I saw the Rolling Stones in concert last night in Raleigh, North Carolina. The tickets and the trip were a 50th birthday gift from my beloved husband, who knows how much I love the Stones and Mick Jagger in particular. And let me just say this right up front: I will be eternally grateful that Mick still has great hair and not an ounce of fat on him. He may not be moving like he did when I was seventeen and saw him for the first time at Madison Square Garden, but then again, neither am I. If I'm in half as good shape as he is when I hit my seventies, I will be a happy girl. But I've digressed before I've even started. Toward the end of the concert, Mick told the audience (which was composed of people as old or older than me, some of whom brought their grown children) that when the Stones played Raleigh for the first time, it was FIFTY YEARS ago. Basically before I was born. And that got me to thinking about the nature of longevity and deification, because the Stones have been treated like gods for a very long time now. The Rolling Stones are one of the few bands that have A) lived this long; B) stayed together; and C) are still performing in packed stadiums to screaming, adoring crowds. To me, they offer a lesson in what it must be like to be one of the immortal alpha males of my beloved fantasy novels. I've written about the burden of immortality before here. My thoughts have evolved as a result of seeing actual humans whose lives approximate, in a small way, characters such as Karen Marie Moning's Barrons, Thea Harrison's Dragos, and Nalini Singh's Raphael —if these characters actually existed (I think about them like they are real, but I am aware that they are fictional projections created by brilliant authors—no matter how realistic my fantasies may seem—but I’m wandering off the reservation again, aren’t I?). These [fictional] creatures have lived for thousands of years, were worshiped as gods, and possessed remarkable powers. Kind of like Mick and the boys—with fewer years behind them, of course. Is it possible to come out the other end of that kind of time, power and consistent adulation with any amount of perspective or humility? Seems like it wouldn't be, doesn't it?
In Ancient Rome, general celebrated a military triumph with a procession through Rome, the populace stood on the side of the road cheering uproariously. Amid all of this glorification, however, there was a guy standing just behind that general, whispering in his ear, "Remember thou art mortal." Talk about raining on someone's parade! But the wet washcloth routine was carefully designed by the same folks who thought of feathers and vomitoriums--you know, so you can have your cake and eat it too-- to ensure that these military superheroes didn't go off the narcissistic deep end. Mostly, they did anyway (can you say "Caligula?"-even though he was an emperor, I know, but Julius Caesar was pretty full of himself too). One has to ask, could anyone stay sane and even a little humble under such circumstances?
There might be a way--a safety valve, if you will. I'm thinking that even when life comes in the extra-large size, both in terms of length and attributes, it also throws enough curve balls at us so that if we have a modicum of common sense, we are forced, sooner or later, to understand that the vicissitudes of fate do not spare the rich, the powerful or the beautiful. Life bites us in the ass every time. The longer we live, the more opportunity for dentition in the region of our backsides.
I'm not saying life isn't grand. For me, right now, it certainly is. I am savoring the sweetness of being in love, being on vacation, having adventures and extraordinary experiences (my husband and I have agreed that the best gifts at this point in our lives are activities not stuff). But the point of this appreciation is that it isn't always like this. Life is often hard, even for the likes of Mick Jagger, who is certainly living an extraordinary existence by any measure. But even Mick is not immune to suffering; he lost his partner to suicide not too long ago, which had to bring him up short. For the likes of Barrons, Dragos and Raphael, the reversals of fortune multiplied in direct proportion to the number of years on this plane. As I've written about before, the deathwatch list for them must be interminable. Such realities keep us humble. Mostly.
But, as we know from reading misses Moning, Harrison and Singh, not all immortal powerhouses got the humility memo. Many just lose their marbles and become sociopathic nightmares. But hey, that happens to us mortals, too, especially the ones who are lulled into a specious sense of self-importance because they have achieved some measure of success, fame, or influence. They forget that we are given our gifts to use for the higher good, not to inspire the likes of Carly Simon to write songs about our outsized vanity.
I'm thinking the Romans got it right, although maybe not about the group bulimia thing. Remembering thou art mortal, even when it's not true, like for my paranormal alpha gods, is good advice. It's good advice me, and it's good advice for Mick Jagger too, because while he has held up remarkably well, his strut is a little more subdued and his voice has a little less projection than it once did. He’s got to be feeling the burden of his years, and the inexorable march of time makes everyone humble, even the giants. Still, I'd give a lot to have the moves like Jagger, for however long his longevity lasts.