Mortality maths – like the realisation that the last of those name-checked in Madonna's 'Vogue' died last week – make us feel our own lives are racing by

Numbers game: Lauren Bacall (pictured) was the last star name-checked in Madonna's 1990 hit song 'Vogue'

A small piece of trivia popped up on Twitter last week. “Lauren Bacall dying,” it read, “means that everyone Madonna name-checks in Vogue is now dead.”

It was a sobering realisation. “Time certainly marches on, doesn’t it,” we thought. “Best get a few things ticked off this bucket list before we snuff it.”

I looked at the date of the release of that Madonna track, which felt relatively recent – but it said March 1990. Twenty-four years? You’re kidding me. Germany was still split into two countries back then, for goodness sake. And 24 years before that, credit cards didn’t even exist in this country. Oh, boy.

That pinning of memories to significant cultural events and then fretting unduly about how old it makes us feel, is a thing that regularly sweeps social media, and it’s been given the neat name of “Mortality Maths” by rock critic Peter Paphides. Of course, the Mortality Maths puzzles that affect you will depend entirely on your age and your cultural preferences, but they come in a couple of distinct flavours.

There’s the straightforward disbelief that it can be that long since something happened, either for middle-aged people (“30 years since the first Smiths album? You’re kidding me”) or for teenagers (“I can’t believe it’s two years since “As Long As You Love Me” by Justin  Bieber came out”).

Swedish actress Greta Garbo, who died in 1990, the same year Madonna released 'Vogue'  

There are slightly more inventive spins on the same formula, perhaps marvelling at a photo of the young man who appeared on the front of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” when he was a baby, or realising that the 17-year-old “Dancing Queen” in the Abba hit would now be 55.

And then there’s the classic “multiplication-by-two” trick. This summer, 30 years ago, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” was No 1. Thirty years before that, meat was just coming off rations. And there’s worse news to come – we’re further from The Beatles’ “Love Me Do” hitting the charts than that was from the sinking of the Titanic. And we can go even further: more years have passed since Henry Fonda played Abraham Lincoln as passed between the release of that film and Lincoln’s assassination. These are all great examples from contributors to the Digital Spy website, illustrating that – if it wasn’t manifestly obvious – we’re going to die at some point.

“It’s another way of expressing that feeling that time is speeding up as we get older,” says Claudia Hammond, the author of Time Warped. “Every so often we’re brought up short by the reminder of some marker in time, like seeing things we own in vintage shops when we think we’re not that old. During middle age we never get used to that idea, which is why we find it endlessly fascinating. Our time perception plays tricks on us.” But why does music seem to create more significant markers?

American actress, singer and dancer, Ginger Rogers (1911 - 1995).  

Oliver Sacks, the eminent neurologist, notes that the strong link between music and memory, how it “burrows its way deep into the nervous system – so deep, in fact, that even when people suffer devastating neurological disease, music is usually the last thing they lose”. So, music serves as a powerful reminder of a particular time, but owing to the psychological phenomenon of “telescoping”, it always seems more recent than it actually was.

But maybe Mortality Maths puzzles are useful. “We all need coordinates, don’t we?” says music critic Joe Muggs. “We need way-marks and milestones so we can feel like there’s some way of navigating through the turbulent landscape of cultural glut. Or even just as something to cling on to as we reel from the vertigo of the pace of change and our own ageing.”

Suddenly, the knowledge that the release of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy In The UK” is closer to the Normandy landings than it is to the present day feels slightly more reassuring. But only slightly.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

    £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

    £23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...