Casting Mind back on the day. Back into the deep, dark past of youthful folly, delusion and spontaneous combustion. Back to a time when we just didn’t care, or we cared far too much. When everything was brand spanking new and we drank and drank ourselves into unearned nostalgia or oblivion.
Driving was everything. Driving was our escape and revenge, our home, something we controlled outside the law of adults. Their law wasn’t our law when we drove and partied and listened to Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Bruce Springsteen and the Beach Boys — what today some call Classic Rock. It wasn’t classic back then. It was just the music of our generation.
We had seen “American Graffiti” and we cruised the streets looking for our own version of West Coast Car Culture, knowing we’d never find it. Knowing that our towns, bleeding into other towns, operated under different rules, three thousand miles away from the Valley.
When you’re a teenager, you’re schizoid, or you don’t exist. Being schizoid keeps you sane. Being dazed and confused makes it possible to work through the crashing hormones and the restlessness and the rage. It makes it possible to be violently angry and wounded and crushed, all at the same time, to want to hold your girlfriend one moment and then ramble on the next. Haughty, proud, suddenly free.
Hot, warm and cool, if not cold. Music was our soundtrack. Did it shape our thoughts and feelings, or just echo them? Did it guide us and teach us and alter our way of looking at life, or just confirm it all? At the time, we didn’t think that way. We didn’t analyze. We just rocked through the darkness together, with friends and girlfriends and hoped-for conquests.
Hot. Led Zeppelin’s music was dark, dangerous, raw and explosive. Based on the Blues, it exalted pain and anguish in a muscular and aggressive way. Whole Lotta Love typified what we listened to in our Camaros, Cutlasses, Novas, Valiants and assorted ancient trucks:
Whole Lotta Love
Warm. The Beach Boys made you think of warm breezes, sunshine and beautiful girls walking on the strand, even if somewhere in the back of your mind you felt conned. If the Beach Boys came up on the radio after the electric fire of Led Zeppelin, we still didn’t skip a beat. It didn’t jolt us — that crazed segue. We flowed and then turned our attention to the girl next to us in the car, or the one back home, or the one we lost and felt tender toward them all. We felt tender toward a mythical or real past that was the next best thing to a nostalgia we hadn’t earned yet. Did the Beach Boys secretly make us feel angelic for a second after the devilish ones had just finished playing? Perhaps. Again, in the middle of a teenaged moment, guzzling beer after beer, your left shoulder and your right shoulder are really not the focus of attention.
Don’t Worry Baby
Cool. Cold. Neurotic, as Paul Simon would say when he played this song live. I am a Rock was a call to go inside oneself, to steel oneself to the ravages of emotional winters. It was the anti-Donne song, in praise of islands outside the stream. In praise of stoicism and hard edges, with a subtext pleading for an end to life on that island. A false bravado unlike most songs embraced by teenagers, because it elevated contemplation over physical, hormonal expression. If this song followed Led Zeppelin and the Beach Boys, it could bring silence to those of us inside the car, and turn us toward our own walls and defenses.
I am a Rock
* * * * *
Some say that genius is childhood recaptured. Zen teaches us to look at things with Beginner’s Mind, Original Mind, living each moment in the moment, new, dawning. But our teenage years are the time between childhood and adulthood. Where is the genius there? What is there that we should recapture?
Those middle years may be the least conducive to Beginner’s Mind. We rebel against our childhood and rebel against our lack of power in the adult world.
It’s likely that most High School students think of themselves as adults, no longer children in any way. They may resent not having the respect and freedom they think they see among their elders. Or, they just couldn’t care less. Depending upon the mood and the atmosphere, it may be all of the above. Those years are lost years in a sense. Waiting to become something else, to be somewhere else.
I feel tender toward those middle days. I feel tender toward the music of those middle years.