An inspiring documentary about an entertaining chorus of senior citizens
When I first saw Young@Heart, I switched from laughter to tears and back again. I recommended the documentary about the eponymous chorus of senior citizens to anyone who would listen. Bewitched by their renditions of David Bowie, The Ramones, and Talking Heads, I lamented the song choices of my junior high choir directors.
I recently began working with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, itself a pretty rockin’ group composed of members of all ages. I was inspired to revisit Young@Heart. Watching the film again, I experienced a similar gamut of reactions, including the wish that I could sing in front of people and not give a damn.
Some of the choir members have strong voices that ring out. Some substitute quality with an outpouring of enthusiasm. The documentary follows them all through the last couple months of rehearsals before the big concert in their Massachusetts hometown. Their director Bob throws a handful of new songs at them, hoping some might stick.
This busload of characters live life to the fullest. Sweet Eileen flirting with the camera crew. Lenny zipping friends around in his little car. Joe determinedly practicing the lyrics to “I Feel Good” with mixed results. And Fred making his comeback, booming voice accentuated by the puffs of his oxygen tank.
While I enjoyed tapping my feet to the slick videos for the songs “Road to Nowhere” and “Stayin Alive,” my favorite scene in the film was one of the hardest. The choir receives word that one of their members passed away right before a performance at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction. They go on with full spirit, from the chuckle-inducing “Dancing in the Dark” to “Forever Young” dedicated to his memory. The prisoners were visibly affected by their song, as was I, tears flowing freely and then what I’m sure was a goofy grin as the inmates thanked the choir members afterwards.
For their final concert, the choir pulls their act together, tackling the tongue-tripping “Yes We Can Can” that seemed like it would never mesh. They also deliver full force on Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia,” despite the doubts of many members upon its introduction. And when Fred’s duet is forced into a solo on “Fix You”, only the coldest hearts could listen unmoved.
My own heart aches as I write this. In the time it took for me to get around to the review, I heard my own sad news. My once spunky Nana finally gave up her battle with dementia and deteriorating health. So many of my memories of her are tied up with music. The two of us swinging and singing for hours, especially “The Right Somebody to Love.” Or our driving to Jackson for her brother to visit his wife in a mental hospital while Nana and I fed the ducks and sang Christmas carols in the middle of summer. Eileen from the choir reminded me of her a little, and now I wonder if Nana is looking down on me, urging me to keep singing for her.