In a prior posting, I intimated an awkward new sense of what it must feel like to be a rock star, having been treated like one on a recent speaking tour of Europe for Bayard Presse.
On further reflection, I thought it might be helpful to understand what a real classic rock star feels today. So I turned to a classmate at our 40th high school reunion. You know him well through his prescient lyrics:
I close my eyes
Only for a moment and the moment’s gone
All my dreams
Flash before my eyes a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind.
Kerry Livgren wrote these legendary lyrics for the Billboard Hot 100 #6 hit song, Dust in the Wind. He wrote the 1977 hit before he turned 30, long before most young people fully grasp or accept the finality of mortal existence.
Kerry didn’t just write one hit song. This astonishing lyricist and performer is responsible for most of the hits of the ‘70s super-group Kansas.
Among his extensive catalog he penned Song for America, Carry on Wayward Son, People of the South Wind, and The Wall (with Steve Walsh).
It is helpful to take hold of what Kerry was back then: Kansan, Boomer, songwriter, member of one of the 70’s most original progressive rock bands, intellectual, and bard for a revolutionary generation.
It is as important to understand what Kerry has become: Kansan; Boomer, songwriter; leader of Proto-Kaw, another up-and-coming rock band; intellectual; and a metaphor for the future of his pioneering generation.
The credo of Kansas was to create in its thought-provoking music a fusion of energy and serenity. And so it is for Boomers. To create the lives they want tomorrow, each, in his or her unique way, seeks to infuse life with an artful blend of energy and serenity.
I asked Kerry how he could have written such mature themes in his songs so shortly after graduating from high school. Most of us were thinking of less weighty topics such as getting dates and jobs.
He acknowledged his earliest teachers in junior high and high school, some of whom inspired him to read great thinkers such as Emmanuel Kant and Jean-Paul Sartre. Barely a teen, he learned to seek and learn about life's most profound lessons — a passion that continues today.
That’s why Kerry is also a fitting symbol for the Boomer generation going forward. He is not finished because he is older.
Not finished learning. Not finished writing. Not finished performing. And certainly not finished capturing and communicating a narrative of our time.
Near midnight as we walked out of the reunion venue, Kerry told me he’ll never stop writing and performing; this is the life he loves. He’s known for decades that eventually everything we know is dust in the wind, but in the meantime he is living, learning, creating, giving and growing.
As reunion prater ensued across a staccato weekend, sentiments expressed by our classmates dovetailed Kerry’s. Topeka West Chargers from the class of 1967 are thinking about the future. They want to write and sing and build businesses and teach and volunteer.
Take Judy Joss, for example. She has been a veterinarian, a mom and a busy community volunteer. Now at 58, this vital and attractive woman is focusing on how she can help surmount the troubling obstacles facing our national healthcare system. She’s looking ahead to what’s next.
Our classmates are doctors, professors, business owners, association executives, lawyers, politicians, investors, scientists — and a couple of rock stars. They are mindful of where they’ve been — the complex tableau of their journey through four decades since high school — but they’re energized about where they’re going.
They are Boomers, in every sense of the transformative meaning of that label.
In another song, Windows, Kerry Livgren predicted where his generation would be headed as its members reach a time of life for reflection, redirection and reengagement:
Touching, we are moving to the things we feel
Trying, to be what we could never be
Turning, if we'd only open up our hearts
Yearning, for the things we cannot see.