Was Youth Only a Dream?

Late at night, listening to the winter rain,
recalling my youth —
Was it only a dream? Was I really young once?
… Ryōkan

Need proof you were young once? Go back and listen to songs that were popular when you were a teen and, more than likely, you’ll discover you still love that awful music your parents and your children hate.

My latest indulgence in nostalgia and teeny-bopper music was provoked by fellow blogger Andrew Hidas’ “Second-Annual-Songs-of-Summer entry ” where Andrew opined that Loving Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” was the 2nd best summer song of all time (Sorry, but I didn’t check out the previous year’s nominee). I do like Loving Spoonful but couldn’t believe that “Summer in the City” could possibly be the best “summer” song so I started a search to find a better nominee. Turned out that summer hasn’t served as inspiration for many songs I like, but my favorite song turned out to be Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” a song I doubt I would have even remembered without searching online.

I only had vague memories of Cochran, who died in a taxi crash in England at a young age, so naturally I had to buy an album of his greatest hits from iTunes. Turned out that I only knew a few of his songs for most were released after his death in 1960, the year I graduated from high school and was too busy working and studying to listen to much music. His album certainly evoked memories of other artists I loved as a teenager, though, and for a while they have transported me back to a very different time in my life.

If I hadn’t been such an Elvis addict in Junior High and High School, I might have sworn that it was Elvis singing several of the songs on the album but I’m pretty sure I still recognize all of Elvis’ early songs. Cochran also managed to sound like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Big Bopper, and even Ray Charles in “Hallelujah I Love Her So.” Only “Summertime Blues” and “Skinny Jim,” my two favorite on the album, come close to sounding like “originals.” Even in “Skinny Jim” he used the phrase “Be-Bop-a-Lula” so many times that I finally remembered that it was the title of another favorite from that era, sung by Gene Vincent and not Cochran, though it turns out Cochran played guitar on the original song.

Out of curiosity, I asked iTune’s Genius to make a mix based on Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.” Not surprisingly, the list has artists like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Dion and Johnny Preston. In fact, I suspect it may be the “generic” quality of Cochran’s music that most appeals to me. Rather than standing out as a particular artist I once listened to, he represents a whole musical generation, the one I listened to in junior high and high school.

I have listened, listening, and re-listening to Cochran’s album much the same way I used to listen to a new Elvis song when local stations played “Hound Dog” every hour on the hour. I’m still trying to figure out why that music should have such a hold on me because I thought I’d long since outgrown it; heck, by the end of high school I’d already moved on to Blues and Jazz. Nowadays I tend to listen to New Age music when not listening to Blues or Jazz. I suspect my Deuter and Jessita Reyes’ albums have gotten more play than anything else in the last four or five years.

Apparently, though, I haven’t completely moved past classic Rock (though I notice a lot of internet sites now call it “Rockabilly”) since I spent the last few weeks drowning in it despite — or was it because of — the lyrics. Cochran is supposed to be known for his portrayal of “teenage angst, but Cochran’s angst seems pretty silly, at least from this old man’s perspective. It’s hard to believe I ever really bought into the lyrics in these songs and perhaps I didn’t because even in high school I was known for my sarcasm. Would you expect less from someone raised on Bing Crosby and Bob Hope movies?

Pretty sure I never had the “Summertime Blues,” at least not while a teenager, certainly not the version described in this song. First, my parents wouldn’t let me work full-time until I graduated from high school. I suspect I can thank my older brother for that restriction because he wanted to drop out of high school to work full-time. I was allowed to have a paper route, pick strawberries, and do yard work to earn spending money, but they were such miserable jobs I was never tempted to pursue them full-time. But since I couldn’t own a car, again, thanks to my older brother, I didn’t really need much money.

Though my best friend threw some notorious high school parties when his parents were out of town, Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody’s” call to party while his folks are out of town would never have appealed to me. First, I could barely gag down a beer. Second, I couldn’t imagine letting a bunch of unruly teenagers in mom’s house. I went to one of my friend’s parties after I graduated from college, and I spent the night trying to take protect his parents’ house while he took care of his sick girlfriend. Nearly getting in a fight with the boyfriend of some cute-but-very-drunk broad who kept leaning on me and asking me to dance didn’t change my attitude a bit; I’d left my fist-fighting days behind in Junior High.

The only lyrics I could really relate to on Cochran’s album was “Somethin Else.”

I’ll admit to having a crush on Midge and Colleen, football cheerleaders, when we were in Junior English together. I think that might have been the only time in my life that I wished I could be someone else, wished that my dad had signed my permission slip to play football (and that I weighed 40 pounds more than I did or could run twice as fast as I could). I probably would also have dreamed of having a car if I hadn’t been able to drive my dad’s Rebel V8 on dates. It actually took two Mustangs to make me finally realize that a car is simply a tool to get something done, not a status symbol, and that a four-door Dodge Dart was a better family tool than a Mustang fastback.

While I won’t quite admit to being a goody-two-shoes (I was far too cynical and sarcastic for that) I must admit when I think back to my teenage years I seemed to fit Catch-22’s Major Major’s description:

He never once took the name of the Lord his God in vain, committed adultery or coveted his neighbor's ass. In fact, he loved his neighbor and never even bore false witness against him. Major Major's elders disliked him because he was such a flagrant nonconformist.

Still not sure why that should be. I had way more freedom than most teenagers I knew and never knew what a curfew was. I could never have survived the kind of wild teenage years my father often described, so I really didn’t worry about my parents’ overreacting if I got a ticket or got into trouble. The INTP in me loved high school. Guess I just couldn’t find anything to rebel against. We weren’t “Christian” at least not the church-attending kind, but I still might have been the best practicing “Christian” I knew. Somehow it just seemed that all those Christian rules about treating others, including girls, as you wanted to be treated was the best strategy for a good life.

I have a hard time believing that I ever would have personally identified with the lyrics of Cochran’s songs. Since the lyrics of these songs don’t have much appeal to me, it must be the “sound” I still love. I do love the saxophone solos, and the beat is infectious. It’s hard for me to sit still while listening to most of these songs, and not just because my arthritis bothers me when I sit too long. Cochran’s saccharine ballads like “Three Steps to Heaven,” however, are nearly unbearable, even with the Jordanaire-like backup singers.

I noticed at our 50th High School reunion many couples were out dancing to hits of the day, and most people, dancing or not, seemed to enjoy the music. So it’s definitely not just me. Having attended more than my share of reunions as a high school teacher, I’ve noticed that every class seems equally drawn to the music that was popular when they were in junior high and high school. Why is that? What draws us back to music that was popular at a critical stage of our lives?

Are we little more than Pavlovian dogs drawn to the sounds that accompanied our first sexual stirrings?

Do they give us a “tribal” identity? My dad who had studied Opera wondered how we could stand to listen to people who couldn’t sing. My brother who was three years older hated the music I listened to constantly, and insisted that Pat Boone was a better singer than Elvis. I’m not sure my younger brother would even recognize the names of artists that I listened to, and I know that I kept telling him to turn his music down when I happened to be home.

I guess there’s always the possibility that repeatedly listening to Cochran’s songs is just another sign of approaching senility, and in the end I will be content to pass the last days of my life rocking out to Elvis’s “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up, ” though I think I’d prefer to regress a little further and go out listening to Bing Crosby’s version of “Zip a Dee Doo Dah” and “Don’t Fence Me In.”

You Get a Line, I’ll Get a Pole, Babe

I have to admit that when I took this picture I was simply trying to get a good shot of this pied-billed grebe, but when I actually looked at the photo on my computer screen my attention immediately shifted to his catch, not him.

Crawdad

I finally realized that it had to be a crawfish in his beak, an animal I hadn't thought about since I was a kid and used to catch them and sometimes use for bait.

Apparently it doesn't take much at my age to start reminiscing, because that got me looking for the title of this entry, a favorite song as a kid, as played here

Still as Stubborn as Ever

As I was persistently, nay stubbornly, transferring old files to my new site I took a much-needed break and did some of my usual web-browsing, stopping off as usual at Jonathon’s site to see my name mentioned in his well-written explanation of how he designed my new site so that the content could remain on the right as it was on my old site, a stylistic element that I stubbornly held on to because it just “looked right” to me. Or, maybe, it was just because Jonathon Delacour, Invisible Darkness, and Burningbird, three sites I now visit frequently, use the same format that it seemed the best approach.

Anyway, in my browsing I found myself at Dorothea’s site, and unexpectedly found myself and a previous blog entry prominently mentioned at her site.

All this is not to say that I think Loren arrogant or hubristic. (I probably should have said this earlier. Oh, well. Sorry, Loren.) I hope merely to remind myself and others that stubbornness for the sake of itself is not a virtue, though stubbornness in the service of some other goal may well be.

While I was happy to hear that I was not being accused of being arrogant or hubristic, and it didn’t even bother me that she waited until the last paragraph to mention this, I still question her underlying argument that we can rid ourselves of this “stubborn” streak.

In my original article I suggested that I felt I may have inherited a “stubborn” gene, something I obviously had little control over. An even earlier example of my stubbornness came to mind when Jonathon (somewhere) mentioned he was “anal-retentive.” I read that right after writing the first blog entry on stubbornness, and it immediately reminded me that when we were trying to potty-train our kids my mother told me that when she tried to “potty-train” me, and this was, after all, the “bad-old days,” that I would slap her and try to get down off the potty. Needless to say, I got slapped back, ending up in fairly long “slapping matches,” or so I was told. My point was that this must have been an “inherited trait” not a learned behaviour. If that’s true, I suspect that we can never really get rid of it, though we may still be able to choose our battles more wisely than we did as children.

Although I never mentioned any particular unhappy experiences caused by this trait, I am sure that I, like Dorothea, have suffered because of it. My divorce, the greatest disappointment of my life, was unnecessarily prolonged because of my stubbornness. Looking back I suppose I realize that I made a mistake in choosing to marry someone who wanted me to be someone I could never be, someone I had no desire to become. The error, of course, was compounded by the fact that it was years later before I could really objectively look back and see mistakes that had been made on both sides. My stubbornness in not giving up on the romantic belief that “marriage was forever” simply made the divorce worse for everyone involved than it had to be. I suppose that you could even argue that the same romantic notion of “love” caused me unnecessary grief when I received a “Dear Loren” letter as my unit was about to ship out to Vietnam years before. I suspect, though, if I were to relive the situations I would make exactly the same mistakes again. It is just in my nature to doggedly, if not stubbornly, hang on to those things I want to believe.

I suppose I would doggedly hang on to the belief that, as Dorothea says, “stubbornness in the service of some other goal may well be” a virtue. Stubbornness may have caused Dorothea’s unfortunate problems in grad school, but it’s what got me through college when everything was telling me to quit. The university I attended failed 50% of the incoming-freshmen the first two quarters because it was required by state law to take all students. So, when I received a 2.25 grade average my first quarter, I was “pissed,” to put it mildly. My God, I’d been recruited by universities that put this one to shame. While most of my friends quietly melded away to junior colleges or took jobs, I gave up bowling and billiards and brought my third-quarter average up to 3.5. Having proven my point, after that I went back to my old ways of learning what I wanted to learn and ignoring the rest while earning a modest 3.0. In the end, it was sheer stubbornness that got me a degree while still working up to thirty hours a week to pay for my college expenses.

More importantly, stubbornness got me through Vietnam. Unlike most of my fellow soldiers, I had few illusions about that war, but my stubbornness and unwillingness to give in to my feelings of despair got me through my tour there. I was determined to stay alive, and if that meant never taking a drink, never smoking anything stronger than a cigarette and experiencing the whole hell that it was while stone-cold-sober because that gave me the best chance of coming out alive, that’s what I would do. Stuck in a platoon that was dramatically understaffed with sergeants and experienced soldiers, I felt it necessary to assume responsibilities that aged me long before I should have been. Sheer stubbornness got me through that war without enduring psychological problems and allowed me to deal with the hostility I met in the “liberal” groups I ran with when I returned home.

Of course, Dorothea and I could semantically resolve our differing viewpoints by merely referring to my trait as “perseverance,” because everyone knows that perseverance is a good thing. However, I think I’ll prolong the debate by stubbornly clinging to the term “stubborn” and stating that I’m going to stubbornly hold on to my old-fashioned Liberal values, you know, the ones that say that poor people are important, too, and that taxes are necessary for a humane society, and I’m even going to stubbornly try to explain to Jonathon why it’s inappropriate to apply the word “sentimental” to the discussion of war when words like “romanticize,” “stereotype,” or “glorify” are far more appropriate and effective in winning that argument.

Stubborn Persistent and Proud of It, I Think

Speaking of stubborn, as I did yesterday, I would have to say that is, for better or worse, probably one of my defining characteristics. I was somewhat reminded of this awhile ago when Jonathon questioned whether certain traits were innate or the result of social conditioning.

I suspect I'm only aware of two of the most infamous examples of my stubbornness because I was constantly reminded of them throughout my life, right up to the point where Grandma would retell these stories to my children to show just how stubborn, or foolish, their father was. Both incidents took place before I was five years old.

The first incident took place when my mother ran out of orange juice. Now, orange juice was a breakfast staple as long as I can remember. Apparently, I found some lemon juice and insisted it was orange juice. Despite my mother's insistence it wasn't orange juice, I demanded it for breakfast. My mother gave in, probably assuming I'd quickly admit my error, but I drank the whole glass of juice, insisting the whole time that it was great. Since I've never drunk another glass of lemon juice, I suspect I was just being stubborn.

The more infamous incident took place approximately the same time when the family went fishing. We apparently came to a stream that could only be crossed by walking a long log. My dad wanted me to take his hand, but I insisted I was "big enough" to do it by myself. Needless to say, I fell off the log and the only thing my mother could see of me was my cowboy hat floating down the stream. My father was laughing so hard that my mother finally had to push him into the water to save me. Sometimes I think I can remember that hat floating down the stream, but of course that was impossible because I was under it.

Probably the most influential example of my stubbornness in life involved SAT scores. Although my overall scores were high, my English scores had dragged down my overall score. Having earned nothing but "A's" in high school English, I was too stubborn, or perhaps arrogant, to accept the idea that I was weak in English. My senior year in high school I changed my focus from my Calculus class to my English class, and by the end of the year had decided to change my college major from physics to English, determined to prove "them" wrong.

I never really looked back, though at times I must admit I paused to wonder if I would have been wiser to play to my strengths and go into science, not the humanities. If I were making the decision today I doubt that I would have had to choose so dramatically between my strengths -- I would have undoubtably ended up somewhere in the field of computers.

There have been times when I've realized that I let other people control me, not directly, but, rather, by telling me I couldn't do something. Of course, I've gone out and done precisely that, just to prove them wrong. Usually these incidents turned out for the best, but other times I've realized I'd wasted valuable time doing things I never really wanted to do just because someone said I couldn't. like it or not, I had let them control my life.

I've always felt that since I demonstrated a stubborn streak at such a young age that I must have been born stubborn. I also thought I had inherited it from my father, but it turns out that I may well have inherited it from my mother instead. My mother was raised in an abusive home and apparently stood up to her father even though my dad, a large all-city football player was somewhat frightened by a man he considered "crazy." As she deteriorated into Alzheimer's disease near the end of her life and it became necessary to make tough decisions, I was suddenly aware of just how stubborn my mother really was. Perhaps she told all those stories for years because they struck a chord with her. Perhaps she had really encouraged my stubbornness.

The real problem with determining whether these traits are inherited or socially conditioned is that it's precisely the people whose traits we "inherit" that also raise us, ensuring that we will be as much like them as possible.

My daughter and son-in-law conveniently blame me for Gavin's stubbornness and temper tantrums, but I just take those as signs the kid's going to make it in life. A little perserverance is necessary in life. There is, after all, more than a little truth in that sports cliché' that "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."