Tomorrow, I will be 60 years old. It’s the impossibly distant age at which people used to retire with a pension and a mortgage-free house. It's okay. I've been thinking of myself as basically there for a while now – and the same thing appears to be happening to some of my dearest friends.
Technically, you could make a case for us as both boomers and Gen Xers, but we're not quite either. We’re a generation that grew up with the state providing. I still have a faint mental image of crates of school milk arriving to sit warming in the sun – the last year of the scheme, 1967, was my first year at school.
But we’re also the generation that saw the guarantee of national prosperity dissolved – I turned 11 in 1973, the year of the first oil crisis and of Britain joining the EU. Carless days followed in 1979, then in 1982 the government imposed a freeze on every wage and price in the national economy. The wheels had well and truly fallen off by time we saw it all dismantled in 1984, when I turned 22.
I have always been grateful to have received a great New Zealand liberal education, albeit one in which te ao Māori was all but invisible. John Key, who sat in the same classrooms and jogged across the same rugby fields I did, might feel the same. We did social studies with our groovy boomer teachers. The school found room for Robin Duff, New Zealand’s first out gay teacher, and the acerbic lesbian activist Jude Rankin, and was among the first to abandon corporal punishment. Blowhards would doubtless deem it “woke” these days, but it really wasn’t. It was just sensible.
The school is also where I met Fiona, who turned 60 herself in May. And now here we are, two punk rock kids in their sixties, with a house and an ongoing conversation. We never did get married and I expect we won’t. We were a generation that often didn’t – some of our oldest friends are still together, unwed. Forgive us if we were a little shocked when our children got married at 24 and women took their husbands’ names again.
Our parenthood, mine and Fiona’s, has gone on longer that most people’s. Our two autistic sons still live with us. I hope that won’t be the case forever, but it makes us a tight crew. It’s been extremely challenging at times, but I’ve been changed in profound and positive ways by the experience. My sons have helped me to understand how we’re all different. They’ve made me more tolerant, a better person and a better journalist. I love and admire them.
The journalism, the job of my life, has changed a bit. In 1981, the year I began as a cadet at the Christchurch Star, the old hot metal print process had just given way to a new computerised system, whose fridge-sized beige boxes supplanted the linotype machines. We still used typewriters in the newsroom and the print workers were trained to retype our words from the copy sheets.
It was only three years later that I was using a computer to typeset a magazine. I’ve written for AudioCulture about becoming deputy editor of Rip It Up at the beginning of 1983, and how in the journey north to the new job, “I went from being bored, frustrated and not entirely fitting in with the newsroom, to a life right in the middle of the culture I was defining myself by.” I was never quite normal after that.
What Rip It Up also did was give me a huge space to work out who I was and to teach me how to interview. Charisma is a real thing. And I was exposed to people – Malcolm McLaren, Nico, Nick Cave – who had it in spades. My education was completed over five years in Britain, where I lived in squats, worked in record shops, wrote for the music papers and generally had a whole lot of fun on my own cognisance. There’s a photograph of me at Glastonbury in 1987 – happy, high, scouting for mischief – that I like to think captures something that’s still there.
Fiona and I will be dining at Cazador tomorrow, where I’ll ask them to open the bottle of Stonyridge Larose 2006 I started keeping 14 years ago, when 60 seemed an impossibly long way away. I’ve put off the big party until September, when the air might be a bit clearer and when my broken shoulder has healed (I was knocked off my bike last month – it’s been a year). But we’ll do it.
I still like a party and, even if I don’t get out quite as much as I used to, I have gone on liking a party and a dance well beyond the age at which some folk believe that sort of thing should be put away. When a noise control officer turned up (with four police officers!) to remove the sound system from another 60th birthday party earlier this year, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of munted, greying satisfaction.
I feel tired lately, but that’s hard to disentangle from the things that are making us all tired in this moment in history. I can’t see how I’ll ever return to the mad productivity of the heyday of Public Address, or of the original radio version of this blog, which began on 95bFM in 1991. I don’t really want to, to be honest. It wouldn’t be good for my blood pressure. Some days I think I should go and get that ADHD diagnosis, other days I think I already have an understanding of my own difference.
I have other duties now, too – Mum and I are the only survivors from the household I grew up in and it’s time to pay back on the security I grew up with, the security that let me feel able to take risks when I got older. I’ve been doing a job recently that has impressed on me the toll that childhood trauma takes on many of us and I’m deeply grateful to have been safe, warm and well fed. The fact that Mum is only 22 years older than me makes me ponder mortality.
So it’s back to work next week – or at least an end to politely declining offers of it. The ACC support since my injury is expiring soon and I’ll need to scale up again. One day I’ll stop working, or at least not have to work so much. I have an idea of being the venerable sort who contributes a lyrical weekly column somewhere, if only to demonstrate that it's possible to do so without being a scared old fool.
I don't want to be like those fools you'll read in the paper tomorrow. I'd strive to be Monte Holcroft or Des Dubbelt or Rangi Walker. Liberal, philosophical and kind – especially to people younger than me who are just beginning their journey.
When I first washed up in Auckland all those years ago, people who were a little older than me showed me the ropes, took me places and were interested in what I was about. I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve had my turn as a cool kid – I think I got more than one bite, to be honest – and I’ll never resent someone bright and interesting having their turn.
Who knows? Perhaps I'll get another bite, draw a crowd again, and speak for whoever we've all become. Party at mine, you might say.
Happy Birthday, Russell, and thank you for all the good you have done for so many people.
Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3229 posts Report
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Happiest of birthdays Russ, notwithstanding the physical impairments. Looking forward to the party and catch up. As Hillary says, you’ve done a shitload of good out there and really made a difference. That’s something to be proud of.
Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 218 posts Report
we're a few years older, only got married for a green card (almost 40 years ago).
I've seen claims that the 'boomers' are a double-sized generation (as we measure them now) there are essentially two peaks in some countries' birth numbers which essentially map to "hippies" and "punks" - I distinctly remember a piece on TV1 (our only TV channel) news the summer before I started Uni that was essentially "look at these crazy kids in London with safety pins thru their noses, they say they're all going to commit suicide before they are 21"
Yeah getting old sucks, at the moment I'm mostly hoping I'll survive covid to 65 in good enough shape I can enjoy that retirement I've been saving for for 40 years. Bits of me have been wearing out, broke an achilles a while back that will never be right, I take a bunch of drugs to deal with stuff that essentially killed my parents, I've almost lived longer than my Dad.
I had a heart attack a few years back, caught it really early (suddenly feel puffed? talk to your Dr!), had a stent put in - my Dad died of essentially the same thing he was looking at them cracking his chest open and a full bypass - my stent was put in through my arm while I was wide awake, I could easily have walked out of the room afterwards - we truly live in magical times.
I've also come to realise that I'm probably different, a little, maybe a lot, aspie - it was really really tough as a kid, I've learned to cope as an adult, not really sure there's a point in a diagnosis - on the other hand now that I see my world through the eyes of today's amazing aspie kids I'm a lot less accepting of neurotypical bullshit, maybe learning to cope was a mistake, kids have so many more cool options these days
Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2623 posts Report
Happy Birthday Russell.
Thanks for all your goodness over the years and informed comment over many topics that mean a lot to me and others.
I too put off a big birthday celebration last year as you know, cos of the lurgy and still avoid crowds. Love a good dance and a good gig & long may it continue. I feel senior housing of the future will ring out with a range of dance music and it fills me with glee and contentment of growing old well. See you there!
Mangere • Since Nov 2006 • 89 posts Report
Happy birthdat Russell. I’m a year behind you in age, but everything you wrote resonated with me (started Uni in 81).
All the best as you ease back into the workforce!
Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 143 posts Report
Happy happy birthday Russell
I'm a year ahead (next week - I think that makes us both fellow July Leos?). I tried to have a big party last year but that omicron covid lockdown got in the way, but I did manage to have 25 neighbours spontaneously in my living room on the actual day, a Tuesday, a school night. Dancing and everything.
A year of being 60 has me feeling very comfortable in this new decade: I can only recommend it. Does it give us gravitas, finally? Who knows.
We were in Chch as cadets for local papers at the same time; we were in London at the same time, and possibly in the same field in Pilton in 1987. The dancing hasn't stopped here either, and I hope it won't: it's what keeps us young, right?
Hope you have a lovely week/month (a 60th birthday must be a festival, spread over at least two if not three occasions).
And welcome to your seventh decade.
auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 102 posts Report
Happy birthday, Russell. Thank you for the observations and words over the years on all the subjects. I hope someone gets you a copy of Ted Kessler's new book "Paper Cuts" on the demise of the UK music press. I imagine it'd be something you'd enjoy.
Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 104 posts Report
Happy Birthday, and thanks for all your work.
I wonder how many people realize what a valuable resource Public Address still is. There are not many places online where you can follow old stories from the Clark and Key years, revisit old debates and reflect on our wisdom and prescience (or lack thereof!). I often find myself reacting to today's news and thinking "hang on, didn't we do this before?". And the search engine says "yes, we did".
Those old dudes churning out columns could do worse than consult this website. It works better than their selective memories.
Anyway, I know you're much more than PA and I hope you enjoy your day.
Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1333 posts Report
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It’s been a while since I posted here but this was worth popping back in for. What a lovely warm post that is. You’ve said and written great things over the years and many of us owe you a great deal – I know I do and you’ve long had my back when I needed it. Thank you.
Thoroughly looking forward to that drink we managed not to have, at least not beyond the boundaries of work as great as that was, last time I was back. Next time, I promise. Have a wonderful day and let the family spoil you.
Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3284 posts Report
Happy Birthday Russell!
You've done important work here, and I know I'm not the only one who did a lot of personal development in the System, and made some wonderful friends. I value the space you created, and your tolerance of diverse approaches.
I hope this will be a great decade for you, with exciting new projects and opportunities to connect with whoever the new live wires turn out to be. :-D
PS: I wouldn't be me if I didn't occasionally (!) nitpick, what's now the EU was the EEC in 1973. But you knew that. :-)
Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3895 posts Report
Happy Birthday Russell!
Hope you have a great day celebrating all the good things you’ve done and all the good times you’ve had.
I sympathise with the feeling of suddenly reaching that age that I thought was “old”. It’s a combination of accepting that my knees aren’t 18 and appreciating the things I’ve discovered I really love doing that I never would have considered when my knees were young.
I’ve appreciated the work you did to create this community and I wonder if we might find this space where slightly longer form conversations can take place will have its time in the sun again.
Have fun and dance all night
Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report
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Happy b'day Russell. Being a last-wave Gen X cusper, I've still got plenty of time to get things done. Including the rollback of a ladder-pulling Social Darwinist system.
The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5446 posts Report
HB Russell - have long enjoyed your work - long may it continue, on your terms of course :)
Auckland • Since Mar 2019 • 1 posts Report
Best wishes - keep keeping on
Auckland • Since Aug 2022 • 1 posts Report
Cheers. I had my 80th last July. Assorted people are still turning up at our rusticated provincial plot semi sleepy hollow wanting a party. (sigh).
Keep on trucking.
levin • Since Dec 2009 • 2 posts Report