The Fifties, So Far

I’ve never used Grecian Formula. OK, I did once a few years ago, but quit soon as I recognized the particular smell of it preceding me off Metro North and into Grand Central Terminal one morning. Twelve other guys on the train obviously were already slaves to this artificial age-resistance protest, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to be one of them. Wrinkle creams? Nope. Brand new Corvette—or worse, one of those Ferrari Testosterone Coupes? No way. Comb-over? Not me. None of that.

Forget about it.

I approached the 50s—no, not the 1950s—without fear of impending male pattern baldness (already had it), the need for supernatural horsepower or cargo pants. I think most hip-hop sucks, and not because I’m older, but because I don’t think it’s achieved the resonance or soulfulness of good, kick-ass Chicago R&B—not yet, anyway.

But maybe that’s just me.

I also approached my fifties knowing that I was about to be older than 90 percent of everybody else in the advertising business. That bothers me like a guitar that’s out of tune: sounds like shit, makes people look at you like something’s wrong with you—so I re-tune it, and jam!

But then one magic night toward the end of an October a few years ago, my daughter Julie calls me all happy and says, “Hey, Dad! Guess what?”

Now, for you other Boomers out there with a married kid, you know you are not about to hear any of the following after that kind of hello (but if you’re a kid, you may want to consider these):

“Now that I’m 29 years old, I realize that I really should have listened to everything you told me when I was growing up. You were right.”

“I’ve just won the lottery, and I’m going to pay you back every cent I owe you.”

“You know what I’ve finally realized? The ’60s did make a difference, and you were there, Dad. Cool!”

Or, “Mike and I stayed up all last night talking about life and stuff, and I just have to thank you, all these years later, for not letting me … get a tattoo/have a nose job/try out for Miss Teenage America/tutor Friday nights with Mr. Guido for extra credit in my high school Lambada class …”

Nope. None of that for me. Instead, “You’re going to be a GRANDFATHER!!!!!”

Wow! Of course! Wonderful!!! My progeny. My daughter, with child. A blessed event. Daddy’s girl, grown and married and living her own life and … almost motherly her own self. With more to come. A kid. A grandchild. The first one. A little, wrinkled, pink, tiny bundle of joy. A chip off the old block.

Old, block …

I’m going to be a grandfather. Grandpa. Granddaddy. Papaw. Gramps. Jesus, aren’t all those guys 72 or 68 and all wrinkled themselves? And retired? Yeah! But not me. I’m not that old. I’m not even old. Well, I do get mail now, unsolicited, from AARP. But I’m not old. No way. Sure, I’m a Baby Boomer, but damn, I might as well be a thirtysomething, I’m that close.

On the other hand, maybe it’s about time I embraced membership in the Boomer market. Dig this: By 2008, the entire core Baby Boomer generation (not including Echo Boomers or Shadow Boomers) will be 50 or older, making it the single most powerful segment out there. Cool. You know, the ones with … the most disposable income, the generation in better shape than any previous generation, the ones who buy convertibles, run corporations, buy second homes, influence legislation, take adventure vacations, download music, surf the Web, consume more durable goods than anybody else and who have just enough self-control to smoke an occasional joint and not go addict on us. Yeah, baby!

And then I’m thinking, why don’t a lot of marketers see this? This big, fat market with big round numbers, the pig in the python, the new old consumers, the ones with money, brains, influence, taste and … money?

We grew up in the ’60s; we practically invented cool, and we’re always going to think of ourselves as cool, one way or another. Fifty used to be 60; now it’s 35.

And check it out: Do you see what I see? Is the average target age of mass marketers today really like, 19? … Really? Do the research. That’s the wrong number. So why the hell does a lot of advertising look embarrassingly patronizing or like some research-driven version of teenage “cool”? And what the hell is cool, anyway? Instead of “fuck it,” what about … irreverent? Or just relevant? Rather than stick my nose in it, what about giving me the benefit of the doubt—or at least credit for understanding subtlety? Trust me, the entire semi-adult world ain’t going totally Howard Stern. So get over locker-room jokes and frat-boy humor and go for something … clever.

For my money, if the joke doesn’t plug in somehow, then the joke just might be on you. And chances are, it’s not even about a joke.

Or, is this just me?

Think this is old? Maybe it’s … experience.

Yeah, that’s it. Like Indy Jones said, “It ain’t the years, it’s the miles.” What I know now is it’s tough to get the miles without the years. And here’s what you get with all those miles: a liberating freedom from the fear of failure (hell, we’ve all failed already, every one of us, somehow, and we’re still here), and the willingness to fail again—which means we’re more willing to take risks, smart risks; a confidence that comes from years in the trenches; wisdom in knowing there’s more than one perfect way to solve a problem; satisfaction that comes from enabling others to succeed and get the credit for their successes; the self-assurance to accept criticism for what it is, constructive; and the ability to provide it for what it should be—instructive.

And here’s the absolute best thing that comes from all those miles: Courage. Not “fuck you” courage. But the courage to be wrong. Or right. Or acknowledge that somebody else is right, not you.

Here’s my version of “fuck you” today: Sometime soon, I’m going to buy one of those horrible, cheesy, shellacked just-for-men rugs and stuff it on my head, slightly awry, and go somewhere public—like the next concert I go to—just to watch people look at me and creep out. Wonder if I’m serious. I mean, you can’t say anything, right? You can only look on, or askance, in utter horror, like you do at those radical comb-overs, and wonder, like, what the hell is this guy thinking? That it works? That it makes him look … cool? That he’s actually fooling somebody else?

Imagine: These dudes get up in the morning, strap it on, paste it over, smooth it down and look in the mirror and say, “Yep, lookin’ good!” Well maybe, but not me.

Here’s another thing I remember from when I was your age. I thought I knew everything. Hell, I did know everything—not. Not even close. Still don’t. But now I know I don’t. And it makes me smarter. Helps me realize I’m still learning.

On the other hand, I’m still in the young man/wo-man’s ad business. So how the hell am I going to get away with it as a … grandfather?

I mean, aren’t we the first generation in the history of whatever who actually likes a lot of the same music as our kids? And doesn’t that make us some kind of cool, or something?

Put it this way—it’s not like the couples I see pushing their tax-deductible bundles of joy and wards of their au pairs in oversized strollers around Manhattan these days. They’re in their 40s already, and a lot of them look like they just walked out of Father Knows Best, carryovers from the materialism of the ’80s. They will be 65 or 70 when they’re grandparents, and that’s fine, I guess—but that’s not me.

I got married the first time when I was too young and too stupid, and then we had two kids who got old enough soon enough to hang out with Dad and learn some of his bad habits. And now one of them’s making me a grandfather, and it seems like all of a sudden.

So here I am.

But, wait! It was only five or six years ago that I was in a blues band, rockin’ in some of New York’s hottest clubs. And I still play a kick-ass Telecaster. Dre’s on my iPod. I think Saturday Night Live’s funny, again. I wear lots of black. Drank martinis in a cigar bar. Once I even posed my way through a half-latte grande iced coffee lite at Starbucks (but never again). And, I can still swish a jump shot, dude.

Whatever. And how does any of this qualify me for grandfatherhood?

Except I do qualify, because of that phone call I got. My DNA was about to find its way into another living, breathing human being, at least that’s how I think it works, and I am thrilled. I am blessed. I am about to experience what will be the third true miracle in my life, the birth of another child, this time my daughter’s.

My grandchild.

Only thing is, I told my daughter there’s just one name I’m going to answer to with this kid. Times have changed. Old ain’t old anymore. None of this Grandpa stuff.

Call me Granddude.