By Robin Wheeler
Dear Ladies of a Certain Age:
I feel I can address you as such, because I’m almost one of you. Forty is that certain age we discuss in hushed, angsty tones, right? I’ll be there in five months, and I’m okay with that. Mostly.
I know the ranks of female music fans drop at a certain age. We get distracted by spouses and partners, kids, careers, and at some point it gets pretty exhausting to keep up with what’s new and exciting. Especially when you crave sleep and, in my case for the first time in my life, quiet.
I happened to birth a child who required White Stripes blasting in the next room in order to nap, allowing me to keep one foot in the music world while the rest of me was trying to figure out what to do with the noisy little creature who’d invaded my life.
In the eight years since, I’ve watched many of my female friends stick to the music of our youth. Not just the music released while we were young, but the music of our parents’ generation. Because that’s our music, too. Often our first music, heard as toddlers in the background. At my house it was all Jim Croce, Dolly Parton, and the blessed presence of a four-album collection of what we’d eventually dub “garage rock”. That set probably had more to do with shaping my musical tastes than any other album. Never underestimate the power of exposing a child to Alex Chilton at an early age, even if it’s only “The Letter” on a K-Tel collection.
We might have been one of the only homes in 1970s that didn’t contain any Fleetwood Mac. This, too, molded who I am as a person. I should probably send my mom a thank-you note, just for this:
A few weeks ago Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” came on while I was writing at my favorite coffee house. I knew what I’d see when I looked around, but it still horrified me – every women in my age range stood dazed with that far-off, misty look of hopeless heartbreak in their eyes.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the song. Understated, simple, and delicate. And yes, thematically timeless. Humans always have, and always will, in times of change and turmoil, brace for an avalanche that will wipe it all away. Often the avalanche being nothing more than time and age, lost love, realizing that what you wanted then isn’t what you need now.
The original version of “Landslide” was released in 1975 when the current crop of new 40-somethings were still lifting their dresses over their heads to show off their Scooby Doo big girl underpants. And here we are, on the verge of becoming the second generation of middle-aged women who find themselves teary and lost because life and love didn’t turn out the way the other songs said they would.
So our Lloyd Dobblers might have been more like Lindsay Buckinghams in the long run. And we’re way more Stevie Nicks than Diane Court. Mid-life means realizing that maybe we were a smidge delusional through our early adulthood. Which is oh so very sad, right?
At least, it shouldn’t be. Sure, disappointment sucks. At forty, with enough adulthood experience at hand, sometimes it’s difficult to not feel like we were sold a false bill of goods. Girls can do anything! We’re the ones who didn’t know life without Roe vs. Wade and Title IX. Our moms had copies of “I Am Woman” in the LP rack and Our Bodies, Ourselves on the bookshelf.
And yet so many of us find ourselves feeling the weight of time, growing older, watching children become adults, feeling like perhaps we missed something by focusing our lives around romantic relationships that inevitably came up short, hoping for some natural disaster to wipe the slate clean. Or at least some Restalin and a tummy tuck to sweep back the hour hand.
We can do better than stopping cold while waiting for our morning latte on the way to work because a sad song nearly as old as us hits a familiar nerve, despite living in a world that’s supposedly changed.
Are we still building our lives around the mystical “you” in “Landslide”? Gosh, I hope not. Although I’m guilty of trying that myself and finding it a poor fit. Instead of waiting for something outside my control to fix the situation, I did the work to change my life so that it better suits me. It’s a weird life, but it doesn’t leave me begging to be swept away. I know I’m not the only woman who’s done this; I know plenty who have.
“Landslide” isn’t an emotional anthem for middle-age women. It’s an ode to the insecurity and weakness that leads women to put love and romance first, even though the odds are it’s going to leave them weeping into their coffee some bright April morning when they’re forty and wondering what the hell went wrong.
As the mom to an eight-year-old daughter, there is no lyric more chilling than “Well I’ve been afraid of changing because I’ve built my life around you.” If my child grows up to relate to these words in any way, it means I have failed her as a parent.
So, what’s the new soundtrack to middle age? We could default to the girl power movements of our college years and twenties – from Riot Grrls to Spice Girls to Lilith Fair. It was a start, but then the aughts hit and we all got distracted, didn’t we? Otherwise, how in the world did we let Britney Spears sneak in?
Besides, the riots and spices and liliths don’t fit us any better than our old babydoll dresses anymore.
My ladyfriends, please stop moping and waiting to be brought down. Get angry. Get excited. Turn it up and dance in front of the mirror so you can feel it. If your dancing sets off the landslide, ride it like a cowgirl on a pony – steering the bucking beast with all you have.
We’re all better than an old, weak, pretty song. That’s not us.
Editors Note: Robin has graciously compiled a playlist for you in case you’re in need of some other musical inspiration. Click on the link below:
1. You Can’t Keep Me by Amy LaVere
Cause I don’t need any kind of heartbreak resume
This ain’t the only trick I know despite what you may say.
2. Future Crimes by WILD FLAG
If you’re gonna be a restless soul
then you’re gonna be so so tired.
If you’re gonna give up on this fight
then I’m gonna call you a liar.
3. My Mistakes by Eleanor Friedberger
Why keep time travelling if it doesn’t get better on me
A second time around?
4. I Stayed Too Late by The Ettes
It’s the same old story
Told time and again.
But what makes it so boring
Is you know how it ends.
5. Let Go and Be Sweet by Exene Cervenka
Take off and be terrible
Or let go and be sweet.
6. Can’t Change Me by Lydia Loveless
People should know that this ain’t really me.
That’s gonna change how you feel about me, baby,
But it won’t change me.
7. Skeletons in My Closet by Elizabeth McQueen
Thirty-three years of living
An angel in disguise
Thirty-three years of loving
Smile with my eyes.
8. Lived in Bars by Cat Power
We swim with sharks
And fly with aeroplanes out of here.
9. My Blakean Year by Patti Smith
So throw off your stupid cloak
Embrace all that you fear
For joy will conquer all despair
In my Blakean year
10. Better Version of Me by Fiona Apple
I am likely to miss the main event
If I stop to cry or complain again
So I will keep a deliberate pace
Let the damned breeze dry my face
11. Who the Fuck? by PJ Harvey
I’m not like other girls
You can’t straighten my curls.
12. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood by Nina Simone (written by Eric Burden, of course)
Oh, oh, oh, baby – don’t you know I’m human
I have thoughts like any other one
Sometimes I find myself, Lord, regretting
Some foolish thing, some little simple thing I’ve done
I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
13. I’m a Mother by The Pretenders
You say your protection
Is proof of your affection
If I need security
I’ll keep a gun on me
14. Bad by Kirsty MacColl
I’m not crazy no I’m just mad
I don’t want to be sorry, no I want to be glad
It’s a feeling inside that I have always had
So look out world I’m about to be bad
15. Treat Me Like Your Mother by The Dead Weather
Come on look me in the eye
You wanna try to tell a lie
I’ll bet you can’t and you know why?
I’m just like your mother.
16. Dull Life by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
All hail kings and queens
Iron bars I am hard
Iron bars everything
100 years old
A hundred years old
17. Traveling Woman by Bat for Lashes
Never fall in love with potential
‘Cause you can’t see with your own eyes
All the pretty faces and sorry words
Can take away your pride.
18. Spare Me From the Mold by Gossip
Been years of desperation
For a life long sentence
Pay attention to the wild combination
Of education and desecration
You’ll know when it hits