“Young@Heart”: Grandma’s rockin’ the house


When I was a kid, my grandmother
was involved in a senior center choral and dance group. Every year there
was a recital, and we had to go. Think 20–30 old women and three old
men singing and dancing. The highlight was the restaurant we went to
afterward — an Italian restaurant that served individual pizzas and was located
in a strip mall with Old West décor. (Because Passaic, N.J. had a
big frontier history.) However, if my grandmother’s group had
been anything like Young@Heart, I suspect I would have enjoyed the
recitals a little more.

Young@Heart is a Northampton-based chorus composed of senior
citizens, currently ranging in age from 72 to 88. (They’ve had members
as old as 100!) They’ve been around
since 1982
, and
have been on a dozen international tours. What distinguishes them from
the traditional old-lady chorus is that rather than sing the standards,
they sing current and classic rock, pop and punk songs. And I’m not
just talking about gentle Beatles songs. I’m talking about

the Ramones‘ “I Wanna Be Sedated” and Sonic Youth‘s “Schizophrenia.”

They’re the subject of a documentary screening this week
at Sundance
scheduled for theatrical release in April.

You really have to see them
for yourself though. Here’s the trailer:

And a synopsis of the movie:

to be entertained by the inspiring individuals of ‘Young@Heart,’ a New
England senior citizens chorus that has delighted audiences worldwide
with their covers of songs by everyone from The Clash to Coldplay. As
Stephen Walker’s documentary begins, the retirees, led by their strict
musical director, are rehearsing their new show, struggling with a discordant
Sonic Youth number and giving new meaning to James Brown’s ‘I Feel
Good.’ What ultimately emerges is a funny and unexpectedly moving
testament to the simple things these seniors value: old friendships,
new challenges and a little time in the spotlight.”

I can make two predictions
about this documentary. (Or, actually, about how I will react to it.)
(1) It will likely be my favorite documentary of the year. (2) It will
make me cry. I’m easily moved and inspired by stories of older folks
who are adventurous and full of life (think Ruth Gordon as the
grandmother in My Bodyguard), and by anyone not limited by obvious

These folks certainly seem
to have a sense of fun, and the movie is said to have its share of poignant moments.
Apparently, the scene of them performing “Forever Young” to an audience
of prison inmates is particularly moving. As is their performance of

Coldplay‘s “Fix You.” Coldplay has always left me … well, cold.
But this cover sent me in search of tissues.

Jody Rosen at Slate

put it quite well:

"It sounds like a gimmick,
and a cheap one at that, but the ‘Fix You’ clip was extraordinary,
not least because of the grave, graceful lead vocal performance by Fred
Knittle, who has a heart condition and sang with a breathing tube attached
to his nose. Y@H’s ‘Fix You’ is touching and dignified. Most
importantly, it’s a fine piece of music.”

Given that my parents are approaching
the age of the chorus members, I’m prepared to find some bittersweet
inspiration from the movie. (And given that the chorus members hail from
Northampton, I’m looking forward to playing “spot the elderly lesbian.”)
So, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Fox Searchlight
this spring,
and I hope that some of you are looking forward to this movie as much
as I am.

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