Lather was thirty years old today. They took away all of his toys. His mother sent newspaper clippings to him, About his old friends who’d stopped being boys.
How appropriate that this Jefferson Airplane lyric has been stuck in my head for the past few weeks. Grace Slick’s haunting melody of man/child Lather pretty much sums up a recurring feeling I’ve been having off and on for my entire adult life. Lately, the feeling is very “on”.
For 7 years I’ve been working in a job that has a not-so-serious feel – working as a finance director at a community center. It is challenging. It requires a good deal of technical knowledge, creativity, determination, but it also seems like a place holder while I’m waiting around to get a real job. Some things you should know – I wear shorts to work, my salary is about $30,000 less than my last job, I’ve felt ready to move on for 4 years. My coworkers are as young as 16, and my peers in managerial positions tend to be 15 – 20 years younger than me. The older ones are entrenched employees that I consider dead-wood, maxed-out beyond usefulness.
This isn’t a job that I stumbled into without thought. I actively moved towards this position for years. In my early thirties, I looked around at my corporate life and cringed. I didn’t think I could continue working in a company with 30,000 employees making weapon systems for the rest of my life. So I started an effort to move to a smaller, more human focused field. This entire process took 8 years, and 3 job changes but here I am, working in a human-services non-profit, and wondering if it was the right move. Of course, my identity struggles are not just about my profession.
I love music. As a teen and young adult, my identity was tied to my musical tastes. Stoner/hippy in high school – Neil Young, Doors, Beatles. In college, this morphed into amped-up punk – Sex Pistols, Clash, Ramones. To this day, I still have a tendency to think of myself as a hippy/punk. While my musical tastes have expanded considerably, Those 6 bands remain in my top 10 (well maybe not the Pistols, but I still enjoy hearing their ‘music’).
Bored – with life, with my workout, with my lack of hobbies. I decided to start an indoor cycle class using primarily punk music. Most of the classes offered at my work-place were heavily pop and country influenced, and those that weren’t leaned towards classic rock – think Bob Seger not T-Rex. I quickly found the format of all punk, protopunk, post-punk, neo-punk, to be stifling. And although no one ever complained about the music, I felt that it was annoying to the class participants. I started expanding into other genres.
Of course I use lots of classic rock, but also folk, pop (new wave, really), blues, reggae, and alt county. The result is a raucous, eclectic mess that leaves my participants confused, surprised, and hopefully enlightened. In college, I longed to be a DJ at my college radio station, but it was shut-down midway through my freshman year due to ‘funding priorities’. It reopened the year after I graduated. I missed my chance to spin tunes for the masses – until now.
Probably no one really cares about the music I play in my class, but I do. Over the past 2 years, I’ve worked to push the boundaries of my musical knowledge. I’ve read biographies of bands and producers, I’ve sought-out music lauded as great that I never ‘got’ (Bob Dylan, for instance – still don’t get it). And I’ve mined my musical past for lost ‘classics’ that I think those in my world cannot live without. I’ve even cyber-stalked some small-time DC artists from the 80s - who long ago abandoned the music industry for corporate jobs - to see if I can get MP3s of my favorite old songs.
About a month ago, I found a copy of the newly revised (1995) Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll in a lending library. This has been living in my bathroom ever since. And I’ve completely devoured it. I’ve made notes of bands to research, try out and ultimately incorporate in my cycle class. I try to learn about bands’ influences, roots & history. When I take time to reflect on this academic exploration of music, I think I’m trying to legitimize my interest in music – make it something more than just thinking about songs and bands – or I’m just trying to find some new music that I like. I have trouble understanding my motivations. Regardless, I’ve become deeply immersed in the topic of rock.
And then I read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (again).
High Fidelity’s lead character is going through a life-crisis of relationships. But it was the under-lying theme that resonated with me – he questions whether he is a ‘serious’ adult. Are his priorities immature, is his job a placeholder, is his desire to paint record label logos on his apartment wall an expression of his interests or just stupid? This is me.
Now back to the Airplane’s Lather. At times, I feel like an upstanding member of the adult community. I have 2 bright children, I’ve been married for 16 years, own a house and have been somewhat gainfully employed my entire adult life. But then I look around and start the comparisons. My principal hobby involves long hours making music-mixes. I have a tendency to dress like a teenager. I got another tattoo as a 50th birthday present. My pleasure reading genres are sci-fi and rock. I’m working to fully bumper-sticker my truck. My principal form of transportation is a bicycle. It all seems so adolescent.
My friends are doctors, lawyers, educators. I work at a fitness center. My friends are high-achievers with serious hobbies – farming, researching history, writing & publishing. Me? While mixing spin-disks, I worry about whether I can follow John Prine with the Who (yes, with the right song). Last week, I was meeting with an attorney. He is an impeccably dressed older man, staid demeanor, careful diction, big office with lots of oak. Me, shorts, sweater, hiking boots, careless speech, tattoos. I essentially felt like a kid in the Principal’s office. During the closing chatter of the meeting, it came out that he is 53. Only a couple of years older than me, Lather.
The Airplane song ends with the GraceSlick’s lament: “And I should have told him, ‘No, you’re not old.’ And I should have let him go on… smiling…”
Listen to "Lather" on You Tube