Owed to Songwriters

The year 2016 has been a tough one for the music world. We have lost so many of our heroes, icons, and shining stars to death – across all styles of music.

Many of these have been exceptional singers – David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, Paul Kantner – but the ones I will miss most will be the songwriters, including Merle Haggard and especially Guy Clark.

music notes backgroundSingers give to their audiences, but songwriters do that and give to other singers too. While we often say that no one can perform a song as well as the original songwriter, that isn’t always true. Songwriters’ voices – the indefinable soul that inhabits their songs – can never be duplicated, but singers with smoother or more powerful voices or more skillful instrumentality or arrangements can be technically far superior. Think Patsy Cline’s rendition of “Crazy,” which was written by Willie Nelson.

Songwriters have informed and shaped my musical tastes. Say what you will about John Denver, but his albums introduced me to phenomenal songwriters. His Aerie album alone contained songs by Buddy Holly, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Goodman, and John Prine. Other Denver albums introduced me to songwriters including Bryan Bowers, Hoyt Axton, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Tom Paxton. That’s quite a widening of the musical horizons for a young teen. Without that introduction, I would never have heard “Paradise” or “Sam Stone,” or dozens of other songs that are now living in my head and my memories. I would never have known who wrote the hits “Joy to the World” or “(God Damn) The Pusher,” either.

I noticed the songwriters and actively sought out more of their work. Perhaps I noticed the words first, being an aspiring poet myself, but later I learned how the skillful blending of lyrics and music make for a truly great song.

Songwriters tend not to get as much attention as singers. Audiences frequently don’t notice which songs their idols wrote themselves and which are “covers” of other songwriters’ works. Awards and Hall of Fame inductions for songwriters are vastly outnumbered by those for performers.

Because of the musical idiom I grew up in – country, folk, and what is now called “Americana” – the two recent deaths that have affected me most have been Merle Haggard’s and Guy Clark’s.

Haggard was well known for “Okie From Muskogee,” but he wrote much better songs than that – “Mama Tried,” “Workin’ Man Blues,” “If We Make It Through December,” and “Today I Started Loving You Again,” to name just a few.

Guy Clark was never as famous with the public as Haggard, but in songwriters’ circles, he was a hero. His songs became hits for others – often for multiple artists. “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” “L.A. Freeway,” and “The Last Gunfighter Ballad” were among his most-recorded. Perhaps surprisingly, they are all about everyday subjects – memories of a beloved relative, leaving a home, and an aging man’s delusions. Clark even wrote a song about home-grown tomatoes.

Every time I hear of another celebrity death, I fear for my remaining heroes. Many – including Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson – are in their 80s or nearly so. Billy Joe Shaver has cancelled nearly three weeks of performances for medical reasons. And, let’s face it, all have abused their bodies in various ways over the years. They can’t last forever, however much we might wish it. No matter when they go, they will be gone too soon.