We’ve been sold a bill of goods. Well, okay, maybe you weren’t, but I sure was.
In the 90s, I, and my ilk, were reading a book called “Generation X” and we reveled over the chapter “I Am Not A Target Market” without a hint of irony that the book had been target marketed to us. We congratulated ourselves for our cool-ness and the book affirmed us in this. We didn’t comment on how the book was written on a third grade level and structured like a comic book. And that’s not to say it wasn’t an enjoyable read – it was. But it was a bit like looking down on someone for watching Doctor Who while reading a Stephanie Plum novel (or vice versa). Personally, I have enjoyed them both (though Dr. Who more consistently pleases me), but I no longer have delusions of cool.
And delusions, I had a few…
After all, I had shared a pizza with the original line-up of the Flaming Lips, way back when they were a dark psychedelic-punk band. Never mind that my raging wit had nothing to do with how that happened. It was actually due to my tiny bladder and the fact that they were staying with someone I knew well enough that I could beg to use his bathroom. I didn’t even know they were there. They – and I – were pretty boring. No one had anything to say. Três cool, no? Heh, – I know – NO.
But…but….but…I had been at a Halloween party also attended by the guys in REM. Never mind that I thought it was 3 guys dressed up as REM until much later. And that it only happened because I went to college within spitting distance of where Michael Stipe went to high school. There were a lot of people at that party. I wasn’t relevant to Mr. Stipe’s presence. My raging wit again had nothing to do with it…
Oh, but I was cool.
I never had much money, but much of the money I did scrape together was spent on records and live music, some of it worth it, some of it not. But I was a cool 20-something “kid”, and it was what all the cool kids were doing. The first inkling I had that I was not as smart and underground as I thought was when I paid too much money to hear Alex Chilton at a long-gone bar called the Grand Finale. He played the rake. And it was terrible. He made clear that he thought we were all idiots for paying to hear it. And he was right.
When the cost of hearing live music became prohibitive, I stopped paying more than $5 to hear anyone I didn’t personally know, unless it was Tom Waits or Tom Petty (I like me some Toms). But I was still cool. And it wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized “HEY! This brand of coolness costs money.” Even though I had always shopped at thrift stores ~ first out of necessity, then because of the “cool” clothes I could find, then simply because it was fun ~ I had still been had.
Some things had value – big band swing dance, salsa, merengue – I learned to dance, I learned that I loved dancing. But see, not all of that was cool. Some of it became cool. But it didn’t matter. I was doing it because I loved it and the cool factor was irrelevant. Some things had no value (to me) – like that Raging Slab album that I bought, played once, and never ever listened to again. And you know when I woke up from this stupid, um, I mean stupor of “cool”? Sometime after the birth of son 1, my Mr. M.
Yes, my extended adolescence lasted that long. It’s kind of embarrassing actually.
I am not embarrassed that I reveled in being cool when I was in my early 20s. I had been a Dungeon & Dragons playing marching band member in high school. Being cool was brand new. I am not embarrassed that I fell in with some cool kids. I am grateful for that, actually. These weren’t people that spent hundreds on black leather coats, then sweat and brooded in 1000-degree heat. These were aspiring musicians, artists, and writers, many of them, no doubt, truly talented. And it was the first time in my life that I felt like I fit in. It was a revelation to me – I may not have been in the majority, but there were plenty of folks who were a lot like me. And there were plenty of men who found me attractive…without expecting me to make myself up and dumb myself down. So that part brought me “into my own” as the saying goes. It wasn’t just that it was okay to be me. It was better than okay. That part was good.
I am not even embarrassed at the money and time I spent. Most was spent on things I genuinely liked. Some of the bands I heard live truly knocked me down, like 16 Horsepower and the Jive Aces (scientology aside). I heard music that became part of me forever – like Gordon Gano’s (now defunct) Gospel Project The Mercy Seat. (Why yes, Danny Boyle did direct my musical tastes, why do you ask?) I was introduced to the lyrical poetry and dirty fiction of Charles Bukowski. I like to think I made a few introductions of my own – Herman Hesse, Phil K. Dick. I had clothes I genuinely liked….and I usually focused on things I liked. I even watched Star Trek movies without a moment of shame. Geek chic, right?
I only occasionally did things just to be cool, like buying that Raging Slab album that I really did not want. But I had no awareness of when I was being target marketed. And I had embraced an extended adolescence that was part of that target marketing.
I began waking up when friends would ask if I was going to do some cool thing at some cool place with some cool people, and I’d say “no”, because…if I didn’t utterly love the music, art, activity…it suddenly seemed like stupid way to spend my time and money. After all, the greatest wonder in the world was in my arms.
I became aware of how mainstream this extended adolescence really was when I began noticing how many people behaved like teen-agers…for their entire lives. Expect to never have to deal with children (or anyone) intruding on your space? Expect to get what you want most of the time? Spend lots of time and funds on things that used to be for kids but have been made ironic for adults? Ummm….
That’s not to say that I abandoned music, art, and dancing….it’s just to say that I no longer cared whether or not it was cool. Not even a little. I cared if my kid would enjoy it (often, yes). I cared – if I was going without him – if I loved it enough to give up time with him (rarely). Could I afford it? Really – could I really afford it? Was I supporting a friend in going (worthwhile, to my mind)? I asked myself a lot of questions before deciding where to go and what to do. But the question “Is this cool?” had become utterly, completely, irrevocably irrelevant. I no longer needed to be cool. I no longer needed to own anything cool. I no longer needed any of that…
Do you feel that becoming a parent woke you up in any meaningful way?