An interview with songwriter Terence Blacker about his new one-man show
Where did the idea for The Shock of the Old come from?
It came from my life, basically. Like a lot of people, I had expected that, when I reached old age, it would be an easy, gentle process that would just happen to me. The world tells you that getting old is simple, like slipping into an old pair of slippers. For me, it wasn’t like that at all. I reached a stage in my life when I felt the same as I had always felt but I began to realise that people were seeing me differently. Suddenly I was this old guy! Since I’ve started performing The Shock of the Old, I’ve talked to people in their sixties and seventies and I’ve found that I’m not alone. Getting on is more complicated than you think.
So is there something different about ageing in the 21st century?
Definitely. Our parents’ generation, and those before them, had a pretty straightforward view about retirement and beyond. You stepped down, moved aside, made way for those coming along, and had a good rest from the hurly-burly of life and work. My generation – I suppose we’re what some people call the baby boomers – don’t see it in that way at all. We’re not going quietly. For us, reaching this age is another adventure, a chance to kick up your heels and do no things. Look at Richard Branson – he gets to his seventies and fires himself into space. Think of all those old rockers, still filling stadiums around the world.
That’s a good thing, surely.
Of course it is. But it also brings new pressures and expectations. These days when you reach your sixties or seventies, there are all these adventures and new challenges ahead of you. That can do strange things to your head. It’s a really fascinating and funny time of life which in the past people have taken for granted.
The Shock of the Old is a show of songs and stories. Why did you take the musical route to look at age?
Songs are a great way to convey feelings and thoughts and jokes in a catchy and funny way. When I first realised I was having a bit of an old-age crisis, it was songwriting which helped make sense of it all. Looking back on my songs now, I can see that getting older with all the changes that it brings has been a bit of theme of mine for some time.
What sort of changes are you talking about?
The changes that happen to you with age are as dramatic as anything that you’ve been through in your teens or mid-life. One of my songs is about old guys belatedly discovering their inner rocker – it’s called Sad Old Bastards with Guitars – and another, called I’d Rather be French, is about the perils of following that other perilous path, retiring abroad. Then there are the confusions a strange and rapidly changing world. I have a song called Fake News which tackles the weirdness of the internet. Another about trying to keep up with political correctness. It’s called I Can’t Call My Baby ‘Baby’.
What do you hope people will get out of The Shock of the Old?
It’s a show about making the best of where you are. If you’re lucky, old age is an inevitable part of your life. What the songs and stories are saying is that we shouldn’t take that for granted, or think it’s just more of the same. The show isn’t just for those like me who are on the grey front line. It’s for people looking ahead to it and wondering how they’re going to deal with it. Reaching old age in our crazy, mixed-up 21st century world is a tricky and sometimes strange business, and I take an optimistic view of it all. If the early shows are anything to go by, the show helps lift people’s spirits and makes them laugh.