Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten wrote and played music from a very young age

She penned the classic "Freight Train" at 12. She didn't release an album, however, until she was well into her sixties. As the story goes, she was working in a DC department store, and found a lost, crying child. She returned the girl to her mother, who was Peggy Seeger, brother of Mike Seeger, half-brother of Pete Seeger. Cotten befriended the family and soon began working as their live-in housekeeper. One day Mike discovered her playing one of his guitars and in 1958, Mike recorded her debut record, "Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar," in Libba's bedroom.

My parents bought the house I grew up in from the Seegers in the 70s. A big rambling turn of the century manse near the DC border. I think when we were kids my dad told us that when we moved in, there was a thicket of chest-high marijuana plants out behind the back bush. But that was probably a cagey lie to warn us off a life of drugs and/or folk music.

So there is a good chance my bedroom was Cotten's bedroom and where this song was recorded. If she left any creative sprit or soul behind in that room, it certainly went undiscovered by me. Though in 1983 it was in that room that I transcribed to diary the lyrics to the German version of Peter Schilling's "Major Tom".

I've been noticing, recently, many artistic talents who produced signature work in their olden golden years. According to a doco by that PBS communist Ken Burns, Frank Lloyd Wright designed hundreds of buildings in his 70s and 80s. Then I see a recently reviewed show at DIA:Beacon of works by Agnes Martin. Martin, who passed away recently, was an icon of minimalist expressionism by her late 50s, but produced much of her major work, like Wright, in her 70s and 80s.

And to complete the divine wanker triumvirate, I went to Storm King last weekend and strolled among the massive abstract irons and noted that a great deal of them - like those by Alexander Calder, the mobile guy - we erected by sculptors of the senior variety.

Got me thinking, what is it that unites these late blooming talents, Wright, Martin, Calder, and to a much lesser extent, Wilder (Laura Engels)?

How were they so prolific and vital at a time in life when creating "relevant work" usually requires the ingesting of prunes?

Well for one, their stuff was all high concept. "High concept" art usually makes me reach for my GAT, but for some reason I find it divine when made by geriatrics.

Part of me just likes the idea of old people keeping busy. The art icon as high-brow scrapbooker.

I also think that the aged have a unique potential for the abstract and the minimal. As we take on time, we take on detail. Most of us begin to drown in the stuff: things and people to track, forms to fill, funds to plan, memories to manage. Some elders, though, seem to have escaped this mental bureaucracy as they aged. They let it wash right over them, they get perspective, they simplify. Certain old people have an ability to "stay on message" that is near Zen-like.

(I peg much hope on this theory. I often comment to people that I could never attempt write a novel until I'm at least 70, when all the edgy chatter and impatience and inattention begin to soften, tempered by just the right balance of life experience and cerebral faultiness.)

But I think at heart my affection has more to do with something else their work all displayed: flaws. Wright's buildings leaked and leaned, Martin couldn't keep her lines straight enough, and I don't expect Calder actually "sculpted" his more behemoth designs. He would have left that to the art school monkeys and sycophant junior welders. Conceptual art prides itself on being cold. But when I look down at the gallery plate and it tells me the artist was 82 when she painted those two-dozen facsimile grey squares, I suddenly find a warmth in those forms, something vulnerable and sincere. I could try and pin all this to the sound of Elizabeth Cotten's voice but then you might be wanting details.