So. I’m 40.
It is sort of hard to believe. Back when I was in high school, 40 seemed unimaginably old. I mean, my parents were in their 40s. I couldn’t even see that far into the future. And now that it’s here, I honestly don’t feel any different than I did 10 years ago, except for an overall surplus of confidence and comfort in my own skin. (Well, more than I had at 30, certainly.)
At 40 years old I own my own home, I have a pretty amazing job, I’m down to a weight I haven’t been since I was 19, and I have far fewer bouts of sadness. (Or at least far fewer bouts that sadness wins.) I have some amazing friends, far more than I ever expected I would, and I feel a real sense of home where I am. I make enough money to buy all the damn music I want, and I still love doing this silly little column every week, for whoever is still reading it.
In short, I quite like my life. And talking with my friends of a similar age, that seems to be the consensus – by the time you’re 40, it gets easier to love your life. Recently another 40-year-old and I were involved in a conversation with a couple friends of mine who had just started their 30s. This talk drove a few things home for me, most importantly the fact that I loved my 30s. You couldn’t pay me to do the 20s again, but the 30s were one high point after another. I spent them all in one place, as opposed to the state-hopping I did in my 20s, which certainly helped. But I’ve wrapped that place around me, and it’s become part of me in a way I never expected.
Here’s one thing my friend and I agreed on. In your 20s, you’re obsessed with making these life-changing decisions, with composing a list of things you want to do with your life and working hard to make sure you get to them all. But in your mid-30s, you realize that you’ll never do everything on that list. And you’re 100% OK with that. In fact, you’re happier – I sometimes find myself looking back on that list and wondering why I wanted to do those things in the first place. Some of them are downright silly, and some of them would have led me very different places. Given where I am now, that could have been tragic.
I know 25-year-old me would cringe at the above, and call me a sellout and a settler. But 40-year-old me really doesn’t see it that way. 40-year-old me loves his life, and the people in it, and realizes that a fine afternoon spent in the company of good friends is far better than whatever crazy thing I thought I’d be doing at this age. Life is short, and getting shorter all the time, and there’s nothing better than joy, wherever you find it. And often, the simplest pleasures are the best ones.
Thank you to everyone who helped me celebrate this momentous birthday. I love you all. And now, back to a simple pleasure that continues to bring me joy.
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My father told me on my birthday that 40 is the new 20. I replied to him that 70 is the new dead.
I may be a tiny bit sensitive about my age. People keep telling me I don’t look 40, which always makes me think about how damn old 40 is supposed to look. I certainly feel like my best days are ahead, despite the sheer number of candles on my metaphorical cake. (No literal cake. Cake has carbs.)
As usual, music has proven a fine comfort in my declining years. Some of the finest musicians I know are still churning out fine, fine work, even after turning 40. Prince is 56 years old, and have you seen that guy? More to the point, have you heard him? He’s still one of the most badass guitar players on the planet, and one of the funkiest people alive. The youngest guy in Marillion is 53, and they made perhaps their finest record last year with Sounds That Can’t Be Made. Steve Hindalong is 54 and Derri Daugherty 55, and the new Choir album is amazing.
The indomitable Bob Mould is now 53 years old, but you’d never know it listening to his new album, Beauty and Ruin. Mould has taken some detours in his career, but 2012’s Silver Age found him picking right up where Sugar left off nearly two decades ago, stomping through some incredible (and incredibly loud) pop tunes with an almost adolescent energy. Mould pioneered this sound – sharp melodies drowned in simply massive electric guitars – and though he’s dabbled in electronics and stripped-down arrangements, that sound is still where his heart lies.
Beauty and Ruin is a fitting sequel. It returns to that same soundscape, and delivers with the same explosive force. It’s an angrier record, darker and less infectious, but it’s only the slightest of steps down from Silver Age. Opener “Low Season” is something of a tease, a trudging dirge that might make you think you’re in for a slog. But then “Little Glass Pill” breaks down your door, and “I Don’t Know You Anymore” dances in the wreckage. Together, these songs are barely five and a half minutes, but they’re awesome. The latter track in particular is a Mould classic, and it’s simply unstoppable.
Every song on Beauty and Ruin save the opener stays south of four minutes, and the whole thing barrels through in 36 minutes. There’s a punk edge to tracks like “Kid With Crooked Face” and “Hey Mr. Grey,” an attitude that Mould hasn’t embraced like this since the glory days of Husker Du. The latter song is about cranky old people, and how great the world will be when they all die out. That’s kind of perfect.
Beauty and Ruin is a more diverse album than Silver Age, too. There’s a light touch to “Forgiveness,” a pop dreaminess to “Fire in the City,” and a delightful acoustic break on “Let the Beauty Be.” The downside is that many of these songs, like “Nemeses Are Laughing,” skimp on the immediate hooks. (They’re there – that song’s “doo-doo-doo” refrain is as pop as anything Mould has done – but you have to hunt for them.)
Still, I’ll take that if it means we get an album this assured and alive from Bob Mould. On songs like “Tomorrow Morning,” he looks forward with an almost boundless optimism, and on the powerhouse closer “Fix It,” he shouts, “Time to fill your heart with love, time to find out who you are.” What a great sentiment for someone who has been where he’s been. If Mould can make an album this youthful, this superb at 53, then 40 doesn’t seem so old after all.
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A quick postscript: Part of my birthday celebration was a show by Texas wunderkinds Quiet Company at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago. I’ve said this before, but you won’t find a better live band anywhere. (They’re all nice guys, too.) The band played a few songs from their upcoming fourth album, Transgressor, and they sound terrific. If you’re thinking about best-of-the-year candidates, put that one on your list. More when I hear it.
See you in line Tuesday morning.