One evening in the mid 1990s, right before Christmas, I was up late packing for the holiday and watching television. I think it was Charlie Rose, but I can’t be sure, who ran a clip from the old Jackie Gleason variety show. Gleason’s cast included Frank Fontaine, who, when I was a child watching the program with my family, always made me sad. He played this character called Crazy Guggenheim who stopped by the local tavern to talk with Joe the bartender, played by Gleason. Joe usually got Crazy to sing a song — which I had no way of knowing because I always had left the room by that point.
Anyway, that grown-up Christmastime night the clip was of Crazy — Mr Fontaine — singing a most beautiful song, one I’d never heard. I was mesmerized. And captivated by Mr Fontaine’s intimate delivery.
I couldn’t get the song out of my mind. So the next day, I told my mother about it. She got a funny look on her face as I was repeating some of the lyric. Then she told me that it was her mother’s favorite song. Grandma had passed away a year or two earlier, and I still loved discovering new things about her. Mom told me the name of the song: When I Grow Too Old to Dream. It is a waltz by Sigmund Romberg with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein.
The song’s been a touchpoint for me ever since. I imagine it reminded my grandmother to keep close to her love, a husband who died way too young. In her memories, she could visit a beloved partner and a life full of affection, adventure and accomplishment. Will I be able to say the same thing when I’ve grown too old to dream? The song presents not just the question of a dream’s continuing presence but the spectre of it being the wrong dream.
I think it’s important for us, and I’m thinking especially today of the laborers of Silicon Valley, not just to chase our dreams but to consider what catching them will mean later in life and after we’re gone. That measure alone should tell us whether the capital and human investments go to dreams worthy of becoming real, worthy of remembering decades later — or whether they just serve a random whim and those obsessions that often masquerade as dreams — outlandish wealth, unchecked power, revenge. Because in the end, we should be remembering not how we outsmarted perceived enemies or the establishment but how the things we did reached beyond us to improve life for everyone.
When I grow too old to dream
I’ll have you to remember.
When I grow too old to dream, your love will live in my heart.
So kiss me, my sweet
And so let us part
And when I grow too old to dream, that kiss will live in my heart.
Copyright 1934, 1935 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.,
copyrights renewed 1962, 1963 and assigned to Robbins Music Corporation.