Shake the Disease

Last February, Depeche Mode released their latest single, and with it a video. “Ghosts Again” is the lead track from Memento Mori, the band’s first album since 2017 (it came out March 24), and the first since the passing of keyboardist Andrew Fletcher, who died last May from an aortic dissection at the age of 60. Painfully bittersweet, the track is a powerful reminder of the passage of time and the inevitably of death, made poignant by Fletcher’s absence. His presence, however, can still be felt in the video—an emotional rendering that somehow was able to reach out across time and grab me right in my adolescent heart.

One of the things I was most struck by in the video was how much my teenage idols have aged. Now in their 60s, David Gahan and Martin Gore are no longer the smooth-faced twinks I still see in my mind when I think about discovering them back in 1988, when I was 14 (for the record, I’m no longer the twink I was either). In the dramatic black-and-white video shot by long-time collaborator Anton Corbijn, we can clearly see the deep wrinkles and spots on their expertly lit faces, as the two play chess in black coats against a bold city skyline. I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see them wearing their age on my screen. Two alternative music legends—now our musical grandfathers—not giving a fuck about age and showing the kids how it’s done (crawling on the grounds of a cemetery like a Komodo dragon? Why not). I’m glad they’re still making music.

“Please retire,” a friend wrote online when their tour was announced. “Till about ‘93-‘94 was the best time to see them. It’s over now.” I’ve heard that said about many other artists too, most recently Madonna who caused everyone to lose their garbage over her decision to rejuvenate her face (you do you, girl). Suddenly, it was alright for everyone to dump on her again and deride her for her appearance. Because it’s an unforgiveable sin to get older, right? At some point, shouldn’t one just shut up and go quietly into the night?

There’s a tendency in the queer community to ridicule people for getting older. This is nothing new. Ever since Oscar Wilde wrote about the painting of Dorian Gray aging in an attic so its subject could stay young forever, generations of homosexuals have been obsessed with losing the blush of youth, worried about the loss of sexual currency with each new birthday. I see it a lot online with people sharing screengrabs of the ageist rejections they receive on the dating apps, or with the trending of the #twinkdeath hashtag, which saw people tweeting out before-and-after shots of Hollywood celebrities who are no longer the dainty cherubs they once were.

I find these Molotov cocktails thrown into the social media space tragically ironic. As if the people lobbing them have their own self-portraits hanging in attics and expect to be spared the hand of time. Honey, no. Age is coming for all of us (that is, if you are lucky enough to be one of the ones to get older). Like the rest of us, your cells will degrade, your body fat will lose volume, expression lines will deepen with each new tug, your body hair will migrate and grey, and all your life—those sunny vacations on the beach, all the drinks and laughter and nights out with friends over the years—will remain visible on your human little face.

And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, it’s awesome.

When I was young little whippersnapper, I too was afraid of getting older. Not that I projected my own inadequacies on to anyone else, but I didn’t know what to expect from life. There was just this gleaming blank space when I thought about life after 25. When I was a teenager, everyone older than 25 might as well have been the same age. I divided people into two categories: grown-ups with responsibilities (I wanted to avoid being that as long as possible) and my fun-loving friends. I didn’t want to grow up because then I’d have to put away childish things (and maybe start buying RRSPs).

Now, I’m in my late 40s. And the same week Depeche Mode released their new single, I turned 49. I know that however far you fall on the sides of that number, you might think it super old or still incredibly young. I don’t think I feel either of those things. I’m still young at heart (this year’s birthday celebration consisted of an afternoon of music, mushrooms and Mario Party), but I also don’t have the energy I once did (I can’t remember the last time I left my house after 10 pm, unless it was to go get milk at the depanneur). Still, I spent my birthday week connecting with old friends, many of whom I have had the privilege to grow older with over the last few decades. And like with Martin and David, I still remember them as youngsters.

One person I met up with was my best friend from high school, Eric. We had birthday drinks at a dark bar we used to go when we were 18, sitting across from each other in black much like our musical heroes in “Ghosts Again.” Eric and I have been through it all over the years—from the wild nights trying to get the last bus home, to the tearful endings of relationships, to the passing of his own father last fall. We don’t see each other as often as I’d like, but every time we get together, I remember all those days hanging out in his parents’ basement, listening to music, or renting videos. And here we were, catching up and reminiscing about old times, the younger versions of ourselves still with us at the table.

Sometimes, I forget that I am no longer the young person I was all those years ago. I’m not without vanity to say I love every photo taken of me now, not surprised by what I see in the mirror. Sometimes, maybe when I’m reading a book or typing on my keyboard, I will look at my hands and be amazed by all the lines on it. On my left hand, I have a small freckle at the base of my index finger. I remember, when I was a kid, thinking of it as an eye on an elephant; and I would position my hand sideways and elongate my index finger as if it were the elephant’s trunk. I still see that kid, at his desk in high school, when I look at my hands.

It’s the same feeling I have when I find myself staring at my friends’ hands, too, or the hands of my parents—I can’t help but love them that much more. All the joy and laugh lines running across their faces and bodies, grateful for all the time we’ve shared that put those lines there in the first place. Being able to grow old alongside the people you love (or even the artists you love) is a gift. If I think about it, I might have been more conventionally “beautiful” in my 20s. I might have had more hair, less wrinkles, been 60 pounds lighter, but it doesn’t mean I was any happier. If anything, it’s the last decade that saw me come into myself. And I wouldn’t change any of that for a few less numbers on the scale.

I do pity the fools who continue to reach for the easy insult online, who are slave to their immediate negative impulses. In meanness, there will always be ugliness. When will they learn that it’s kindness that’s hot. That it’s compassion that’s beautiful.

Hearing Depeche Mode’s new single made me feel young again, and with each additional listen I still feel like a teenager listening to them in my childhood bedroom. With a name like Memento Mori, the entire album is a reminder of the brevity of life and a warning that we too will one day turn cold and stop ageing. When David Gahan sings “Everybody says goodbye,” I think about the faces of those I love, and those I’ve lost, especially in the last few years. Life’s too short to spend it complaining about what other people want to do with their lives. There are no limits anymore. Just do whatever the hell you want. We all will have to die someday.

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