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Kunin: Ageless Eighties

The calendar tells me I’m old - eighty four. I could have been the oldest person in the audience the night of the Mavis Staples jazz concert in Burlington, but Mavis made me young. My age fell to the floor and I stepped on it with my dancing feet. She was shaped like muffin. When she was escorted to the stage, she needed help. But when the band started to jive, she rolled like a marble.

Her shoulders pumped up and down, her arms were swinging, and her body glided smoothly across the stage. Then she opened her mouth, and out it came: a powerful voice that blasted through the crowd. She’s got it, she’s still got it.

How old is she? I asked myself.

Mavis told the audience that the Staples had been singing for sixty-five years. So let’s see - would that be eighty, eighty-five maybe?

“I’m so excited,” she exclaimed when she recognized a lanky singer and brought him up on the stage. He wore tight white pants and stringy hair down to his shoulders. He was famous, known to many in the crowd but not to me.

“This is wonderful surprise,” and she giggled like a girl running into a former boyfriend.

He was more than six feet tall. She had to stretch to reach five feet. They sang together, and danced for a minute or two.

“I almost fell,” she told the audience, laughing, “but he held me up.”

She was outrageously happy. And so was the crowd.

I was with the clappers, moving my feet and shoulders, keeping up with Mavis.

The crowd hooted and hollered, and I heard myself shout along with them, surprising myself.

Then the base guitar player had his turn; he bent his body like a twig, holding his instrument like a lover. He made it sing in a high pitched voice; a voice so beautiful, so sad, so human it went right through me.

Then the drummer had his turn. And he built up the sound to a mad crescendo, like drummers do, but this time, perhaps because his hair was white, it felt like I was banging the drums with him, allowing myself to pound the hell out of those drums; I felt so young.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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