I was sitting at a traffic light the other day, and a young guy pulled up next to me in one of those little Nissan‘s or something, the ones with all four tires oversized and a really big tailpipe so it sounds like it has over 100 horsepower. His hat was on backwards and down to his eyebrows, and his stereo was pumping out something that sounded like someone pounding a kettledrum in a cave, and it was so loud, it looked like his rear window would fly across the road at any moment. Couldn’t hear any music, mind you. Oh no – no bass guitar, no rhythm guitar, no keyboard – just this sound like BUUUUUM BUUUUUM BUUUUUM…
At that very moment, I had the insane urge to jump out of my car, go tap on his window, and ask him if he was actually enjoying having his hearing irreversibly damaged just so he could look hip. I didn’t, of course, mostly because I don’t think the word “hip” is even used nowadays.
But it got me to thinking. Was he enjoying it? Or was he pounding the stink out of his car just so he would be seen as conforming to society’s demands by appearing to be someone who wants to belong?
Many years ago, I auditioned for and was accepted into a pit band for a local production of the rock opera “Tommy“. Now, my British pals are probably more familiar, but for those of you who aren’t, the story of Tommy is about a young man who becomes deaf, dumb, and blind from a traumatic experience, and eventually is followed by many who think he is some kind of religious guru.
My point centers on a poster I saw for the rock opera, which included a pinball machine (Tommy was a pinball player of legendary proportions, and defeated the local champion, played originally by Sir Elton John) and a pen full of geese. It was meant to signify that his talent for pinball set him aside from the masses.
We don’t seem to have many Tommy’s any more. Throughout my life, I’ve seen the vast majority of folks conforming to societal expectations:
Jeans, leather, buckskin, sideburns, no sideburns, long hair, short hair, buzz cut hair, permed hair, afros, long nails, long nails with pictures, half tops, track suits, mood rings, earth shoes, bell-bottoms, platform shoes, leisure suits, polyester, polo shirts, designer jeans, parachute pants, acid-wash jeans, big shoulder pads, grunge, long, straight hair parted down the middle, power bead bracelets, tattoos, bustin’ a sag, mullets, mullets, fanny packs, crocs (out of all of them, my vote for the worst), jumpsuits, rat tails, white shoes, disco, rock, rap, R & B…
And the list goes on and on. And no matter which one you pick, during its heyday, almost everyone wore it, combed it, or played it. I was guilty too, of course, and stomped along mindlessly wearing what was supposed to be worn because Mike the tailback wore them and you just had to be cool like Mike.
What in the hell ever happened to individuality? Where is the spirit of not conforming, treading to your own drum, walking the path less trod, veering off the trail to walk up that yonder hill and see what’s on the other side?
I’ll tell you where. Right in the world in which all authors live. We write of the things in our mind, our imagination – and they differ from one another in a myriad of fascinating and beautiful ways. I read a blog post several weeks ago in which the host related that he had seen yet another mystery in which one more unshaven, sloppy, beaten-down-by-life cop was asked to unravel a murder mystery akin in difficulty to investigating the beginning of life. And the book ended up being fantastic. It was fantastic because each of us, no matter the story line, has our own spin, our unique ability to see the line as thick, thin, twisted, or zig zag as our own particular gray matter perceives it.
And that is why, no matter what pants are being worn, how curly the hair, and how annoying the music, we, my friends, are immortal.