When I was growing up in the 1950s, Victoria Day (May 24) was known informally as Firecracker Day.
It was a highly anticipated night when families in my East London neighbourhood pooled their resources for a big after dark backyard display.
In those days, kids were also allowed to buy firecrackers by law in the weeks leading up to the 24th. They came in all shapes and sizes, but everyone’s favourite was the Cannon Cracker. Buddy’s Booth on Hamilton Road always had the best selection.
The highlight of the night was the burning of the School House. All the kids cheered with glee.
This all changed when Dominion Day became Canada Day and supplanted Victoria Day as the night for igniting major fireworks displays.
Only Rock superstars Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce had the audacity to call their new supergroup Cream, as in “cream of the crop.” In fact, they were the first Rock supergroup.
Cream’s 1966 debut album, Fresh Cream, was unlike anything heard before. Here you had three musical virtuosos playing together, yet each approaching his instrument like a soloist.
Tunes like their cover of Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, Sleepy Time Time, Rollin’ and Tumblin’, and, of course, Ginger Baker’s extended drum solo on Toad were proof that the group was the best of the best. I remember buying the album at London’s Bluebird Records because I thought it had a cool cover.
It’s another album that had a significant influence on my musical career and tastes.
To be sure, no album had more of an influence on my musical career and tastes than Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 debut LP, Are You Experienced?
Considered to be one the greatest Rock albums of all time, the disc catapulted the young Seattle-born guitarist to fame. I still remember hearing Purple Haze and Foxy Lady for the first time and asking out loud, “Who the fuck is that?”
Manic Depression and Third Stone From The Sun completely blew my mind. Up until that time, I considered myself a pretty decent drummer. After hearing Mitch Mitchell’s thunderous, fill-laiden playing behind Hendrix’s soloing, I realized it was time to put in a lot more hours of practicing.
After hearing this album, we were all a little more experienced. I was lucky enough to see Jimi live at Maple Leaf Gardens in May, 1969. And, yes, he was that fucking loud!
Since no one has asked me, I will identify some of the LPs which were an influence on my musical career and tastes.
Let’s begin with The Essential Gene Krupa, an album my parents bought me for Christmas in 1963 when I showed an inclination for playing the drums. It includes his signature tune, “Sing, Sing, Sing”, and many others like “Let Me Off Downtown” and “Drum Boogie”. I played it for hours and I still have it.
Oh, BTW, I received another album that same Christmas, Beatlemania, by a new group from Liverpool, England. I really liked “I Saw Her Standing There.”
When I retired from a 30-year teaching career in 2008, I was always quick to remind people that I was only retiring from teaching high school History, not from life.
At age 57, I had plenty of productive years ahead of me and lots of things on my bucket list. I wanted to pursue more freelance writing opportunities. I wanted to spend more time playing my drums. And, most important, I wanted to spend more time with my life-partner, Val, and my two lovely granddaughters.
A year later I was writing freelance for a local marketing firm, submitting articles to several local magazines, jamming with as many musicians as possible, and spending many precious hours spoiling my granddaughters. By October 2009, I was publishing a monthly independent arts publication called The Beat Magazine.
Now in 2020, at age 69, I think I am living a pretty fulfilling life and have many older friends who are doing likewise.
Thus, I applaud Daniel Levitin’s new book, Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives, with its call for a new approach to how society thinks about aging and older people. It is a welcome addition to the growing canon on aging. In a society and culture that have permitted ageism and outdated perceptions of its older members to endure far too long, Levitin’s book is a clarion call to action.
Levitin is a neuroscientist and cognitive psychologist who is the Founding Dean of Arts & Humanities at the Minerva Schools at KGI in San Francisco, and Professor Emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University. His previous books, This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, The Organized Mind and A Field Guide to Lies, are best-sellers. To be sure, his proven skills as a “popular” scientific writer are on full display in his new book.
Focusing on three main topics, Development of the Human Brain, Choices and Longevity, Levitin eschews the traditional belief that with aging comes inevitable physical and mental decline. He argues that “aging is not simply a period of decay, but a unique developmental stage that – like infancy or adolescence – brings with it its own demands and its own advantages.”
There are lots of scientific facts and statistics in the book, but certainly not too many to deter readers from finishing its 500+ pages. Levitin intersperses the hard evidence with dozens of case studies and examples from his research, as well as his own experiences. It all makes for a very interesting and informative read. Indeed, he provides plenty of motivation for readers to keep their minds active and engaged.
In light of the very real existential threat posed to those over 65 by the COVID-19 pandemic, Levitin’s refreshing inspirational interpretation of aging brings with it even more relevance and urgency. Older Canadians must not be seen as “expendable” as some politicians and business leaders would have us believe, nor must they be pitied or have targets on their backs.
With longevity increasing and more older Canadians enjoying full, satisfying post-retirement lives, Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives, is a timely book that should appeal to all age groups.
Remember, none of us is getting any younger and no one gets out of here alive.