Posted by: patenttranslator | July 28, 2018

The Divine Madness of Youth

There is some evidence that Mick Jagger once uttered the following words: “I’d rather be dead than sing “Satisfaction” when I’m 45.” Opinions differ on exactly how old he was at the time; 25 is frequently cited as the correct age.

He probably meant it – we all totally mean what we say when we are 25, although not much of what we say that we will do when we are 25 usually comes to pass. I remember that I decided to learn Chinese when I was 25, but of course, I never did learn it.

There seems to be a time limit to how long rock musicians are able to write and perform good music. I think that what they need to compose good music and perform really well is divine inspiration that comes to most of us only when we are still young and the world is new and fresh. Perhaps it is a kind of inspiration that could be called the Divine Madness of Youth – hence the title of my silly post today.

I am imagining Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen riding together in the same car, driving to some place, maybe a concert, and Leonard Cohen says to Bob Dylan: “So, Bob, when did the madness finally leave you for good?” And when he receives his answer in Bob Dylan’s drawl, Leonard Cohen says: “Yeah, it was about the same for me too.”

Composers of classical music get a much better deal from the Man Upstairs, also known by the name God, when it comes to better timed distribution of divine madness. J.S. Bach, who lived from 1685 to 1750, wrote some of his best known and most loved works after he turned 40 in 1725. The beauty of divine madness seems to follow composers of classical music from a young age well into middle and old age and the same is also true about some lucky writers and painters.

I think that the beauty of divine, inspirational madness accompanies also those of us who from a young age find irresistible learning of foreign languages. In those among us who have been chosen for this particular madness, the divine disease generally starts in youth, or even in sweet childhood.

We can’t help it, we are attracted to another language like a serial killer can’t help looking for another suitable victim when the Moon is full.

Fortunately for us, the madness of immersing ourselves for inexplicable reasons in a foreign language, a madness that is completely legal, can continue unabated for many decades and keep us young well into middle and old age, possibly because it is more like classical music, writing, or painting, than rock & roll.

People who care don’t about foreign languages – and they must be thinking, why the hell should we? … when we have our own, perfectly good language that works very well for us – sometime look at us with an awe that seems to be mixed with a kind of veiled scorn with which most people view autistic children, who are able to calculate complicated formulas in their head, but unable to function well in simple situations requiring social interaction.

But we know better than to worry about the strange looks that some people may be giving us, don’t we?

So we have become translators, interpreters and language teachers because we try to share our love for the intimate foreignness of a foreign language that feels so right to us with other people … because, just like real love, another kind of divine madness that hits us unexpectedly like a cannon ball when we are still very young, it is one of the best feelings in the world and one has to feel sorry for those who never experienced it.

A life lived in one language and one language only is a life that has been lived only some of the time, a part-time life at the most.

Such an incredibly boring kind of life could not really bring much satisfaction to anyone, could it? That’s why we have to keep doing what we are doing, just like Mick Jaggers has to keep jumping up and down on the stage while swinging the microphone and his hips, so valiantly trying to make the Divine Madness of Youth last for as long as possible.



  1. You make a good point. I’ve never truly learned another language to fluency, but I practiced a lot of German and Spanish, and dabbled in Finnish and Arabic enough to know what you mean. Whenever I think of how to say something in another way (i.e. another language) it gives a special feeling that makes me want to figure out more ways of saying things in different ways.


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