JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Fading fast, fading away …

At the 1989 Mahopac High junior prom—when I had a chance of future importance.
At 1989 Mahopac High junior prom—when I had a future.

Odds are you didn’t read this, but a few days ago the New York Times ran a blistering, brilliant review of Mariah Carey’s new Las Vegas show. The piece, written by John Caramanica, told the familiar-yet-crushing story of a once-upon-a-time shining star whose better days are now behind her. Carey, Caramanica writes, still has her moments, but “her once-transcendent voice is like decaying manufacturing machinery: It still churns, but the product might be polished or dinged. You don’t know until it happens.”

Sigh.

I found myself addicted to Caramanica’s piece for two reasons:

1. Because the writing was absolutely brilliant.

2. Because what he describes as Carey’s plight is actually happening to, well, us.

By “us,” I mean people of a certain age. I mean me. I mean, perhaps, you. I mean singers like Carey and Ben Folds and Busta Rhymes and Celine Dion and Toni Braxton and Alanis Morissette. I mean athletes like Iverson and Marbury and Garnett and Jerry Stackhouse and Gary Sheffield and Rick Reed and Mike Piazza and Chad Pennington and Wayne Chrebet. I mean those of us born in the 1970s and, in some cases, early 1980s. We still exist, obviously, and will for a long time. But our days in the pop culture and athletic and (often) cinematic sun have faded. We have been replaced by younger versions of ourselves, just as we once stepped in for our elders. In some cases, we hang on—desperately clawing. The Cleveland Indians recently called up Bruce Chen, age 37, from the minors. Andre Miller, 39, somehow logged minutes at point guard for the Kings in 2014-15. Jay-Z and Eminem, both well into their 40s, retain (for the moment) Top 40 radio existences. Jim Carrey remains a movie star, though for how long?

I’m not sure what got me thinking about this. Perhaps a recent birthday—my 43rd. Or a receding hairline. Or seeing my daughter, almost 12, no longer need me for nightly tuck-ins. I’m a guy who’s addicted to life math, and while I’m OK being halfway to 86, I’m not OK living a mere 22 years from retirement age. Or thinking that half of my (standard) working life is over.

I used to wear baseball caps backward, because I love baseball caps backward. But I glanced in the mirror a few months ago and saw not a peppy guy with a cool hat, but a middle-aged man trying to be what he can’t. I listen to lots of modern hip-hop, but I’m starting to struggle to relate. Not to the musical messages, but to (and this might sound odd) the image of me listening to modern hip-hop. In other words, there’s something offputting about a balding 43-year-old in a Nissan Rogue saying, “Wiz Khalifa’s got it going on.”

I wish I were comfortable with all this. But I’m not. If my life had a theme song, it’d be this. I’d like to say I don’t feel 43, but I’m not entirely sure what 43 is supposed to feel like. Am I now required to listen to big band and complain about the chicken? Am I no longer allowed to dress certain ways, attend certain events? Can I be attracted to a 23-year-old woman as she passes—or am I now a leering old pervert? Can I wonder what Drake’s up to, or does that make me desperate?

It’s all so dizzying.