Saturday, November 21, 2015

Nothing's Gonna Touch You in These Golden Years

"I'll stick with you, baby, for a thousand years
Nothing's gonna touch you in these golden years."

The older I get, the more aware I become of the uselessness of many skills I had when I was younger.

Some of those skills were skills I learned in school — like how to process film (in my college photography class). In the digital age, dark rooms simply do not exist. As a result, that knowledge has no value anymore.

Other skills were useless even at the time. For example, I mastered the timing of the snapping of fingers and the clapping of hands at the beginning of David Bowie's "Golden Years," which made its debut on this day in 1975. I was proud of that at the time, but it has had zero value in my job searches over the years.

Employers simply aren't interested in whether someone can snap fingers and clap hands in time with the background singers on "Golden Years," and it is a skill that is incredibly difficult to work into one's resume.

It is even more difficult to work into a conversation.

But, anyway.

"Golden Years" never really seemed like it belonged on Bowie's "Station to Station" album, which came out in January 1976. Musically, I suppose it had more in common with the "Young Americans" album that was released earlier in 1975. It had kind of a funky, soul–like quality to it. It even had a touch of disco in it — but not much, really.

It was just out of place on "Station to Station." To me, "Station to Station" always seemed to have more of an edge.

Want another kick in the head? Bowie has said he offered the song to Elvis Presley, but Elvis turned him down. Can you imagine "Golden Years" sung by Elvis?

"Station to Station" was an extension of Bowie's journey into funk and soul, I guess, but "Station to Station" had more of a synthesizer sound than the "Young Americans" album — or "Golden Years," for that matter.

Bowie was in a transitional phase when "Golden Years" was released. As I understand it, his cocaine addiction was at its worst at that time, too, and he has said that he remembers little of the "Station to Station" recording sessions.

I knew nothing about his cocaine dependency when "Golden Years" was being played frequently on the radio. In my rather sheltered hometown talk of things like cocaine really didn't exist in 1975. Conversations about marijuana were about as hardcore as it got.

I don't really think about it when I hear that song now, either. But I do think of what my life was like in 1975 and the line in Bowie's song that goes, "Nothing's gonna touch you in these golden years."

And I think of all the people I knew, all the people I went to school with, my parents and their friends, my grandmothers (both of whom were still living at that time). The image is frozen in my memory as if we were all posing for a group photo. Many of those people I knew are gone now. Something obviously did touch them in the intervening golden years.

But I've been lucky, I suppose. I've had my share of setbacks, and I haven't had perfect health, but nothing has touched me that dramatically or directly. I have been touched indirectly, I guess — when I have lost people I cared about.

I recall once many years ago when I lost a friend to cancer. At the time, I was working as a teaching assistant at the school where I was completing my work on my master's degree. When I came home after the funeral, one of my students came up to me and asked me how I was doing.

"I'm all right," I told her. "If you live long enough, these things are bound to happen. You will lose people you care about."

I don't know. At the time, I guess I thought I was sharing some special wisdom with her, but it really isn't wisdom. It's something anyone can figure out — provided one lives long enough.

I've had far too many opportunities to reflect on that conversation in the years since. Many of the people I cared about are gone now. When I heard David Bowie singing "Golden Years," it never occurred to me which of my friends and family members I would lose in my lifetime. It just wasn't something I thought about. Of course, I don't remember giving much thought to the lyrics, either.

Yep, I've been lucky. I've lived all these years, these golden years, and nothing has touched me. One day, it will. It happens to everyone. It has already happened to many.

So Bowie wasn't entirely correct, was he? Something will touch us. Sometime.

It's still a catchy song.