I have finally found something to chat about with Bob Dylan or Paul Simon when we find ourselves waiting in line together at Trader Joe’s.
I figure they’re sick of people saying, “Oh, you’re Bob Dylan!” Or “Oh, you’re Paul Simon!” As if this comes as news to them.
And much as I love “The Boxer” and “Visions of Johanna,” I’m pretty sure that saying “I’m a big fan” won’t open the conversational door.
But I think I’ve found the common ground that will.
Simplifying our lives. Getting rid of Stuff.
Just recently I went to Goodwill and donated a pair of barely used rollerblades, the second season Game of Thrones DVD package in excellent condition and a nested set of three aluminum mixing bowls.
Bob and Paul recently sold the publishing rights to their song catalogs for somewhere around $300 million.
So there you go. Basically the same thing.
The only difference, really, is they’re offloading cornerstones of modern popular music, while I’m trying to figure out whether anyone wants a Pia Zadora cigaret lighter.
If the name Pia Zadora sounds familiar and you can’t quite place her, you see my challenge.
Still, the fact Bob’s and Paul’s Stuff may be more marketable doesn’t change the fact we’re all acting on the same impulse.
In fact, almost every person I know who is approaching the age demographic of Simon (80 in October) and Dylan (80 in May) shares this impulse.
At a certain point we move from acquisition to streamlining. Often that coincides with moving to smaller physical quarters, but I suspect we also admit, often with heart-wrenching reluctance, that we’ve got Stuff we don’t need.
I have shelves of books I’ve never read and never will. Shelves of records I’ve never played and drawers of shirts I’ve never worn. In the abstract, I like them. If I had infinite time, I would get to them.
I don’t and I won’t.
I also have a drive-in movie theater speaker, the kind you took off a stand and hooked inside your car window. It reminds me of a hundred nights like the one when a bunch of us raucous, obnoxious teenagers whooped our way through The Green Berets at a drive-in on the Berlin Turnpike.
I don’t need it. No one needs it. It’s worth nothing to the world. It’s worth something to me. So is the set of Seven Dwarfs drinking glasses that my father saved from a long-ago afternoon when Disney handed them out as incentives to attend an early showing of Snow White.
I’m guessing Bob and Paul have Stuff like that, too. I know that at Simon’s New York office he kept the standup bass that his father carried around for years as a traveling musician.
But to the larger point, there’s an extent to which some of the Stuff we own really owns us. Maybe it demands space, like the drive-in speaker, or maybe our time and attention, like a $300 million song catalog.
Sure, the $300 million Bob and Paul got for their music also may require time and attention. As a rule, though, cash is easier to deal with. Have you ever tried to pay for a new car with 25% of the publishing rights to “The 59th Street Bridge Song” or “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35”?
Divesting Stuff also doesn’t mean rejecting it. You’ve already gotten full value from it and besides, in most cases you’re doing your Stuff a favor. Though this may not be the case with a $300 million song catalog, my wife and I look at our Stuff and we know exactly what will happen if we hang onto it until the end.
The kids will pick out a few items they like or remember. The rest will be literally or figuratively tossed out the window into a donation box or a giant dumpster.
The kids are neither indifferent nor unappreciative. They just have their own Stuff and their own taste, as they should.
So before then, ideally, we would find someone who could use or appreciate our Stuff. And if we can’t offer ownership of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or “Mr. Tambourine Man,” we do have the sheet music for “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”
Friends who have divested themselves of Stuff all assure us that it’s liberating. You don’t miss your Stuff as much as you were sure you would, they say.
When I chat with Bob or Paul, I’ll ask whether they concur.