I had to admit I was initially skeptical of the prospect of 70- and 80-year-old senior citizens singing rock songs from the likes of Sonic Youth, The Clash and the Ramones. But in the hands of The Young@Heart Chorus -- and with the arrangements of 54-year-old director Bob Cilman -- the songs take on new meaning. Given the ages and circumstances of the songs' interpreters, it's hard to hear them the same way again. This week, the nearly two dozen retirees from Northampton, Mass., appear on both Leno (Wednesday) and Ellen (Thursday), doing their part to help promote the documentary they're featured in, Young@Heart, out Friday, April 18.
The film is billed by its director Stephen Walker as a rock musical about getting old, but I'd say that shortchanges the subject manner a bit, a tendency that's also apparent in his over-use of narration -- the only issue I have with an otherwise perfect documentary. (Why couldn't he just shut up and let the movie tell the story?) At the center of the film is our own mortality -- and mortality is more than just some elephant in the room for folks near the end of their lives. Over the years, the chorus has lost more than 70 of its members to the inevitability of time, even losing a couple during the making of the film. One of those deaths leads to the incredible, touching moment of a duet that's forced to become a solo, as the remaining singing partner, Fred, lends some gravity to Coldplay's "Fix You" (video.)
The film challenges not only our perceptions of age and getting old, but also our initial perceptions of the songs themselves. When the chorus takes on Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia" (video) or David Bowie's "Golden Years" (video) both the lyrics and the music are lifted to a place you wouldn't think they would go. What this brings to mind is the outsider music of The Langley Schools Music Project, a recording of Canadian elementary school children singing rock songs of the time (1976-1977). Where the octogenarians take Bowie is not that different from where the nine-year-old voices in the suburbs of Vancouver take "Space Oddity." They're just at different ends of life.
Playlist: Picks for the week
Monday, April 14
Tuesday, April 15
FUEL: The Daily Habit: Perry Farrell
Wednesday, April 16
Thursday, April 17
Friday, April 18
Saturday, April 19