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Published: Tuesday, 8/5/2008

Song's impossibly faraway age quickly became here and now

After last weekend, it's no longer a hypothetical question.

I no longer expect the missus to chuckle when I repeat the refrain from a Beatles song: "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?"

The kid is already there. He has arrived at the age that seemed impossible when the Beatles released "When I'm Sixty-Four" on their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album on June 1, 1967.

Young folks can't imagine the problems of aging. They aren't likely to save any money, start a financial plan, or even think very much about preparing for a long career - and perhaps an even longer retirement. And that's too bad, because they, too, will get to 64 someday, maybe too quickly.

Along the way, they'll have to deal with financing their own children's education, maintaining adequate health insurance, mortgaging a home, and investing for retirement.

Most will have to do it the hard way, because that kind of stuff isn't taught in many schools. And today's young generation will need to adapt to a rapidly changing global economy that may mean several different careers.

I must admit that I was guilty of youthful complacency. I didn't start any sort of retirement plan until I was in my late 40s. I never thought much about health, either, until the aches and pains arrived.

When Paul McCartney wrote the song, as a teenager in the late 1950s, 64 was considered a ripe old age (for men anyway), and only the optimistic could hope to live much beyond 70. Of course now, people live longer, and retirees tend to put more gusto into their senior years.

McCartney composed the melody in late 1957 or early 1958, when he was 15 or 16 - in a baroque, "rooty-tooty" cabaret style that honored the music popular when his father, James, was a musician in the 1920s. He added the famous lyrics later, with a little help from the late John Lennon. Coincidentally, McCartney's father was 64 when the album was recorded in late 1966.

In the summer of 1967, when the album was released, I was much more worried about reaching 24 than 64 - I already had my Army orders for duty in Vietnam.

On June 1, 1967, many others also had things on their mind other than aging.

Barack Obama was not quite 6 and about to enter public school in Jakarta, Indonesia. Hillary Diane Rodham was 19 and a student at Wellesley College, years before she met Bill Clinton. John McCain was a 30-year-old Navy pilot in the Vietnam War (later that year he would be captured as a prisoner of war).

Two 42-year-old executives, Lee Iacocca, then at Ford Motor Co., and John DeLorean, then with General Motors Corp.'s Pontiac division, were making names for themselves in the automotive world.

The winner of the U.S. Open golf tournament was Jack Nicklaus, 27. The most valuable player in the NCAA basketball tournament that year was UCLA's hotshot, 19-year-old Lew Alcindor (later to become pro player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Roger Maris, at the age of 33, got 10 hits, including a home run, to help the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series.

One of the hit movies in 1967 was Bonnie and Clyde, starring 26-year-old Faye Dunaway and 30-year-old Warren Beatty.

In the summer of 1967, Bill Gates, who later was ranked as the world's richest man 13 years in a row, was 11. Warren Buffett, who took over this year as world's richest ($62 billion), was 36. Mr. Gates, with an estimated stash of $58 billion, is now third richest.

The song evokes stereotyped images of old age, "doing the garden, digging the weeds," knitting "by the fireside," and "grandchildren on your knee, Vera, Chuck, and Dave." But, of course, many seniors today are just as apt to be on the golf course, at the tennis court, doing volunteer work, or perhaps still on the job.

Another thing has changed greatly in the last four decades: the divorce rate. McCartney's first marriage, to wife Linda, was a happy one until she died of breast cancer in 1998. However, his second marriage, to former model Heather Mills, was contentious. Ms. Mills was awarded $48.6 million in their divorce settlement this year.

Perhaps many years from now a rock band will record a memorable little ditty that will remind young folk of the need to save money and mind their health.

But in the meantime, Sir Paul, now 66, and I, and millions of others, have learned a lot about economics on our own in the last four decades.

Yours sincerely. Wasting away.



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