I’ve been having a bad dream for the past few years that I can’t quite figure out. Most of my dreams, I can’t remember, mainly because they’re too nuts. Not like movie dreams that have some recognizable purpose or plot. Mine usually involve dead people, celebrities, people with wings, talking animals, animals with people’s heads and vice-versa, purple skies, centaurs, shifting physical scenes, like a forest, open countryside and rural dirt roads suddenly appearing in downtown Manhattan (that dream always relaxes me), or a cliff suddenly appearing in a bedroom and me walking off. They’re vivid as hell, I only remember bits and pieces, and the ones I do remember make no sense and spook me.
This recurring one is a nightmare, albeit not a horrific one. No vampires, werewolves or yellow-eyed demons. It’s simple. In varying formats, some unseen authority figure determines that something went horribly wrong back in the early 80s in terms of tabulating grades and earned credits … and in each case, I am forced to go back to high school to get my diploma, which was erroneously awarded to me at the time. Starting Now. As an adult. Dream started in my 30s, now in my 40s.
I don’t have this dream every night, week or month. But often enough to know it’s a recurring theme, and one of those troubling dreams that always leaves me with a headache when I wake up. (That’s usually how I know I’ve had a nightmare that I can only vaguely remember.)
This last one stuck out for me because the first day of school, where I decided to use my wings and fly to my high school which is just where it was and is now, about two miles out the road on Route 61 … this time, I was wearing red leather lederhosen, with no shirt on underneath, but reconsidered when I was about to go through the front doors, realizing how weird I would look to the kids (or anyone, outside of a few select nightclubs, Right Said Fred blasting from the jukebox). I never went in – and this is where the dream ended. The dream tends to end before I actually take classes, or even see any of my old teachers.
The dream never applies to college, probably because going back wouldn’t be as uncomfortable or unrealistic. Plenty of adults go back to college. But I’m sure as hell not after hearing horror stories of people dropping $20K/year on their kids’ college educations now. Of course, in my dream, I’d expect to be the same gangly, fresh-faced kid I was then … as opposed to the more Rodney Dangerfieldesque reality of passing time.
I’m not sure why this inspires so much dread in me. Even when I was a kid, I thought too many other kids in high school were assholes. Couldn’t stand the trendiness, the cliques, the cattiness, the profound lack of maturity. I run into adults constantly who haven’t seemed to grow one iota mentally or emotionally over the following decades. Or at least I constantly encounter people at work who embody the worst of high school. Kids now? Cellphones, texting, the desperately empty pop culture, which makes the empty one I grew up with seem like the Renaissance. I don’t know if they’re “worse” than how kids were then – they surely do seem that way. But I can see what’s going on now is pretty similar to disco culture we had in the 70s, save amplified a few thousand times to overbearing proportions, with the Guidoism similarly turned up to 11. Watch Saturday Night Fever sometime … not much has changed, only grown more embarrassing.
In some strange way, I’m seeing the dream as a parting with my youth. I don’t want to go back, this much is crystal clear in my dream. There is dread. I’m being forced to go back. As you get older, you stop playing games with the concept of “youth.” Well, at least I do. There are plenty of guys well into their 60s dying their hair jet black and wearing that dead give-away “all black” outfits that scream “middle-aged man still trying to look hip.” There are some things about adulthood I will never grasp: overbearing self importance, fake authoritarianism, wearing collared shirts at all times, never wearing shorts, extreme debt, dishonesty as a way of life, money as status, forced life decisions, etc.
But one of my biggest pet peeves about adulthood is other adults kissing the ass of youth. You see this all the time with music. In the bad adult mind, this stuff is considered sacrosanct as it represents kids claiming some type of music as their own … and recalling how they felt at the time, too, about the bands and music they worshipped as teenagers. But they forget that there was plenty of music in their time as teenagers that they openly and wildly hated, too, often music that gets targeted at all teens. I would expect to walk up to some full-blown indie kid now and hear him say, “Man, hiphop sucks. It's empty. It’s a parasitic form of music that’s gone nowhere in decades and had very few original ideas to begin with.”
All right, so that was me talking. But a kid saying that is considered valid because of his age – me saying that is an “old man” who “needs to listen to some old school/underground hiphop to really hear the good stuff” and “just doesn’t get it.” I get it. I got it for about two years in the mid-80s and moved on when I grasped it was going nowhere musically. I get all kinds of music way beyond hiphop or the predominately white pop rock I was raised with. I’ll often see this debate with music fans, with lame adults always siding with the “can’t criticize anything kids like because you're not a kid” take. They won – a long time ago. And look at pop music now: horrible junk for the most part that gets more constricted, redundant and tired with each passing year. A 13-year-old seriously listening to a very small field of pop music for three months has just as valid an opinion as a 45-year-old man who’s spent decades listening to all kind of music well beyond and including pop? That’s how the world works now. Everyone’s equal. We should exchange the Supreme Court with the cast from Jersey Shore. Why the fuck not?
It’s that altar our sick culture has erected around youth, that demands we all worship at it, even when our teen years are a dot in the rear view mirror. To criticize it in any fashion is to be out of touch. When any sane person can see the altar is 98% shit and 2% substance. Sane teenagers see this all the time, but of course are heavily outnumbered by morons, same as it ever was. But we’re all expected to maintain the façade, out of some misguided sense of respect. Life goes on. I don’t mind seeing kids foisting this lie on me, as they don’t know any better, but adults? I don’t get it. Seeing life this way is an extremely defeatist attitude that ignores the simple act of aging. It’s permissible to be honest: if you think something sucks, say it sucks. Life goes on for everybody. Somebody thinks that makes you old and out of touch, let them get old and out of touch, so they can see what bullshit a stance like that truly is. I want to be out of touch with teen tastes because I’m not a teenager, and there’s something creepy about adults playing up the faux hipness they mistakenly see in themselves out of some deep-seated insecurity regarding the aging process. I can only guess what compels adults to swallow such dogshit. (Best guess is some of them are making money from that stance and know not to rock the boat.)
I can recall being 11 or 12, sitting in my dad’s room, listening to a rough cassette copy of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album. This was the first album I bought, with snow shoveling money. And what an album – some of Elton’s best songs are on there. But there was too much filler, a forced double album when the guy was already putting out two albums a year. When I say a “rough” copy, I mean rough, recorded to cassette the old-fashioned way: holding an awful, low-grade plastic microphone, plugged into the cassette earphone jack, up to one very bad stereo speaker for the length of each album side. It sounded awful, even the good songs.
I was sitting there, listening to what may be Elton John’s worst song, “Jamaica Jerk Off.” I don’t think it’s a song about Jamaicans masturbating. “Jerk” could be referring to the type of chicken you get there? The actual lyrics don’t seem to be about guys jerking off. It’s just a dumb title, strapped on a terrible cod reggae song that Elton never should have recorded, not even as a b-side. I recall not being too crazy about the song even then, and had no idea what jerking off was (although you better believe I would in another year or two). But I had recorded the album in its entirety, and there it was.
Just as the song is playing, Dad walks in to take some money out the wallet in his drawer. I notice him pause as the song is playing. He doesn’t fly into a rage, but barks out, “That song’s disgusting! You shouldn’t be listening to crap like that!” He didn’t flip out and take or turn off the cassette player. Just made it known he thought the song was a piece of shit, and walked out. By the same token, “Candle in the Wind” or “Bennie and the Jets” could have been playing, and he’d have been put off. But not to the extent of hearing a horrible-sounding song about masturbating, or so he thought.
I recall being mildly offended in that “this is my kind of music, man” way … but even in that moment, sort of agreed with him. He left before I could say, “Yeah, you’re right” and explained that I had recorded the entire album without editing anything out. The song did suck, big time. What I loved about Dad, and his generation, is/was their ability to just say, in essence, “fuck this shit” to their kids and not be worried about any repercussions. If I had kids, I can guarantee you, I’d be the same way. Nothing was broken in him or wrong with his generation. They thought something sucked. They said so. We all got over it. I’m sure Dad’s opinion would have applied to many things I loved then musically and still do now. So what? Not everyone gets everything, and sooner or later, we all get off the merrygoround of pop culture, especially when it starts getting too sickening to bear, as it has been through the 90s and 00s.
Peel away the layers, and I think this provides the sense of dread in that dream. I think there’s also a fear of change going on in there. Change is good when you’re a kid, but as you get older, changes are not always for the better. People die. Get sick. Lose work. Get divorced. Lose friends. There’s still positive change, but a lot of the changes we go through after 30 aren’t good. Of course, you learn this is life kicking your ass, and provides even more opportunity for some kind of growth once the shock wears off. But we all hit these plateaus in life and just move right along, punching the clock, banking the money, wondering if this is what it’s all about, etc. I’ve been claiming that I’m hanging on to this clammy “working in an office” way of life by my fingernails … for decades now. Would love to ditch it for something else, but not quite sure how to pull it off in terms of money/level of income and such. I suspect that dream dwells on that longstanding desire for change.
I have no idea what the red leather lederhosen means. Only happened this past time. In my sub-conscious, I can recall that scene in the so-so 80s flick Streets of Fire where Willem Dafoe, as the bad guy, comes walking out of a wall of flame in those leather bib overalls with suspenders – I think that was the vibe I was going for in the dream, but of course looked like a total asshole instead.