Michael Milton, Local Voice
Photo credit: Flickr.com

“The Art of Seeing” by Michael Milton

Ring out the old, ring in the new

Ring, happy bells, across the snow.

The year is going, let it go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true…

-Alfred Tennyson

Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon

Happy 2019!  Here we all are, another year behind us and, if the fates allow, a full new year of possibilities stretching ahead.

I’ve been thinking that recent technological advances have made it easy for some to disregard the old and to only look excitedly towards the newest, the fastest and the shiniest. Technology pulls us — some unwillingly–towards a sort of speed-of-light existence. And there are those among us–many not reared in a computerized world–resisting the accelerated, digitalized cosmos of their oftentimes younger, Cloud-connected counterparts.

Young folks on their devices. Photo credit: www.mullenlowe.com

How do different generations most comfortably culturally co-exist, accepting, at the very least, that artistic riches are available in the exploration of both old and new?

During the holidays, I found myself waiting in a long line inside a local multiplex cinema. The earlier showing of my movie was not over yet. I had popcorn in one hand and a soda in the other, so no way to pass the time scrolling through my emails, one of the few things I know how to do on my phone. Instead, I eavesdropped on a conversation going on behind me. Two youngish-sounding men were discussing someone they called “Ri-Ri.”  Apparently, they were also big fans of “Drax Project,” “Snarky Puppy” and were enthralled with some TV personality named Rachel Bloom.

How do different generations most comfortably culturally co-exist, accepting, at the very least, that artistic riches are available in the exploration of both old and new?

Unfamiliar with their entertainment icons, I looked for other distractions. I noticed that twenty or so feet above us — and ringing the entire lobby of the theater — were written the last names of film stars from preceding decades: Hope, Hayworth, Hepburn, Valentino, Wayne, Ladd, Clift, Bergman. On and on it went. I challenged myself to fill in first names as quickly as I could. In doing so, I had to slowly turn in a circle on myself; Bob, Rita, Katharine, Rudolph, John, Monty, Alan, Ingrid came tripping effortlessly out of me, not a Ri-Ri or a Drax to be found.

When I finished, one of the men behind me asked, “What were you looking at?” He really was quite young, twenty at the very most. I pointed up at the last names. “I was visiting with some of my favorites,” I said, hoping my voice was filled with the right balance of reverence and wistfulness with just a soupcon of judgment for their own –in my opinion– paltry icon list.  He looked up and studied the names for a moment and then looked back at me.

Quite innocently he asked, “Who are they?”

Well, touché, young- man- in- the- movie- line, touché. Judge not lest thee be judged. I suppose I could have retorted, “Who are they? They are actors who have all returned to dust, my friend, as your Ms. Bloom will return someday,” but I resisted that urge. I didn’t want to ruin the outcome of the story of their lives because, if they are anything like I was at their age, they probably don’t yet fully grasp the grand finale we all share.

In another 25 or 30 years (if I’m lucky), I will be gone. When I pass, the two men behind me on line — then no longer quite so young — will be reading other names ringing the ceiling of some other theater (which then might include Rachel Bloom and Ri-Ri) and they will be eavesdropping on a conversation behind them on line, hearing about icons from now yet-to-be- created bands, films and television shows whose names will be unknown to them.

Snarky Puppy. Photo credit: Bandwagon Asia

And so it goes.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

These are the words, reminders, of the two moments we all share, two words which ought to make everyone of any age on this planet a more closely knit family. We are all born and we will all die, no matter how variegated our individual lives are between those two points in time.

Tick, tock.

There is no religion, no race, no particular sexuality, no amount of money, no iPhone, no level of notoriety that will save any of us from our shared fate. In fact, we are, at 20, as vulnerable to our passing as we are, well, at my age.

Life gives us an opportunity to find at least a few cultural connections — whatever age, race or religion –throughout our journeys.

How many of you think you will never die? Oh, come on. Don’t be shy. All right, then, I’ll start; I don’t think I’ll ever die. Let me be clear. I’m pretty sure that you will die. But I couldn’t possibly. I feel so, alive. Here I am, writing these words. I have a career, friends, a wonderful home life, future plans. How could this all go away someday?

And yet, it will. Depressing or morbid as it may be and whatever our age, it is important to remember this thing we all share; we are all on the road towards “tock.”

Life gives us an opportunity to find at least a few cultural connections — whatever age, race or religion –throughout our journeys between “tick” and “tock.”

I like to think that my two young friends at the cineplex went home and looked up a few of the names of my idols in the lobby of the theater. I discovered that “Ri-Ri” is Rihanna, a recording artist and actress. Drax Project is a New Zealand band. Rachel Bloom has a hit television show.

Finding interest in another generation’s cultural touchstones is a challenge.

When I was 20, I assumed I would be au courant forever. And yet, I am here to report that my interest in being hip lessens with every passing year. My parents frowned on The Beatles, Grace Slick and disco dancing. I thought their Bing Crosby, Loretta Young and anyone who played the accordion corny. Each new generation has their own defining artists who create the music, words and performances that capture youthful imaginations. Is it the speed at which this cultural change-over happens that perforce creates a sort of generational nose-thumbing? Mine are better than yours! And in our most recent generations, who has the time to learn what came before when so much is coming at us right now?

Dances passed down through the centuries. Photo credit: www.blog.apollocamper.com

Since the coming of the Industrial Age (and now, by extension, the Computer Age,) generations have shed cultural skins with growing velocity. In the world before the invention of the steam engine, cotton gin and telegraph, the world was a far more fixed place. Centuries were marked by an agrarian clock not a Silicon Valley timepiece. The folk dances of your parents were the very dances you taught your children; tunes were passed on, generation to generation, repeated around fires or out in the fields. The closest thing you had to a “star” was the village shaman or your best warrior. You married who you were told to marry.

Tick, tock. I can pretty much definitely say I will never listen to Drax Project. But nor will I do an eye roll when I hear their name. I will continue to worship at the feet of my idols; James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland.  Some of you are probably already wondering, “Who are they?”

American actress and singer Judy Garland (1922 – 1969). Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

Our lives don’t need to adhere completely to Tennyson’s “out with the old,” but neither do we need to dig in our heels and disdain the new. We are, ultimately, an amalgamation of both.

Welcome to 2019!


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of BK Reader.

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Michael Milton

Michael Milton worked as an Associate Producer with Marty Richards, Sam Crothers and Robert Fryer at The Producer Circle Co. in New York City for over twenty years. Broadway: THE LIFE (2 Tony Awards),...

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