We lost a friend January 8. He was just 76.

“So sorry to have to post this… Rocketman passed away yesterday. Local favorite entertainer, musician, loving father, pirate, and friend to so many here in our islands… He most certainly was one of a kind, and the likes of him will surely never pass this way again. My condolences to his daughter, Roxanne, and all his family and friends in the Keys and all around the world. The old man certainly was right: it sure did beat 40 below, shoveling snow… And I do like it! If ever there was a life to be celebrated in style, it was Rocketman’s. Godspeed, Rocketman.”
— John Bartus

Robert Hudson played music in the late 70s and 80s in Las Vegas before coming to the Keys the same year we did. He became known as Rocketman the Pirate and he drummed, sang, and played with just about every other musician in the Keys. Between gigs he sold treasure.

“Too bad. He needs a replacement,” Rufus said. “Bartus is too accomplished. I am too fat (and I don’t live in the Keys).”

Not too fat. Too old.

I don’t think fat matters, per se. Old does. He was a legend but we need a youngster to take his place. The next Rocketman needs to be under 40.

“No way,” Rufus said. “The age was part of the attraction. Otherwise he is just another troubadour.”

The way you get to be an old troubadour is to start as a young troubadour. Not to mention our need to have somebody around for more than another couple of years.

“Aging out is American popular culture vernacular used to describe anytime a youth leaves a formal system of care designed to provide services below a certain age level.”

The troubadour has a storied history. The earliest troubadour whose work survives is the Duke of Aquitaine, portrayed as a knight, who first composed poetry on returning from the Crusades which he “related with rhythmic verses and witty measures.” Today, we think of a troubadour as a poet and singer of folk songs and rock music and other fishy ballads. Apropos of nothing, troubadour rhymes with albacore.

We are watching our favorite local artists and community leaders “age out.” Or worse.

Ben Bullington, a country doctor and singer-songwriter from Colorado, died in 2013. He was 58. He was a small town family doctor until his pancreatic cancer diagnosis; he immediately stopped practicing medicine and made as much music for as many people as he could. Vermont musician and legend John Cassel died in ’14. He was 78 and working when he suffered a heart attack after playing a show. The man of a thousand songs, Ron Hynes from Newfoundland died in November. He was 64. Blues guitarist and border legend Long John Hunter of El Paso died last week. He was 84.

I’ve been thinking about aging out a bit, ever since my family doc reminded me that he’s a year older than I. See, he’s aging out, too. That means he’s going to retire sooner than later and I’m going to have to break in some young whippersnapper.

We need to train our replacements for Dr. Bullington, Mr. Cassel, Mr. Hynes, Mr. Hunter, for the other beloved local legends. And for Rocketman.

Psychology Today rules that by dividing your own age by two and then adding seven you can find the socially-acceptable minimum age of anyone you want to date. So if you’re a 24 year-old, you can date anyone who is at least 19 (i.e., 12 + 7) but not someone who is 18. And if you’re 89 as Hugh Hefner is, you can feel free to be with anyone who is at least 19 but not someone who is 18. Oh. Wait. You can be with anyone who is at least 51-1/2 (i.e., 44-1/2 + 7) but not someone who is only 51.

When Ronald Reagan turned 75, Dennis Miller wished him a happy birthday. “Seventy-five, and he has access to the nuclear football? You know, my grandfather is 75. We don’t let him use the remote control for the TV set!”

If I have to train some young whippersnappers, I want them to stick around for the long haul. That’s why Rufus is wrong.

Over in real life, I chair a small regional arts council (known in the trade as a “Local Arts Service Organization”). I’m not quite ready to pass the microphone yet, but we are looking for a fresh face for my job, too. Out on stage last year, I introduced a number of new performers to the professional footlights. We expect to do that even more with Summer Sounds, with the county festivals, and at other venues around area. See, our top-notch musicians are all getting a little grayer, too.

Eventually, it is forced on all of us.

R.I.P., Rocky. Arrrrgh.


One thought on “Passages

  1. Pretty much all my mother’s friends and relations have aged out or worse — mostly worse. At the other end, we knew a few young men who aged out before they made Eagle. Here in the middle, I will probably age out sooner rather than later because my industry is young and competitive and I am not. Aging out just ain’t good.

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