Leibo At Large: Getting older has made me look differently at aging

By David Leibowitz

The first time I poked fun at the Rolling Stones for being too old to rock ‘n’ roll was in 1997. The band, led by then-54-year-old Mick Jagger, was in Tempe to play at the Sun Devil Stadium.

Lead guitarist Keith Richards was a few weeks shy of turning 54 — a couple years younger than I am today. The Stones must have torn it up that night, because news reports from the concert indicated that sparks from their pyrotechnics set off a huge blaze in some bleachers behind the stage.

So much for my jokes about that being The Depends Tour.

I raise the point out of a desire to clarify some things concerning the concept of old age.

One, despite having multiple college degrees by the time I reached my thirties, I was still a naive jackass. Retrospect is startling that way, helping you know what you don’t know.

Two, the older I get, the more distant old age feels. Part of that is wishful thinking. But also, it seems to take longer to get old in the 21st century, with all our technology and science, than it did back a couple decades ago. Or so I’ve deluded myself.

In addition to swabbing away some of my naivete, aging has also increased my tolerance. One example is the newfound respect I have for Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who at 44 is leading the National Football League in passing yards and completions while chasing an unfathomable eighth Super Bowl ring.

For context, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was 3 when Brady made his NFL debut.

Brady peaking again this late in athletic life makes you wonder how long he can go without a noticeable decline in performance. I had the same thought a few weeks ago while listening to Don Henley, lead singer of the Eagles, hit some impossibly high notes on classics like “One of These Nights” and “Desperado.”

At age 74, Henley sounds no different than he did back in the day. If his voice is being helped along by autotune or technical wizardry, I couldn’t tell. What’s more, I didn’t care.

On a Saturday night in September in Downtown Phoenix, surrounded by 15,000 other lunatics who also knew every lyric — and didn’t mind coming out in the midst of a pandemic — you could close your eyes and be transported back to 1977, when “Hotel California” first hit FM radio and shot up to No. 1 on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40.

That’s something age has taught me about music, movies, television and books: The best art not only captures a unique story, it helps us capture a unique state of self. Great songs are like thumbtacks affixing certain moments in time in our minds and hearts.

It’s a quality that my older self appreciates, in the same way I have a new appreciation for the Rolling Stones. I plunked down a small fortune the other day to see them in Las Vegas next month, nearly 24 years to the day after I skipped them in Tempe.

Jagger is 78. Richards and Ronnie Wood are 77. Drummer Charlie Watts passed away in August at age 80.

Used to be, I found something mortifying about the idea of Mick cavorting about bare-chested in leather pants, singing “If you start me up, I’ll never stop” at an age when most of his peers were worrying more about sitting up. Not anymore. Now I get it.

Whoever barked “act your age” was some know-it-all in his 30s who’d read a bunch of books but hadn’t really lived at all.