Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, and the rest of my cohort

Photo: YouTube

You are going through life with a bunch of celebrities.

Surely you must have noticed this. You read news items about famous people and say, “Hey, she’s the same age that I am.” And after a little while, you realize that you’re part of a cohort — a class of celebrities who share your birth year and at least putatively, your experience.

In my case, the cohort of people born in 1958 includes Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson. I’ve always felt a little special to be part of a group that includes such innovative people — creative minds who have continually reinvented themselves to remain relevant contributors even as they get older. Well, for a while, at least. It has also not escaped my attention that two of them are dead from drug overdoses.

According to this very silly web site, my cohort also includes Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, Alec Baldwin, Ellen DeGeneres, Angela Basset, Jamie Lee Curtis, Mark Cuban, Gary Oldman, Tim Burton, Holly Hunter, Sharon Stone, Bebe Neuwirth, Christiane Amanpour, Steve Case, Keith Haring, Bill Watterson, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Oh, and Ice-T.

Do you think of these people as old? I don’t. I do think of them as talented (except for Ice-T, of course) and I do wonder what they are creating now. This is a good group to be experiencing life with.

What we experienced together

Here’s what I saw along with my cohort, both celebrities and regular folks.

We were five when John F. Kennedy was shot. We don’t remember much else about being five, but we remember the emotions of that day.

Some of us lost older brothers in Vietnam. (Not me, but a lot of people born in my year had that experience.)

We lived through the protests and civil rights struggles of the sixties and saw them affect the politics of the seventies. We watched Nixon resign when we were adolescents. That changes your perspective on politics.

We made our successes in the eighties and nineties, when it seemed as if anything was possible.

We were 43 and deep into our careers and family lives when the planes hit the World Trade Center and the world — suddenly, it seemed — became a darker and more paranoid place.

We raised our kids in the age of the Internet and smartphones and Facebook and wondered what that would mean for their worldview.

We saw both Obama and Trump get elected as we prepared for retirement and thought, just who is this country, anyway?

Those are experiences we all shared.

What about my peers?

I still think of myself as a disruptive upstart. In my mind, I am still an iconoclast, not part of the establishment that the iconoclasts are fighting. Just like Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson.

But an odd thing happens when you get to this age.

As is the case with most people, my mentors are older than I am. Some of them are now dead. Many of them are retired, others are just tired out and hanging on. A few of them are still making trouble, as I am. But it is sobering to see how many of the people I admired no longer have the energy to keep making trouble.

(I should mention here that my father, long retired and in his mid-80s, continues to give lectures about science and the future. His is an active mind, and that inspires me. He’s still trying to persuade me to switch to Keynote.)

Many of the people who I mentored are now icons in their own right. When I became an analyst, I was 38. Much younger people who started along with me as research associates — the entry-level research position — are now more influential than I was when I started. I think of people like Shar Van Boskirk, Lisa Walker, and Christine Overby and need to adjust my perspective, based on their many accomplishments. How the hell did they get so good so fast?

The next generation of contributors is in the same generation as my children. It’s the millennials’ world now, we’re just living in it.

Growing old along with words

If you really want a shock, go look up the words that were coined the year you were born.

For my birth year, these included antipsychotic, bariatric, beatnik, bigfoot, empty nester, game show, frozen yogurt, hairspray, inner city, melatonin, nanosecond, prequel, sex kitten, smart-ass, tailgate party, and Watson-Crick model.

What picture does that give you? I’m tailgating along with a bunch of inner-city crazy smart-ass beatnik sex kittens. Our nests are empty but our bellies are full of frozen yogurt. And our lives have all seemed to pass in a nanosecond.

Who’s in your cohort and what have they experienced? Tell me more.


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  1. Ice T not talented? Have you never heard Ice T’s “New Jack Hustler?” It played over Ice T chasing Chris Rock in “New Jack City.”

  2. Paul Ryan. Ted Cruz. Tonya Harding. Megyn Kelly. Melania Trump. LOL.

    Let’s see. Sadiq Khan. Tina Fey. Rachel Weisz. Melissa McCarthy. Gabrielle Giffords. Shonda Rimes. Much better.