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.

News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
people
Environment
The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
environment
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Life and Style
Fraud contributes 11p to a £2.00 box of half a dozen eggs
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
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

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

    Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

    £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital