I notice when people die. I remember the shock waves that went through my life when little Alfalfa from “Our Gang” died. I remember next the sickness of losing JFK, MLK, RFK. People born in the same generation as my parents; my parents no longer immune to death. Marilyn Monroe! The names were big.
Then we entered a period when Robert Frost, Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Elvis, TS Eliot, Pearl Bailey, Jack Benny, John Lennon were gone. I sometimes wonder how many of these names are known to those under 50. John Lennon of course. Elvis too. But Jack Benny? Pearl Bailey? Duke Ellington? Will TS Eliot remain in any format other than CATS? I feel a kind of grief that the people who amused me when I was younger may fall into oblivion. As the people who appreciated them get old and die they will be one more step away from eternal obscurity. Greta Garbo?
This year more and more of my “people” are parting: Henry Aaron, Cloris Leechman, Hal Holbrook, Christopher Plummer–people I remember in the vibrancy of their youth. People just a little bit older than me.
As an old woman, I also know that there are people I know as young: Brad Pitt. LeVar Burton. Zadie Smith. George Clooney. Dana Gioia. Mary Jo Salter. Nicole Kidman. Johnny Depp. –these people are possibly the “old” people to millenials. Are they certifiably young? And who judges or gives the certificates.
And then stretching far into the future are those famous people I know almost nothing about and cannot name. Perhaps Miley Cyrus is one of the oldest of them.
I am a person who remembers music before the Beatles became famous; the person who sees Glenn Gould, Van Cliburn, Richard Wilbur, Maxine Kuman, Renatta Scotto as the up and comers: freshly minted celebrities. Vicki Hearn will be a celebrity professor. Elizabeth Taylor will always be young, nubile, and “Maggie the Cat” in my memory; Teddy Kennedy is fresh-faced.
How many of us can recall Teddy Kennedy as fresh-faced?
Each generation or each person born in a little space of time–3 or 4 years maybe–watches their young celebrities age. I am much closer to Christopher Plummer’s generation than I am to anyone born around or after 1970. Age is relative but also very specific: how many of us staggered out of classrooms when JFK was assassinated spilling our weeping youth onto the streets trying to find our way home in the midst of the unthinkable.