A few nights ago I played a show with the Blond Bones in East Nashville. It was an old venue in a re-budding neighborhood with one of those if-these-walls-could-talk histories. It was a tiny theatre -- black walls, black ceiling, a few rows of old wooden seats facing a catty-cornered stage. Great vibes and a listening audience, what more could you ask for?
After the show a friend of mine introduced me to an older gentleman, probably a baby boomer, with short white hair and a collared shirt tucked into his blue jeans. His shoes were loafers. He seemed uncomfortable. The first thing he said to me with a nervous smile was, "You look like you live under a bridge." And just like that my good vibes disappeared. Instantly I felt it, the same dirtiness I knew as a kid, the feeling of being dipped like a piece of bread into the wine of sadness. Old voices whispered through me, "You're an embarrassment ... you'll never make it." I've learned to dismiss these voices as remnants of my false self, but the sadness of this strange generational dynamic remained.
A few days later I'm still thinking about it, and rather than pout I figured I should try to make use of it. So to be fair, here are the external facts: I had just taken my relatively long hair out of a two-day bun so it popped out of the back of my head like a frizzy perm; on top of that poof I wore a trucker hat; I had not trimmed my beard in weeks. The fact is, his description was fair, and I giggle at the thought of his perspective. I had the look of Forrest Gump toward the end of his running days. But it still saddened me. It still felt like there were knives in his words. And maybe there weren't any knives, maybe I created them. But what about the music? Couldn't he at least lead off with the performance we just poured out?
A little back story here would be helpful to understand my sensitivity. I grew up in Orange County, California, and in that place image was important. The baby boomers saw a monumental growth in their home values and from my pubescent eyes they pretty much ran the show. They set the standards, the look, the talking points, the fences. Fifteen-year-old me was always seeking their approval while dismissing them as quietly oppressive. Sure they provided top-notch education, incredible community pools and strong family values, but that stuff's invisible when you're a kid with a big ego and a small self-esteem.
My main complaint was always how narrow or small their world seemed. A world that emphasized the shell, the pyramid, the hair. A relatively primitive world at its core -- "We have an image that makes us feel safe and your chances of survival greatly increase with your adherence to it." I could never put words to it as a kid, but it never sat right with me. And if I'm being honest, it still doesn't sit right with me. But it's no longer the "grown-ups" who are to blame for this model of thinking, it's simply the homo sapien.
If I could add a verse to Lennon's "Imagine," I'd write, Imagine there's no combs or barbers / It isn't hard to do / The hair that grows out of my head / Would look like yours too.
I think the '60s already said this stuff pretty well so let me take this in a different direction. And if you've read on this far let me be the first to admit, this feels pretty emo...
Getting back to the boomer with the short white hair in the nightclub... How about I take comfort in my awareness, lift my eyes off of my ego and consider what his reality might have been. What glasses was he seeing through? I bet he felt pretty out-of-place. Everyone there was under 35 and part of their own tribe of sorts. He was definitely there out of obligation and I'm certain it wasn't the environment he'd choose for himself on a Friday night.
So there he is, feeling uncomfortable and out of his element, and we come face-to-face. He says, "You look like you live under a bridge." But then, guess what, he says -- "Let me buy you a drink." Maybe he realized the asshole in him came out for a second, the same guy that made fun of the computer whiz in high school reared his head in the same way my old black cloud came back to haunt me. Maybe he realized that he was doing his old trick to maintain a sense of control. Maybe he just said what he was thinking out loud and regretted it immediately. Maybe he didn't realize that was a button of mine with a deeper history. I don't know, but the point is, maybe he didn't want to be that way. Maybe it's just a learned behavior that became instinctual somewhere along the way.
I don't mean to make excuses for everybody's behavior but I hope I'm getting closer to the reality about the gap between us. And I don't want to remain stuck in our division, on my side of the line with my finger pointing across, perpetuating the long-standing human stalemate. What a poor contribution to history that would be. Which is why I must at least try to step into his shoes (loafers). It's also why I must continue to grow my hair. The short-hair model is just a system that works for a short period of time. Let's outgrow this stuff. So I rebel through growth (the hair of course). And then one day I'll cut it to rebel against the system of growth I've grown comfortable with. Ahhh isn't life charming.
**alternative ending -- Ahhh welcome to my shoes.