I caught the James Taylor concert at Fenway Park not too long ago, and it’s the first time in my life I’ve truly felt middle-aged.
As the Who sang, I’m talking about my generation.
Anyone at the concert under 50 was either working security or selling beer.
The attendees hadn’t exactly gone from being rockers to needing walkers, but you could definitely spot the trajectory.
We’re getting old.
And James Taylor has been a constant in our lives since time out of mind.
Taylor isn’t just the premiere balladeer and showman of his generation.
He’s also a symbol for what we were, what we aspired to, and how we actually turned out.
Taylor first broke through all the way back in 1968, when the Big Bang was but a distant memory and dinosaurs still walked the earth.
And what a 48 years it has been for him, and for us.
In that time, Taylor, child of a privileged Massachusetts family, wrote and performed incomparable music, left no female rock star unturned, battled heroin, went through marriages and divorces, and lost his hair, but never his voice.
A survivor if ever there was one.
And what about the audience?
Those who wandered out, wide-eyed, onto the baseball field within the enveloping arms of Fenway Park spent those same decades working hard, raising their kids, paying off their mortgages, and generally winning at the game of life.
They looked good.
For the most part, they kept the weight off and they kept their hair.
Everybody had just one beer.
There wasn’t the slightest odor of marijuana in the air, a far cry from the first time I saw James Taylor, at the Nassau Coliseum, during the Ford Administration.
Jackson Browne opened.
No announcement; he just walked out on stage, nodded to the crowd, and began to play.
As the early arrivals scrutinized his image on the giant screens to the left and right of the big stage, everybody asked everybody else the same question:
Did he have work done?
He looked good, for an older guy who had no doubt subjected himself to decades of ravages of rock and roll.
Another survivor, like Taylor, like the rest of us.
James Taylor came out to do a couple of songs with Browne at the end of his set, and eventually began his own two hours of music making.
It was sweet.
In fact, it was Sweet Baby James.
Right there, on stage, in deep center field.
People in their early sixties struggled to take selfies.
Everybody, in fact, wanted some sort of proof that “they were there” — a t-shirt, a cap, or a photo by the Green Monster, the famous hand-operated scoreboard partially and temporarily obscured by port-a-potties.
Then he began to sing, and he had 40,000 middle-aged white people at hello.
That dulcet voice, its tone and energy undimmed by decades of performance, and, in the old days, performance-diminishing drugs.
There’s something about James Taylor for people my age.
He is, as the Jesuits say of their own, “one of ours.”
He belongs to us.
We exercised our ownership in a respectful manner, singing along, but not too loud, and remaining seated, because we didn’t want to block anyone’s view.
Did I mention we’ve all gotten older?
He sang all the songs we loved; nothing new and obscure to be endured.
He gave the people what they wanted.
“You’ve Got A Friend.”
“Shower the People.”
“Fire and Rain.”
And of course, “Sweet Baby James. “
People shouted out requests, and he made the same joke he did at the Nassau Coliseum in 1975, and presumably everywhere else ever since.
He held up his playlist and said, “I paid somebody to write this down.”
Everybody laughted and stopped shouting out songs.
The weather cooperated.
Indeed, it was perfect-high 70s when the concert began; low 70s when it ended.
A dreamlike endless summer night.
When the show ended, we all filed in an orderly manner out of the park, our symbol and satyr having delivered everything we had hoped for.
I don’t know much about current pop music.
What little I hear, mostly at my yoga studio, sounds whiny, tinny, and small.
I would like to tell my children and one day my grandchildren that men like James Taylor swashbuckled their way across the earth, leading disorderly lives while writing the greatest music the world has known.
Or as he told the crowd, “I didn’t really write these songs. I was just the first to hear them, so I wrote them down.”
But when I try to play JT on YouTube for my kids, I just look middle-aged.
“Daddy,” my girls say, “this is boring.”
It’s a generational thing, and I’m talking about my generation, not theirs.
My generation belongs to James Taylor, and James Taylor is indeed, as the Jesuits would say, Ours.