'Feel the city breakin' and everybody shakin' and we're stayin' alive, stayin' alive ...
ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive. Stayin' alive. Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive.'
I woke yesterday morning to the radio playing snatches of Bee Gees music to accompany the sad news about the death of Robin Gibb.
It told about the singer-songwriter's erudition. He was a man of parts, well read in many subjects. In his later years he campaigned for a London memorial to the veterans of Bomber Command in the Second World War.
But it's as a musician that he has arguably done the greatest good. We view popular music as a transient entertainment but in doing so we sell it short. It has a more important place in our lives than many of us realise.
Just for a few seconds yesterday, as I listened to Stayin' Alive, I remembered vividly what it was to be really young. It and countless other songs are the soundtrack to a generation. They take us all back.
Stayin' Alive would be a good theme tune for our nursing home years. Our? I'm talking about people my age, the tail end of the baby boomers. Musicians like Robin Gibb and Donna Summer, who died last week, have provided us with an extraordinary archive.
Today's nursing home residents nod along to How Much Is That Doggy in the Window or sway to Que Sera Sera and Coming Through the Rye. They're pleasant enough tunes but very much in keeping with residents swathed in beige cardigans and cosy slippers.
Their songs have a U-certificate. They are so "suitable" they imply that the elderly humming along to them were born in their 80s: that when they shuffle along on their zimmers, they have always been thus.
It's a worm that enters the minds of carers and younger relations. It's to be resisted at all costs. While you remain an individual you will be treated as such.
Cliff Richard knew that. He had a blown-up picture of his mother as a young woman on the wall of her care home room.
Happily there'll be less cause to mistake my generation for the ever ancient. When the ambient beat has the tempo of Night Fever or when the chill-out music is I Feel Love, our carers will be reminded constantly that while we might have fore-shortened futures, we've had a past worth remembering.
Do something now. Make a list of the music you associate with the happiest times in your life. The music of our youth is the key to happiness in old age, according to the neurologist Oliver Sacks.
A soundtrack can trigger an internal movie of faces and feelings from the past. The stronger the remembered emotion, the more brain activity occurs. It happens in an area closely associated with memory. It's among the last places affected by Alzheimer's so even people with dementia benefit from old favourites. Dr Sacks describes its transformative effect.
He tells how a patient who is sitting head down and vacant will smile and perk up as a song draws to mind long forgotten faces, places and events. It lifts the mood. The effect lasts for hours, thereby enhancing the quality of life. Dementia, he explains, robs the sufferer of their autobiography and therefore of their identity. Music gives it back in snatches.
That's why it's important to have a note of our personal key pieces. We don't want to be listening to The Beatles when we fell in love to the Rolling Stones.
What if we're classical or blues fans? Think what it would be like to be condemned to someone else's taste and be force-fed Kylie.
Perhaps we should have a black list as well. If there's a song that (along with the bottle of wine and an entire chocolate cake) failed to cure a broken heart, we can leave it in oblivion.
To the end of her long life my mother could sing the words of all her old favourites. All she needed was someone to sing the first line and her eyes would light up and she'd carry on to the end. Quite often, she would then say, "Now remind me dear, what is your name?"
Of course, you don't have to be suffering from dementia to know the pleasure of a long-forgotten melody that emerges as part of someone else's Desert Island Discs. The programmes are curiously compelling as a result.
What excellent music baby boomers have to choose from. In this – as in everything else – we are among the most fortunate people ever to have inhabited the planet.
We scooped the pool from free school milk to free university education with maintenance grants. We spent our student years in protest marches. We had the pill, feminism and high fashion at low prices. We've enjoyed careers, affordable housing, low air fares and cheap cars. We've known peace, democracy, free speech and ever-increasing tolerance. More major diseases are conquered ever year.
If our luck continues to hold, maybe Alzheimer's will be curable before we arrive at old age. We have revolutionised every decade we entered. Why would we stop at the door of the nursing home?
But even if we too fall into the grip of Alzheimer's, even if our life shrinks to the present moment, thanks to that greater understanding of how the brain works, we can revisit our happiest moments daily.
Thanks to the body of work compiled by Gibb, Summer and talents like the Beatles we can be transported back to romantic beach barbecues. We can march again to We Shall Overcome or drive in open-top cars while singing along to Don McLean's American Pie.
Friends and family visit nursing homes. The rest rush by, not willing to enter until we have to. Will that be the case when rock and pop are drifting onto the street? Will they be attracted to share the final hurrah of people happy with today, not wasting time dwelling on the pitfalls of Yesterday?
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