Sunday, September 27, 2020

Avril Lavigne is How Old???

In her kitchen, like... last week! Seriously?
Happy Birthday, Avril Lavigne!

The Sk8er Grrl is 36 years old, and everyone finds it hard to believe. "She hasn't aged a DAY since 'Complicated' came out in 2002!", people cry out with a mixture of amazement, admiration, and... I don't know, maybe envy?

They are exaggerating.

First of all, 36 is not that old. 36 is still young! Secondly, she has "grown" artistically and survived some very difficult experiences (the insanity of superstardom and the paralysis of serious illness). I'm struck by the fact that she's "still in one piece," she's sober (and pretty much always has been, in spite of her rebellious role-playing), she's relatively normal (as rock stars go). Aging? C'mon, she has “people” to make her look good, plus she is just one of those small-sized folks who is just always going to "look young."

Avril's "ageless look" may be a crisis for the younger generation. People my age don't think much of it. We are much more likely to envy her Beverly Hills mansion, her swimming pool, and her 55-million-dollar net worth. (Greed lives longer than all the other vicious temptations.) I'm actually impressed that she has not squandered her money, and that she invests her time advocating for people with chronic illnesses. I'm grateful for her dedication to fighting Lyme Disease.

But I get how folks born in the '80's might be freaking out. Calm down, peeps. I know. This is not really about Avril. It’s about a more fundamental experience you’re going through that has you a bit... unsettled. The bottom line is this: if Avril Lavigne is in her mid-30s, then so are you. Yikes!😟

Dear Millennials everywhere, I feel your pain. "Where did those years go?" you ask, as your hairlines have begun to recede, your backs are aching, and you complain about all the awful music kids listen to these days...😏 (you're right about that, by the way😝). You are perplexed by the person who stares back at you from the other side of the mirror - a person who every day looks more and more like your parents. You wonder, "What happened to my 18-year-old self?"

Generally, you still "feel" the same as when you were 18, at least in terms of your physical energy. If you have a family of your own, of course, you can't help being aware of many "lifestyle changes" that come with having kids (n.b. Avril does not have kids of her own; she has nieces and nephews and is undoubtedly the cool Auntie). Parenthood changes us in many ways. Although, according to most generational studies today, your kids are probably all under 12 years old, which means you can still put them all together in the house with a babysitter and go out for a fun night with your friends - at least once in a while (which means the-big-changes in your lifestyle and sense of identity and responsibility are yet to come; I can't explain how it will all happen, but I advise you to "buckle up" and get ready for a "bumpy ride"!😳😜 #DontWorryItsNotThatBad).

But whether or not you have families of your own, you all notice some basic differences in daily life. Cars today seem to require more bodily maneuvers to get out of - not like when you used to just open the door and bounce out in a single effortless motion without even thinking about it. Some of your old clothing has shrunk!! You think, "How did I ever fit into this?" Fortunately, there is usually a corollary question: "WHY did I ever want to wear this? Or you go to the grocery store (I'm assuming, or at least hoping, that you're not an alcoholic) and you open the beer fridge. As you grab your favorite craft beer or - better still! - a bottle of Belgian Ale brewed by monks according to a thousand-year-old secret recipe, you look over at the six-packs of Bud and think, "I can't believe we drank that stuff in college!"

I empathize, partially, with what you're going through. I am not a Millennial. I was your undergraduate university professor back in 2002, and I was a little older than you are now. You have changed, grown, and matured much more than you realize. I am so proud of most of you (and if you're actually reading this, you're probably near the top of that category). In any case, my ears are still open for you and my virtual office (on Facebook, Instagram, etc) is open, anytime.

But back to MUSIC: in 2002 you kids were sitting in the grass around campus with your CD boom boxes and I would walk by and think, "What awful music kids listen to these days!" And I was right... for the most part.😏 But there were some diamonds in all that mud, and I might have noticed them if I had been paying more attention. Some of you were definitely tuned into the good stuff back then.

Avril wore a loose tie? Everybody wore loose
ties! She actually stopped wearing the ties when
she realized that kids were imitating her.
Half of her lifetime ago, Avril Lavigne was a bright and talented kid from the "five-thousand-person-town" of Napanee, Ontario. She skateboarded, was a good hockey player who could hold her own on the ice with the guys ("always-beat-the-boys-up"). She was a nice girl known to everyone in town, who "made-her-money-cutting-grass" and, it seems, "got-fired-by" the local "fried-chicken" ... ummm... restaurant(?). She also sang at local county fairs, book stores, and churches in that "small town, Na-pa-nee!" that had no idea it was on the verge of becoming an international tourist attraction (for a few years, anyway). [Italics quotations from the song "My World"]

They may not have realized that young Avril had enormous aspirations, fierce ambition, remarkable talents, tons of energy, and - to top it all off - that indefinable, potentially great, potentially dangerous quality that makes people natural leaders or lets them get away with doing whatever they want: charisma. But in order for things to happen, she needed to leave the small town and head for New York (and later Los Angeles). She got a contract and began recording (all the stuff that never got released can be found without too much trouble on YouTube, and some of it is very nice).

Avril's special singing style was shaped by her particular background and experience growing up - with roots in Evangelical Christian music and the Canadian strain of Country music, then her later discovery of Rock and increasing fascination with it. The result was a voice that could be sweet, sassy, bold, and sorrowful - that could disarm you with soft tones and then crash down on you in a storm of euphoria or anger. She could bend words over a variation of notes, wiggle vowels beyond their grammatical limits, and add nuances and character to her intonation like fine brush strokes on a painting.

Avril had immense versatility and lots of her own ideas by the age of 17, and she resisted efforts by some of the "suits" at the record company to force her into a targeted genre. But she was too talented to ignore. Thus, many hands went into the making of her first album, and the resulting mashup was recorded on both coasts with several different producers and different musicians and song co-writers. The kid couldn't do it by herself, but she unified all the various (and in themselves quite substantial) contributions from others and made it all her own by her inimitable voice and her personal charisma - that "indefinable quality" that gained her a world of wildly loyal fans, made her a pop superstar for over a decade, and eventually got her into more than a little trouble. In this moment, however, she was just beginning to spread her wings.

By the time you all came back to school in the Fall of 2002, Avril Lavigne's voice was everywhere. The album Let Go was a tour-de-force, an astonishing debut. You kids heard it then, whereas I didn't really hear it until some years later. But it's still fresh even today. It's a classic, from your era, that can take its place alongside the "classic rock" of my era.

Just a word about words: No one since The Beatles has taken that overused word "Yeah" and raised it to such lyrical, evocative, stunning heights as Avril does in "I'm With You" (and in basically every other song she sings it). While I'm on the topic, there are also her signature "La-La-La-La..." and "Na-Na-Na-Na..." tossed in everywhere: in the background, the chorus, the lead voice, at the beginning, the end, the transition, or making up a whole verse, puntuated with a "Yeahh-ee-yah-ee-yeh-Yeahh"! A cynic would grumble that "she probably couldn't think of any more words." I say it's brilliant. It's the simple, spontaneous, exuberant outburst of affirmation and possibility - the echo of the freedom of childhood - made into art. It lights up everything.

It never gets old.

And you kids shouldn't worry about getting old either. Experience enriches memories, so that revisiting them revives and renews the sense of wonder through which we grow as persons.

A big "yeah, yeah, yeah" to that.

Avril Lavigne just turned 36 years old, and Let Go recently turned 18.(!) Above is a recent still shot of Avril playing the piano at home on an Instagram video. Next, of course, is the album, with the famous "baggy-pants." (The Japanese edition. They went crazy for her in Japan.)