Another birthday. Time for my annual rumination about life. It’s an easy column, requiring little research!
I have always been a long-range planner. That’s my strength, but now I am realizing that the best laid plans of mice and men are easily led astray.
How interesting to watch the kaleidoscope of life unfold in its infinite variation. How silly the desire to control its progression. It would be worse if I even could, for that is the domain of God.
When you plan long term, you conceptually know that external factors beyond your control can possibly blow your plans out of the water. But like accidents, diseases and death, you always think it won’t happen to you.
I am reminded of the last song John Lennon wrote. It was a beautiful song about the joy he was anticipating watching his young son grow up. The last line: “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.” Shortly after, a deranged man shot him to death.
It’s a strange feeling when you watch the great musical artists of your time pass away.
Going through a Bob Marley phase is now a rite of passage for college males, but in my day, it was the real deal. He had little more than a cult following when I started listening.
As an editor for the Harvard Crimson, I interviewed Marley after he played at Harvard’s Soldier’s Field in 1979. You can Google “Bob Marley and Wyatt Emmerich” and read my article.
At one point in the interview, I asked him if he found a contradiction in playing before an Ivy League crowd of affluent students when his music was about poverty and disenfranchisement. He looked at me and just laughed.
Twenty years laters, I was in Negril, Jamaica, with my new wife Ginny and we went to hear Rita Marley play an outdoor concert.
The comet Kohoutek was blazing in the moonless sky as I stood next to a friendly seven-foot-tall Rastafarian. Rita launched into a slow torch song about Bob. “When asked a question, you would just laugh. . .” she sang. Yes, I thought, I do remember.
I remember driving up to hear the Grateful Dead at the Pyramid in Memphis in April, 1995. A year before, I had heard the Dead in Atlanta where the police were dragging people out by their hair for lighting up a cigarette. In Memphis, you could barely breathe with all the pot smoke. No police at all.
The last time the Grateful Dead played in Memphis was 1970 to a crowd one-tenth the size of the 1995 concert. The police turned on the lights during the concert and started arresting people for inciting a riot.
After the 1995 show, we were hanging out in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel, when the band joined us. What a fun night!
Bob Weir sat next to me, chain smoking. “Man, Memphis has changed,” he said.
I asked Weir if he owned any Grateful Dead T-shirts. “Do I own any Grateful Dead T-shirts?” he said, repeating my question. Ten years later I was reading a biography of the band and the writer commented on Bob Weir’s annoying habit of repeating any question he was asked.
The only band member missing was leader Jerry Garcia. “Where’s Jerry?,” I asked. “He’ll probably come crashing through the skylight, arms outstretched any minute,” the keyboardist said, looking up.
In fact, he was probably using in his room. Four months later, he was dead. We all make choices. After 20 years and 20 or so concerts from Ventura, Calif., to Cape Cod, Mass., it was the end of my musical youth.
This year Greg Allman died. Like the Beatles, Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead, I grew up with their music. Melissa, Whipping Post, Jessica, Southbound, Blue Sky and Ramblin’ Man. Life moves on.
I feel blessed to have gotten to experience such great music in the cusp of my maturation when you’re most open to the power of music. Compared to that golden era, recent music has bored me. It does seem that the last few years have been more creative.
Now I am the old fuddy dud and my teenagers are rocking. I’m surprised by how much they love the old stuff. When I was their age, I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to my parents’ music.
I am officially no longer the parent of three teenagers. John is 20. Praise the Lord. People warned me it was going to be rough and they were right. At least I don’t have to worry about being bored.
It’s so strange being an older adult watching teenagers be teenagers. Yes, I was one once too, but that was so long ago. It’s hard to remember what it was really like. I was fairly wild, but ambitious and hardworking.
My mantra has become, “Life is easy if you just do what you’re supposed to do.” But people don’t. That’s just the way we are. It is a great mystery to me, but I think it has something to do with taking bites of forbidden fruit.
I am a recovering perfectionist. I’m beginning to realize the natural state of this world is imperfection. I now get nervous around perfection. I’m more relaxed if my table has a scratch and my car has a few dents.
Business has been challenging. My father lived through the heyday of newspapers. That’s the job I thought I was signing up for, but competition reared its ugly head.
If someone had told me 20 years ago that Facebook and Google would be my biggest competitors, I would have said, “Who? What?”
Then if someone had patiently explained that Facebook would be the dominant player in social media and Google the dominant search engine, I still would have said, “Who? What?” Those business categories didn’t even exist then. Such is life. How ironic when retailers complain about Amazon and then buy digital ads from those two giants. The Northside Sun is local!
Every day people ask me, how I’m doing. It’s a perfunctory question, a social formality. Nevertheless, why not have a decent comeback? My latest: “Not as good as I want but better than I deserve.”
I love tennis, but my competitive spirit is yielding to physical reality. Walking off the court without back pain is more important than winning. My mild scoliosis is catching up with my age. “Stand up straight!” my father would implore. It never crossed his mind that I was physically unable to do that.
I miss my mother and father. Like many, I am an orphan. It’s hard to imagine I live in a world without those two special people. As time goes on, I realize just how special they were. By faith, I hope to see them again, although they do visit occasionally in my dreams. I am comforted by the belief I was a good son.
I learned the essence of a good marriage years ago: Two sinners refusing to give up on one another. That hasn’t changed.
One weird sense I get as I age: I am more and more struck by how fundamentally similar we all are yet life feels so unique, personal and individualistic. It is a strange contradiction: Billions of unique individuals.
I was born with a strong mental constitution. I get knocked down and it hurts, but I am able to eventually shrug it off and carry on. It’s just the way I’m wired. My heart goes out to those who are more frail. Life is hard, even when it’s easy.
It’s been a really full life so far. I have been blessed. As you get older, things become more simple. Like, if you have your health, you have everything. We’re not driving. Attitude is everything. God forgave you so you must forgive others. You’ve got to maintain a sense of humor.
You never know what’s waiting round the corner, but don’t let that slow you down.
Wyatt Emmerich is publisher of The Northside Sun in Jackson and owner of Emmerich Newspapers.