This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 print issue of Quench Magazine.
A Rock and Roll Hall of Famer graduates from college in her 60s, sets new goals and dares to start again.
In what must have been either a very optimistic or a very covetous day over a decade ago, I compiled a list of 50 things I hoped to experience in life and then promptly forgot about it.
I know this because I recently came upon a leather journal tucked at the back of a shelf, flipped through a few scattered entries, and there it was, written at age 50, appropriately titled “50 at 50.” I began crossing things off , surprised at how many had been fulfilled, and wondering if the act of writing it down had set the actualization into motion—if words ignite intentions that power actions which manifest into reality. I contemplated how different my list would be today and if I’d still want some of those unrealized wishes.
I’m in my 60’s now: an age that for some means slowing down or retiring—settling into the golden years. We also have those mainstays of Western living—marketing and consumerism—to remind us that we can fight it, by purchasing anti-aging products and protocols. A quick internet search brings up pages of articles encouraging us to accept and embrace aging—a concept which sounds okay in theory, but I’d rather hear a message that exhorts everyone to accept and embrace who they are and where they are in their life—not just us newly minted elders (to my thinking, the least offensive term when the choices are senior citizens, geriatrics, pensioners…oldsters.)
We might all face similar issues in different eras of our lives, but I really don’t like being divided or separated from other people because of age, especially people who are doing the same things I like to do. Recently I recorded a video and audio track of me playing bass for a cover version of Cherry Bomb, the infamous signature song of teenage rock band The Runaways from 1976. I fi rst heard that song at age 16 and would have died laughing if you told me then that I’d be recording it at 63 years old. On top of that, I’m decades older than the other musicians who are on the compilation. And yet—there’s me—rocking like mad, looking great and fi t-ting in perfectly with the other players. This is exactly how I want things to be.
In my high 50’s I discovered spin bike classes. Of all the exercise activities I’ve tried, spinning is the only one I’ve stuck with and look forward to. Yes, I’m talking about those dark rooms with pulsing lights and blasting hip hop, mostly attended by very fit young ladies and a sprinkling of athletic men. No big surprises coming here: I’m decades older than everyone else, yet somehow, without looking or feeling out of place, I’m right there keeping up with the kids.
One day, during a brief Covid respite when the class was more full than usual, the instructor shouted out how excited she was to have a Go-Go in her class. Now, I’d prefer not to be noticed as a Go-Go unless I’m on stage—but okay, whatever. I thought she’d mention hearing us on the radio, or seeing a video, going to a concert—the usual thing. In-stead, she told the class a little anecdote about the Go-Go’s being her grandmother’s favorite band. Ouch! I’ve heard “my mom was a big fan” many times. But this my grandmother business was a first. Sigh.
Obviously, the age gap doesn’t stop me from doing things I enjoy, but it’s not always easy to ignore either.
Getting back to that list—there were a few substantial, years-in-the-making items: Write a book. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Go back to college, get a degree.
These were things I’d dreamed of and written down, alongside the fanciful, mundane, and unlikely other stuff. The completion of these big-ticket wishes has led to very different outcomes that will affect where my focus and energy goes. In 2020, All I Ever Wanted, my first book, a memoir, was published. Rather than the crossed off bucket list item “write a book” appears to be, this caused my book writing effort to divide like a cell in mitosis, reproducing and creating new, lofty ambitions for a writing career.
Then in 2021, I was inducted into the Rock Hall with the Go-Go’s—one of the best nights of my entire life. But where does a lifelong musician go from there? I’ve had an exhilarating ride, a music career filled with extreme highs and lows. It was unexpected how striking this one off the list felt like the end of a story that started long before a “50 at 50” list. Closure doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning music—creative expression is intrinsic to my well-being. I’ll always have room for songwriting, recording, and playing in a band, but these days it won’t be occupying the space that dreams need to grow.
And finally, now that I have a college degree the road has been cleared to apply for a graduate school MFA. A formidable prospect on its own, but then I stumbled upon a blog featuring a post from a woman complaining about feeling isolated and out of place as a grad student. She was 40. Uh oh. Immediately my thoughts were off and running, imagining myself in a workshop with a bunch of 25-year-olds, reading their writing, and them reading my own 63-year-old fiction. This kind of thinking is the opposite of dreaming—only useful for kicking up clouds of doubt and fear, obscuring all prior excitement. But when the doubt and fear dispersed and settled, the truth was still there: I want this. I want the structure, I want what I will learn, I want the tools and the feedback and the faculty and the challenge. I want it all. And I want it enough to feel uncomfortable—to feel scared even.
This might be the key to my sixties, and it’s something I began to notice in my fifties. When new opportunities came (acting in a film, giving a keynote speech for a major organization)—things I’d never done—I said yes. Because alongside the terror of “what if I suck?” was an exhilaration that felt distinctly un-elderly. Maybe this part of youthfulness should always be welcomed—the willingness to do something never before tried or done. Even if it means being decades older and possibly unrelatedly apart from everyone else. Being young and inexperienced means nearly everything is new, it’s all scary, it’s all challenging. And then we get older and enjoy the results of all those professional years of practice, of doing, of succeeding at whatever it is we find. The security of being so comfortable with who we are is so nice and fuzzy we don’t even want to be nervously trying on new goals and aspirations.
As we lurch into a new year, I like to think I’m not alone in treading carefully, staying focused on keeping upright, and maintaining hope and optimism. And while a to-do list will get done easier than the depressingly named “bucket list,” there’s something about the wish list, the minimal eloquence of daring to try and willing to start again. Coinciding with the synchronicity of becoming an “empty nest” mom, my one daughter having moved out to attend college, I find myself now at 63, trudging a new, very unsure road. Where does this journey start? The same place that teenaged me started when I picked up a guitar to start looking for the band, the songs, the sound, that would help me make my way through the world. That is to say, a lot of thinking and planning and strategizing and …dreaming.
Kathy Valentine has been working as a musician and songwriter for over 40 years, most notably as a member of the groundbreaking Go-Go’s – who, in 2021, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kathy’s acclaimed memoir All I Ever Wanted: A Rock and Roll Memoir was published in 2020. In 2017 she created “She Factory” a non-profit event series to benefit women-centered charities. In addition to ongoing music and writing pursuits, Valentine graduated from college in 2021 with a degree in English and Fine Arts. Music is always foremost in her creative pursuits. Kathy still shows up for gigs with her rock band The Bluebonnets in her hometown of Austin, Texas where she resides with a teenage daughter she says is her “greatest pride and joy.”