Saturday 22 October 2016

Boomer generation showed us all that anything is possible when age is no barrier

Gerard O'Regan

Published 23/01/2016 | 02:30

David Bowie. Photo: Terry O'Neill/Getty Images
David Bowie. Photo: Terry O'Neill/Getty Images

David Bowie, a shooting star for millions when they tumbled from adolescence to adulthood, is gone, and this week the call from yonder also came for Glenn Frey of The Eagles.

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The country rock group provided a soundtrack for the lives and loves of so many in the 1970s that the mood-inducing rhythm of songs like 'Desperado' and 'Hotel California' are forever embedded in their memory bank.

And only a few days ago, PJ Mara - éminence grise of Fianna Fáil during dizzying days for the party when Charles Haughey and FF were at their pomp - also had that final curtain call.

Broadly speaking, given their dates of birth, all three were members of the so-called 'baby boomer generation'. No doubt they had to cope with various vicissitudes along the way, but they did enjoy the good fortune of a fair wind, which helped so many boomers make their mark in various ways.

The boomer label is applied to those born roughly between 1946 and 1960. In post-World War II Europe, they entered the world at a time of renewal, following the great conflagration which had just ended. There was hardwired optimism in the air, based on a belief that from now on, graft and effort would ensure the future would always be better than the past. It was this singular conviction which would fuel the psychology of the boomers in the decades to follow.

Ireland, in the late 1940s, was still on the periphery of mainstream European thinking, and the galvanising effect of the new dawn did not really hit here until the 1960s. Inevitably, there would be recessions and downturns, and there were times of economic woe in the 1970s and the 1980s, and in the post-Celtic Tiger collapse. But many of the baby boomers were able to survive it all. Those formative days of their youth, when there was always just a possibility the world would be their oyster, provided a balm when troubles came.

And so they stumbled on, each decade cascading into the next. Time, in its secret gnarling way, stealthily stole away their years, until they finally arrived at what is generally described as retirement. Age-wise, Bowie, Frey, and Mara would, in a previous era, all have been described as pensioners.

Not that they could ever class themselves as such. Fashioned during a period when the term teenager was invented, and having swooned in newly born youth culture in their early years, they were part of a generation least likely to embrace what is euphemistically termed old age.

Many of the more fortunate boomers with their paid-off mortgages, slightly dented pensions, and private health plans, remain zestful at some coalface or other. They also have their yoga and gym sessions, the back-to-college courses, and the second-chance careers, to keep mind and body in full fettle.

They look with incredulity at the generations following them, and wonder why the gods seem to have turned everything on its head. The world of work is a much more uncertain place, compared to what now seems like a cocooned era, when they climbed the career ladder. And they wonder why the old aspiration, to be able to buy a semi-detached house in suburbia, looks like it's a dream too far for so many younger folk.

In their more reflective moments, the boomers quietly accept that maybe some of the experts are correct - many of them may have indeed been among the most favoured generation in the history of the world. No wonder some are determined to keep on climbing to the brow of the next hill - whatever effort it takes - if only to see what's on the other side. A classic case in point is Hillary and Bill Clinton, born in 1947 and 1946 respectively. They too are of pension age, but the lure of one more big-time battle is obviously overwhelming.

The sheer grit to keep going until almost the very end was reflected in the lives of the three recently departed. Bowie released his last album just days before his death. Work-wise, Mara was hatching and plotting until ill-health finally forced him to halt. And Frey also confronted for as long as possible the ravages of time and tide.

Elsewhere in the music business, 72-year-old Mick Jagger fights on with fiendish will, by way of a diet and exercise regime that only adds to those lined and hollowed features. But the Rolling Stone remains determined to face down Old Father Time.

And speaking of baby boomers, what about Jagger's one-time partner, and mother of their four children, Jerry Hall? She will be 60 next birthday, and she has recently become engaged to media baron Rupert Murdoch. He's been around so long, that strictly speaking, he pre-dates the boomer era.

It's a relationship which has raised a few quizzical eyebrows. But as a couple, they sure as hell are kicking over the traces. It's chutzpah with a capital C. As any self-respecting boomer might say, whatever it is that floats their boat, they sure as hell should let it sail.

Irish Independent

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