Friday, December 05, 2008

That Song: Insert Genesis Ballad Here

I still haven’t cracked the nut on women yet, and any man who thinks he has must be delusional. You can be married for decades, and you’re still going to be in the dark on any number of issues. I’m single and don’t lose any sleep over this – I think the secret to happiness is choosing not to lose sleep over issues like this, which is probably how couples stay married for decades. Life gets situational after awhile, and you roll with whatever one you’re in at the time.

I wouldn’t know it at the time, but in high school, I was setting up patterns with women that play out to this day. Which is to say getting myself into impossible situations that are often not impossible to begin with, but reveal themselves to be in short order. The first time was trying to win away a very smart, pretty girl from her longstanding boyfriend, who happened to be a badass on our state champion wrestling team. (I’ve noted in an earlier piece how cool both of them, who did get married eventually, were at one of our high-school reunions, for which I’ll be eternally grateful.)

Since then, man, an abridged inventory: a woman who had her heart set on becoming a nun, changed her mind, then became a Born Again Christian, much to my chagrin. A flirty/artsy woman who was a great match for me, but involved sporadically with other (generally older, moneyed) guys while she couldn’t make up her mind with me. A beautiful Japanese woman whom I tutored with her English writing skills while she broke off an engagement, lost touch with, came back a year later to continue our lessons, at which time she was openly flirty, but shut me down like a lawnmower when I had the tiny balls to notice. A lesbian I had been good friends with. Don’t laugh and don’t consider me delusional: when I went through that situation, I found that a handful of guys I know meandered through the exact same scenario, although none of us panned out like the movie Chasing Amy – all any of us got was dick. Our own. In our own hands.

(Sidenote: the dramatic “this is why I love you” speech Ben Affleck’s character makes in that movie to Joey Lauren Adams’ lesbian character in their car on a rainy night, the one that convinces her to toss aside her sexuality and give this straight guy a chance … is one of the biggest loads of shit I’ve ever seen perpetuated on screen.
Guys who saw that movie and declared “right on” or “I wish I could do that” afterwards have obviously never made that sort of “no bullshit, this is how I feel” speech to a woman. Here’s what really happens when you make that sort of speech, especialy to a heterosexual: the woman sits there, staring straight ahead, with her mind completely blown that you have laid everything bare and are expecting her to immediately accept or reject you in return. She will reject you – maybe not immediately, but you better believe she’ll resent the hell out of you for forcing her emotionally into a corner like that – and that one instance will probably be the first of a series of emotional ultimatums you drop on her like “truth” bombs that demand her equally impassioned, committed response. It’s more a game of emotional control than “baring your soul.” It’s the sort of shit teenagers and inexperienced guys do in their 20s, i.e., director Kevin Smith’s core audience, no matter what age they are. This shit doesn’t work in real life. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself. Jesus. Just watching that youtube clip again has my skin crawling … and I like that movie in general. If you think that scene is cool, you’re my ideological enemy!)

It’s a similar pattern every time: meeting a woman who is great in some sense, hitting it off immediately, then soon discovering her situation is weird/challenging in some way I couldn't have anticipated, accepting the challenge, and eventually losing the challenge. I would swear on a stack of bibles that I don’t search out women like this, but I must have some type of internal bullshit detector: one that draws me into a situation in which bullshit will prevail. The older I get, the less time I spend trying to make things work, based on experience. Where I’d spend months in some hazy area in my youth, I’ll now spend weeks, or days even, or sometimes don’t even go there. I’d call it snakebit, but more than anything, I just try to be honest with myself. If I’m attracted to a woman, I’ll generally go for it in some sense. If it doesn’t pan out, I’ll let it go. How this compared to some guy married for 20 years, I don’t know. You get yourself into one situation that stretches on for decades, you got a different set of problems than mine. And we all got problems!

After that first debacle of going for a girl who was taken, I was understandably gun shy about these matters. Way too gun shy – to say I didn't get laid in high school is a radical under-statement! I would find myself getting into these odd situations where I’d find myself gazing at some girl for weeks or months on end, with her gazing back. Which didn’t necessarily mean the door was open.

Such a case happened with H in my sophomore year, with her a grade ahead. A very pretty girl, smallish, smart. Dating an ape. One of the guys on the football team who was a goofball at best, but if I could go back in a time machine, would recognize him as a deeply-average kid who really wasn’t that big or tough, but had a knack for hanging out with other vaguely “bad” guys who never really did anything all that wrong. High school was all about image as opposed to action, and it worked most of the time. If I had been really smart, actually if a guy any age wants to be smart, he should ask himself why a woman he considers attractive is with a complete jackass, and perhaps draw the unfortunate conclusion that maybe she aint all she’s cracked up to be. And the even worse conclusion: why is he routinely attracted to this type of woman?

I spent months making eyes with this woman, as she did with me. All the while, dating this other guy with no end in sight. One day, an older friend in her class saw me looking at her, asked why I didn’t ask her out, told him the obvious answer, he shrugged, went over to her, told her I liked her and was wondering if she would go out with me. I was incensed at the time, but what the hell – the guy made a great point to me. What was there to lose? Chances are the answer would be no, already taken, thanks anyway, but I’d be no better or worse off than before. And that’s pretty much how this one played out – I do recall later that day, making eye contact with her as my bus pulled away from the school, and she had the saddest look in her eye, I guess acknowledging that there was some quiet bridge between us she wasn’t willing to cross. Fair enough.

How does this relate to Genesis? The whole time this quiet flirtation played out, I was listening to the Genesis album Duke which had come out that spring, and even now, just seeing that album cover makes me think of H and that quiet teenage despair. Nothing happened, but something happened. The album’s vague concept is a character – Duke – guiding a woman to stardom, with her leaving him behind when she becomes a star, leaving him older, wiser and heartbroken. Of course, I wasn’t Duke – this chick was a year older than I was and not a star – but I related to that same sense of heartbroken wisdom. You want a good “romantic failure/feel like an asshole” song to pine over, try “Please Don’t Ask” from this album. I remember playing that song over and over, and thinking, “Christ, what an intelligent song about losing hope. No bitterness. Just the truth..”

Genesis got a bad rap after Peter Gabriel left, the consensus being they were a lesser band because Gabriel was the creative focal point of the band, and probably responsible for most of those interesting stream-of-conscious lyrics. In reality, the band didn’t skip a beat. The band shared writing credits on every song. When Phil Collins took over the lead vocals, his voice sounded almost exactly like Gabriel’s. They lyrics might have changed a little, but they were still good. I guess the bad rap was they were still doing what was basically Prog Rock at a time when it was slowly fading out, while Gabriel was doing more commercial material with great success. (And I still prefer those first two more pop-oriented albums as opposed to his more experimental/world material that followed.)

I bought all those post Gabriel albums, once on vinyl and re-upped on CD: A Trick of the Tail, Wind & Wuthering, And Then There Were Three, Duke, Abacab. That’s where I stopped, as Abacab was the band skulking towards the 80s pop-rock monster they would become through Collins’ far more slick solo albums. I should note that along with Duke that ill-fated spring of 1980, I was dogging two other big Genesis ballads that best represented my teenage state of perpetual blue balls and broken heart: “Ripples” and “Afterglow.” Both songs about leaving and heartbreak, both sung by Phil Collins in that post-Gabriel period. Emotionally accurate songs to play when you’re a screwed-up teenager and think your world is about to come crashing down because the love of your life is unobtainable. A drive to the convenience store to pick up milk for your Mom feels like a windswept journey on a ghost ship in the Azores. Shit like that.


I think there's a much larger story to tell in the fantasy life of 70s teenage rock fans in which their rote American surroundings are in direct contrast with the romantic imagery placed in their imaginations by bands like Genesis, Queen, Led Zeppelin, etc. All I know is there were plenty of guys driving around in Ford Pintos who thought they were on camels in the Sahara when listening to "Kashmir." Of course, drugs may have had something to do with that also. But the same mild self deception came into play with matters of the heart, too, thus we all felt like Fabio on the cover of a romance novel every now and then. Which, I can assure you, is not a good way to go through life!

1 comment:

Andy S. said...

"When Phil Collins took over the lead vocals, his voice sounded almost exactly like Gabriel’s."

Only someone who was not really a fan of the Gabriel-led Genesis would say that. On Trick of the Tail, their first post-Gabriel album, they made an effort to sound as much like the old band as possible, but there's no disguising Collins' thinner, mousier, higher-pitched vocals. As a devoted fan of the early Genesis, I bought Trick of the Tail, but that's where it ended for me. I continued to be a Gabrial solo fan up through the So album. but haven't bought anything of his since. Of course, the irony is that the Collins-led band became much more popular than the old band, and with a couple of exceptions, Gabriel's solo work as well, although none of them have gone hungry.