Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in 1967.  I was nineteen years old, a junior in college.  Like many of that time, place and age, I listened to the album hundreds of times, in various states of consciousness, some of them more conscious than others.  If asked to produce the entire album from memory, prompted only by the song titles, I’d guess that I would get about 98 percent of the words, and all of the melodies.

Which is to say that turning sixty-four, which I did just the other day, is a very big deal for what we called, in the words of another rock song, “my g-g-generation,” myself included.  Lennon and McCartney, only a few years older than me, may have been able to jump over the decades and see themselves at 64, but back in 1967 I could not.  Yet here I am, and in this as in so many other matters, the Beatles got it right.

“When I’m Sixty-four” is a love song.  The singer (without loss of generality let’s call him Paul) is proposing to his girl, offering a life together, looking back upon that life from a vantage point that is maybe forty years away.  As I sing the song today I’m singing it to the girl I’m with now, and have been with for the past 27 years. Sixty-four with her couldn’t be clearer.  It’s my life — yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  In 1967 my act was not sufficiently together to be singing the song to anyone. Taking the liberties with time that are inherent in the song and this rumination upon it, I hear myself singing to the same girl then, and looking back from now.

Now to business.

When I get older, losing my hair,

Many years from now.

Well, older for sure, and many years from then.  I have the good fortune to have what is still a pretty full head of hair.  It’s gray, and it’s thinner and less curly than the Isro that I sported back in the day.  But the point of the line is that at 64 I Iook my age and feel the decades between then and now.

Will you still be sending me a valentine,

Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

Which is to say, will we be acting like lovers?  Yes. Valentines, birthday greetings, bottles of wine, holding hands at the movies, more.

If I’d been out ’til quarter of three,

Would you lock the door?

I’ve never figured out what this line is about.  Not then, not now.  And as it turns out, the premise is moot.  Except for the occasional redeye, if I’m out after midnight the girl is with me.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four?

Well, yes.

{And now the mood changes,  we go to a minor key, and the ebullient clarinet disappears, for the nonce, from the orchestration}

You’ll be older, too.

And if you say the word,

I could stay with you.

This imagining of love forty-years hence is the heart of the song for me now, but was unimaginable then.

{Back to bouncy tune with clarinet}

I could be handy, mending a fuse

When your lights have gone

You can knit a sweater by the fireside,

Sunday morning go for a ride.

A nice traditional division of household sex roles, in which we take care of each other.  What with the advent of the circuit breaker I don’t so much mend fuses and instead provide general tech support, but the sentiment holds up.  And Marta doesn’t knit, but she cooks, which works out well for me, because I eat.  Sunday morning we walk the dogs, or sometimes (more likely Sunday afternoon) go for a canoe ride or a bike ride.  And (see next line) Marta does the garden and digs the weeds.  It is my pleasure to watch and admire. Who could ask for more?

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,

Who could ask for more?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four


Every summer we could rent a cottage

In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear.

As it turns out we like to take vacations in different places every year, most recently Scotland, Italy, the Southwest U.S., and the Adirondacks. We haven’t yet tried the Isle of Wight. Another promise from 1967 kept, at least in spirit.

We shall scrimp and save.

Grandchildren sitting on your knee

Vera, Chuck and Dave.

It turns out that we have been somewhat more prosperous than we expected, and we have only the one grandchild, who sits on knees and also Skypes with us, which the Beatles did not contemplate.  In the song, these lines are in the minor key and there is a sadness to them, perhaps suggesting that grandchildren are an insufficient compensation for the decades of scrimping, saving and growing older.  Might it be that the 20-something Beatles who wrote the song already saw the awareness of mortality that comes with being 64, and that they couldn’t yet see the pure joy of grandchildren?

I have nothing much to say about the rest of the song — it’s fun, and it rhymes, and it’s back in the major key with the bouncy meter and the ebullient clarinet.   He asks for her commitment and ends with “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”

The 45 years between then and now have zoomed by.  I think it’s safe to say that every time the number 64 (a beautiful number in so many ways, a power of 2, the last one that I shall see) has hit my consciousness in those years I have hummed a few bars of this song.  It gets better all the time.