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Retirement Community Residents Become 'Old Rockers' - 2002-06-30

It's a generational thing. No matter what kind of music young people like, older folks hate it. But not always. Consider these senior citizens in the warm and sunny retirement haven of Phoenix, Arizona.

It's 5:00 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon in a Phoenix suburb. While many of their fellow senior citizens are departing for an early dinner, four members of a rock band called "One Foot in the Grave" are closing their garage door to insulate neighbors from another high-decibel practice session.

Inside drummer Ray Kosturik's garage, One Foot in the Grave is rehearsing for a local show by playing songs from their two CD's. The album titles poke fun at the aging process, and the songs on Looking Good, Who's Your Embalmer and Old Farts are just as irreverent.

"We'd like to sing you a little ditty,
About a place in the desert called Sun City
They don't have rapid transit called BART,
But they get around in little golf carts"

One Foot in the Grave formed in 1987 when lead vocalist JoDina decided rock and roll was her calling, even though she had no musical background whatsoever. She had been, of all things, an embalmer in the funeral industry.

JoDina, who goes by just her first name, came up with a novel concept for a group, but her original idea didn't quite pan out. She said, "I wanted to have all women singing about their problems and their ex-husbands and their children, etc., and I think it was supposed to be called 'Metalpause' at that point. And then I found out that heavy metal had some bad things associated with it, so I changed to punk because actually I used to go out punk dancing."

But JoDina was not able to find any other women for a punk band. So she tried another angle - placing newspaper ads seeking retired musicians over 60 who were interested in reviving their careers. That got a response from two 74-year-old men, drummer Gino Costa and guitarist Danny Walters. Jodina then recruited the baby of the band, 48 year-old bassist Gavin Wieser, and One Foot in the Grave was born.

"Aches and pains,
Capital gains
We've paid Social Security,
We don't like to complain,
But life's getting nuts, so sometimes it's the pits,
When we see our friends' names in the obits"

Over the past 15 years, the realities of aging have led to changes in the band. Drummer Ray Kosturik and guitarist Dan Wall, both 51, have replaced two of the original members and the current line-up also includes 61-year old Jodina and 72-year-old Vince Roselli, who plays the harmonica and dances with the young girls in the audience.

At 59, bassist Gavin Wieser is no longer the baby of the band, but he said One Foot in the Grave typically attracts a youthful audience. "Probably young males 16-25, who are really into hard-edged music, that's our basic audience, and they go out there and do the mosh pit thing where they bounce into each other. Punk music," he said, "draws that kind of a crowd."

"I'm running hot,
I'm running cold,
I'm sick and tired of growing old"

While not quite geriatric, One Foot in the Grave members still encounter the aches and pains that often accompany aging. It's not easy to stay up for those late gigs, and JoDina said there are other obstacles, like performing on stage with a tendency to forget the words. "Since I'm old," she said, "I've gotta read my lyrics. They're on the floor and I read them, and I wrote some of the songs over 10, 12 years. I still read the lyrics, so that means just cause you're old doesn't mean you can't get up and do something different."

But those kinds of inconveniences do not deter the efforts of One Foot in the Grave. After all, as JoDina and Gavin Wieser point out, they came up with the name of their band for a reason. Jodina said, "You always have one foot in the grave, you start out that way. My idea is, if you have one foot in the grave, keep the other one on top of the earth, baby, because you've gotta have fun with your life."

"It's a symbol of hope for us," Gavin continued, "and that one foot in the grave means that we only have one foot in the grave and we're not standing on a banana peel, waiting to fall in with the other one."

"So as long as I'm breathing,
You know I'll never behave,
With one foot still in bed,
And one foot in the grave"