2000 Pulitzer nominee News, Spin

Sure-fire Method Can Take Off Years

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 25 May 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

An effective way to reclaim youth is to study today’s young people and adopt some of their ways. If you can’t do as they do, then understand what they’re up to. If not that, at least be aware of what they’re doing. It worked in our parents’ time; it can work now.

A succession of generations has followed entertainment, appearance and other cultural bits unique to the coming crew with success. At your next reunion, study your old classmates. The ones for whom time stands still appear like you remember them not because they look like their yearbook pictures but because they look like today’s high schoolers.

My mom embraced rock ‘n roll much more readily than my father in the 1960s and ’70s. Mom wanted to keep up; Dad was positive no young musician could approach Goodman, Miller or Ellington. Mom would play tapes of Blood, Sweat & Tears or James Taylor. Eventually Dad admitted admiring Paul Simon’s clever lyrics in catchy melodies and accepted the sentimental genius of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Yet the current fogey generation has kept hip-hop at arm’s length. It’s all rock ‘n roll — and at 40-plus years, rock has surpassed the Big Band Era in longevity — and some of today’s top performers are our age, if not older.

To stay young, we must give fair hearing to rap. More of today’s lyrics than in our adolescence are intended to be intelligible and not buried under a bog of instrumental licks. Hip-hop songwriters concentrate more on meter and rhyme than many disco and post-disco stars.

Urban musicians have an agenda that strides past losing your one true love. Songs often consider equality and opportunity, as well as rights. Some stars pretend to be bad for the marketing appeal. Some really are gangsters.

So what? Some vocalists and sidemen of my dad’s era got arrested for doing dope or punching someone.

Stylish young men today allow their pants to ride down while their boxers stay visibly at their waists. We fogeys, with the beginnings of middle-age spread, accomplish this with little effort.

Wearing tattoos makes sense only in that it drives adults nuts. We fogeys are sure their appeal will fade by age 30, depending on the wearer’s career prospects. Yet tattoos never fade.

But, in an effort to be “in” or “groovin’,” I’ll try a rub-on tattoo that will fade away in a week. The problem is, however, the only temporary tattoos I have found so far are intended for pre-schoolers. I don’t think I can jump into the nearest mosh pit during a rage party with Tweety Bird on my forearm.

Why has punk hair returned so soon? Spikes and mohawks, shaving parts of the scalp in designs, were “hip,” or “hep,” in the new-wave movement. Dying hair a different, unnatural shade every month had passed from Britain to New York to LA then through the suburbs and out to pasture by 1984.

If swing can return, why not punk? OK, I’ll borrow my wife’s styling gel and the leftover Halloween hairspray and get on with it.

While body piercing seems masochistic to me, Dad seriously would claim that listening to the Rolling Stones was his definition of self-inflicted pain.

Doesn’t getting a ring put through your navel both tickle and hurt?

I could wear an earring on the occasional evening out. Clasp, not pierced, however.

Men having a single, pierced ear goes way back. A book I just bought has a picture of the painter Rembrandt as a young man, holding a musical recorder and sporting an earring.

Which ear? At a Stanford dorm cafeteria about 1978, I asked this of a fellow student who sported a gold stud. This guy explained that on the East Coast the left ear meant gay and the right meant straight but that it was the opposite in California.

Maybe he said it the other away around.

This New Yorker living on the West Coast then announced he went both ways. For once, I had a retort. I asked why then he didn’t wear two earrings to announce he was bicoastal and bisexual. He was offended. Nobody at the table even smiled.

Whenever I retell this, no one still laughs.

Soon, perhaps, I will choose an earring, make a note of which ear Sting wears his on, and wear one to work. I will find a temp tattoo in the shape of a box turtle and put it on my neck. From a Dippity-Doo jar, I will shape my curls wildly, then throughout the day spritz my hair with water and reshape them often.

You’re only as young as you feel. But we fogeys can only go so far.

Otherwise, if anyone objects, or “disses,” me, maybe I would take a cue from today’s headliners. Maybe I would whip out the guns that I might buy, borrow and steal. Maybe I would plant bombs I might make from stuff found in the garage and under the sink.

Oh, to be young again.

What changed?


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