I used to think I was a rock and roll dude, and I mean totally … when I was around a bunch of polka people. I might never have been as avant garde as I thought, but I’ve been informed, of late, that I’ve become anything and everything but rock and roll. I’ve become polka. I found this out at dinner one night, when a real rock and roller rebelled against a polka comment I made. It didn’t completely surprise me that she considered me the vanguard of traditional thought –that needed to be squashed for the purpose of her attaining a rebellious, rock star personae– it did surprise me, however, to find out that I was only polka, but I liked it.
I, too, used to regard societal norms as something in need of a good squashing. I used to think those who ascribed to traditional thoughts did so in a 1950’s, Leave it to Beaver, and uninformed manner, until I realized I was doing what I was told. The avant garde informed me that if I wanted to be considered dangerous, risqué, and avant garde, there was a distinct set of beliefs to which I must adhere.
Back when I had no idea who I was, or what I wanted to be, but I was willing to do just about anything, and say just about anything, and be just about whatever I had to be to have one person confuse me with a dangerous, Jimmy Hendrix lick, or a controversial and provocative John Lennon lyric. I wanted to be indefinable, complex and cool, because I didn’t know what I had to do to fill my basket yet, and it disgusted me when others, so sure of themselves, did. What my friend said to me the other weekend was that indefinable, rock and roll something that I would’ve said to my own polka people, twenty years prior, and my reaction to her comment was as silent as my recipients’ were.
Why was I silent? I didn’t know what she was trying to say, and I didn’t see the value in it. If I displayed confusion in the face of that comment and said, ‘What?’ she probably would’ve gotten off on that. I know I would’ve, in my rock and roll days.
‘Nothing,’ is what she might have responded had I made the fateful decision to say ‘What?’ and she probably would’ve done so in a deliciously dismissive manner. ‘You wouldn’t get it if I told you, and you probably never will,’ is something she might have added, and she probably would have considered that whole dinner discussion delicious.
It dawned on me that when I used to say such things to the polka people around me, it was as confusing to me then as it is now. I didn’t know what I was talking about back then, but I wanted to be the apathetic, complicated characters I saw captured so well in the movies of my youth. I thought those actors were so cool rebelling against complicated matters they knew nothing about, and I used the catch phrases and song lyrics they used to dismiss the polka generation to do so. I thought their lyrics were so delicious that they afforded the characters a persona that suggested they were the only ones who truly knew about the matters they were discussing. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t have enough confidence to pull it off, but for some reason no one was as affected by my presentation as those character actors were in the movies.
“What are you rebelling against?” was a screenwriter’s line a female actor used in the movie The Wild One. “Whaddya got?” The male actor responded with another of the screenwriter’s lines.
Translation: ‘I don’t know what I’m rebelling against. I’m too young, and too uninformed to rebel against anything of any substance, but isn’t my indefinable rebellion cool?’
‘Lines like these and other lyrics from the rock and rollers are great and all,’ I wanted to say to my fellow rock and roll rebels, ‘but I got all these other guys hammering me for more details, because I don’t know what I’m talking about. You have to give me something more here.’
Undefined rebellion in songs and movies are so cool, and the idea of rebelling against the norm, the status quo, or the “whaddya got?” is the epitome of greatness, until the various theys in our life kill the messengers for not knowing what we’re talking about. What are we rebelling against exactly? We don’t know, and the rock and roll rebels don’t know either. If they know, they’re not telling us, because they enjoy the cool deflector shield they wear that suggests we’re not supposed to ask. Those who do know, know that it’s something beautiful and indefinable. It’s something that the important, dangerous, and attractive know, and if you don’t, what are you doing here anyway?
I spent some time around rock and roll dudes, in my rock and roll days, and they were adamant that “I don’t get it, and I probably never will”.
“I don’t,” I said when I reached an age where I was confident enough to admit it, “explain it to me.” I was confident enough to admit that I wasn’t a rock and roll dude, but I wasn’t so confident that the latter line was a confrontational challenge to their beliefs. I was not a person who believed that there was some intrinsic value to being uncool. I wanted to know what they knew, and I would’ve loved if they tossed the keys to the “it” world to me, but it wasn’t such a driving force that I was willing to do whatever it took to get there.
I now know there is no secret formula. “It” is an idea steeped in superficialities. If you have an “it” look, you have “it” without being required to get “it” qualities. If you don’t, and you want in, you have to believe in those who do. You have to have faith in the otherwise quiet, cool kids who use a catch phrase or a song lyric to condemn those with a polka mindset. Unquestioned allegiance to the unquestioning allegiance of what the “it” crowd believes can lead a messenger to being an avant garde rock and roll rebel that some regard as an independent thinker.
With all of those contradictions in mind, when my dining companion confronted me with the idea that I’m no longer a little bit polka, and a little bit rock and roll, because I’m not the least bit rock and roll, I took it for what it was, because I knew she couldn’t define the alternative any better than anyone else could. No one can explain it, of course, and although I’ve never been the best student of what “it” is, because I’ve never had “it”, I now know what I have to buy to get “it”.