Thursday, February 4, 2016

Back With My Younger Self

An introductory piece by John, our new writer from Atlanta!

It’s pretty rare for me to go out on a weeknight anymore, but last night my wife and I went to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in concert at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta. It felt sort of decadent, but when I mentioned to her on Sunday that he was playing the Variety, she got really animated. “It’s been over 20 years since I’ve seen him in New Hampshire!” She bought our tickets the next day.

I’ve always been a casual fan, always liked Southside Johnny when I heard him at a friend’s house or, quite a bit more rarely, on the radio. My introduction to him came, perhaps not surprisingly, through BoTG blogger, Bob. It was 1988 and I was in the midst of a pretty horrific breakup. About a week after I came home from work to discover an almost empty apartment (she and her father had come while I wasn’t there to clean the place out of our shared purchases) and a note that simply read, “Thanks for making all this as easy as possible”, Bob showed up with a six pack and a cassette entitled, The Catharsis Tape.

Southside Johnny’s “I Played the Fool” was on the B-side, I’m pretty sure, and an early track. These were the days when making a mixed tape was laborious work that forced you to dig through your vinyl collection and, at least when guys would make them for guy friends, gave the creator a chance to show off his musical tastes, originality, and versatility. (When guys would make them for girls, a whole other set of rules applied). Bob’s mixed tapes were notorious for showcasing up-tempo music, even when being designed for situations as lugubrious as a broken engagement.  Derek and the Dominos’ “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad” followed soon after.

But it was Little Steven’s “Forever,” another song on The Catharsis Tape, that came back to me last night in all its raucous glory. After opening up with “Angel Eyes”, Southside Johnny covered that song with an energy that no 68 year-old I know, besides a friend named Steve, possesses. Johnny owned that song and strutted across the stage like the slightly out of shape bastard love child of Joe Cocker and Mick Jagger. 

I mention his energy because it served as a sort of funhouse mirror to the crowd he performed for at the Variety—about 800 people, overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly between the ages of 47-70, and overwhelmingly white. It’s the first time since moving here that I’ve seen this sort of demographic anywhere else in Atlanta. The irony of the venue name was not lost on me. 

Although there is seating at The Variety--the red velvet kind ubiquitous to stand alone mid century movie houses, there’s also some space down front where about 150 people can stand comfortably. Looking around, I counted 8 women in that crowd in front of the stage and they were far and away the most animated dancers. The rest of us were middle-aged white guys and almost in unison (except that our rhythm was off) we did the one-leg-tapping-dance with the occasional fist pumping in the air at recognizable stanzas. It was in this moment that I had an uncomfortable confirmation of a truth mailed to me last week. I am officially getting old. Or older. It hardly matters.  

Too many of my routines include MSNBC and in the morning, in between watching an increasingly unlikeable Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinksi fawn over Donald Trump, there are the ads. I guess I’m the targeted demographic—middle age, middle class, mostly white male—because a significant percentage of the ad buys are for Cialis, Activia,, and Osphina.  Scanning the audience last night, I knew that I had found my people and it troubled me.  Last week I got an invitation from the AARP to join. I’m not sure how exactly they knew of my eligibility but it would appear that at 51, I’m a potential member of the club. And now, having sent in my $16 a year, I’m an actual member of the club. Although I’m skeptical that the portable insulated travel bag will ever arrive on my doorstep.

I live now in a professional world that tilts decidedly female. After having had only two departmental female colleagues in nearly three decades of teaching at my previous school, this year I have thirteen. I am one of 4 men.  I enjoy my colleagues a great deal and am learning from them different ways to run a classroom, other forms of assessment. But the world of women is a world that often feels foreign to me. I used to joke that I lived a schizophrenic life, spending all my days with boys and the evenings with all girls—two young daughters and two female dogs. Now my life is more blended.

 Last night, dancing to the music with my much more naturally rhythmic wife swaying to the band, I was back with my tribe and back with my younger self, back in the world of men. And for the first time in a long time, I felt at home. 


troutking said...

Great post, neighbor! I'm glad I'll be reading your wise thoughts on this blog, though I'd prefer to have access to them next door! Your description of SSJ is scarily accurate--the swagger of Jagger and the spastic of Cocker! Glad you all had fun.

Billy said...

I have raised a literal, high-octane-filled glass to celebrate the beginning of what I hope is a lengthy relationship between you and BOTG! Nice start!