Brainiac On Banjo #045: The Old Defecator Speaks!

Tuli Kupferberg, 1999, premiering Why Must I Be A Septuagenarian In Love

Each night I ask the Satellite of Love / Why must I be an alter-kocker in love?

Long ago, I realized America is not a melting pot. It’s more of a smorgasbord. That’s the way it should be: we go from ethnicity to ethnicity sucking up what we like out of each culture while sharing our own. Even a hardcore white supremacist will scream at you to go back to where you came from while driving a Kia, listening to Elvis Presley and eating chimichangas.

Nonetheless, our American language has been quite an effective melting pot. For example, most Jew-haters will go Gestapo on your ass while shouting dialogue infused with many common Yiddish words that seem, to these goose-steppers, to be as American as corned beef on rye. That would be cute, if not for the hobnails. Sadly, the extremely useful phrase “alter-kocker” has not been as well-deployed as glitch, chutzpah, and klutz. Alter-kocker means an old man, and it comes from the German phrase for “old defecator.” You’d think our great American swastika lovers would enjoy that.

On the occasion of his acknowledged antiquity, my late comrade-in-yarns Tuli Kupferberg did a hilarious yet woeful parody of “Teenager In Love,” the 60 year old hit tune from Dion and the Belmonts. He called it “Why Must I Be A Septuagenarian in Love.” It was brilliant, and since I’m quoting from it I might as well plug it: the song appears on one of the last albums recorded with his anarchist folk-rock group and it appears in the optimistic-sounding “The Fugs Final CD – Part 1.”

However, I am not a septuagenarian. Not yet. That won’t happen for another 53 weeks, if at all; a very gifted comic book writer read my palm and told me I wouldn’t make it out of my sixties. But I am now, indeed, a certifiable alter-kocker. Seeing as how I never surrendered my identity as a goddamn Yippie activist, I might as well embrace my inner alter-kocker. What have I got to lose? That old guy might even kick my inner-14-year-old in the ass a few times. He deserves it.

Tuli wrote that song when he was in his mid-70s, and he made it to 86. Not a bad run for an old beatnik-turned-hippie. I should be so lucky – if, indeed, living that long is lucky. Personally, I don’t care. If there is no afterlife, which reason strongly suggests, it won’t matter. One day I’ll be annoying people, the next I’ll be cremated with nary a transitional thought. If there is an afterlife, as quantum physics vaguely suggests, I’ll be that old fuck smoking Tuli’s posthumous reefer.

This may sound egotistical, but then again just about everything I’ve ever written since I turned pro 52 years ago sounds egotistical. The act of writing or broadcasting your thoughts to an audience of strangers and friends who tolerate you is an act of ego. I’ve managed to squeeze a hell of a lot into my life – I get bored easily – and I think we all pick up some wisdom along the way. They say it’s wasted on the elderly. I say it defines the concept of paying your dues. Either way, it’s a very comforting feeling.

The worst part of becoming an alter-kocker is the inescapable fact that a lot of your friends and a lot of people you admire will predecease you. My father, who made it to 90, once told me he was the last survivor in his group of friends. Of course there was great sadness behind that, but being his son and a certifiable wiseass, I responded “Well, that means you win.”

“What?” my father asked in mild astonishment. “How is that?”

Two Random Alter Kockers

“You outlived them all. You win!” I responded.

A smile grew on his lips. I felt wonderful.

In my growing wisdom I learned from this experience. I had hung out with older people because they have a lot of interesting stuff to offer. That has grown exponentially more difficult as time goes on, so about 20 years ago I started hanging out with people who are younger than me. Hey, let them learn something from this old man. We’ve got to prime the pump.

Times change and we should follow those changes carefully so we can continue to exist in the real world. But our perspective comes from the totality of our experiences. For example, a couple weeks ago my daughter and I went to a legal marijuana shop in Massachusetts. It was my first-time buying weed legally. I appreciated my alter-kockerhood when one of the “young” (I’m guessing around 24) people checking IDs while we were in line took a look at my cane and said – into my hearing aid – “Oh, would you like a chair?” Holy crap! Hey, this is pretty cool!

But it was nowhere nearly as cool as when we left the building. The parking lot opened out onto a busy street and there were bona fide badge-wearing policemen directing traffic. One officer saw my handicapped parking card (I really am an alter-kocker!) and stopped traffic so we could leave the property in safety.


Take it from The Old Defecator. Change is good. Embrace change.