20 June 2007

Something to be

On very heavy iPod rotation right now: Green Day's cover of "Working Class Hero," part of Instant Karma: The Campaign to Save Darfur.

I was first turned on to Messrs. Lennon and McCartney when I was about 8, digging through a stack of old 45s my parents had stashed in a closet. A double A-side of "We Can Work it Out" and "Day Tripper" got heavy play on my Fisher Price record player, right alongside Batman and The Story of Star Wars.

My parents are not exactly into rock and roll -- my childhood was dominated by show tunes and John Denver. Or, at least, John Denver before he became "political." So you can imagine how stoked I was about 3 years later when I found another stack of full-length albums hidden away, this time with the likes of Credence, Simon & Garfunkel, and ... Sgt. Pepper. I used to wait until my parents left for work, in the hour or so I had before going to school, to drop the needle and blast "She's Leaving Home," "Fixing a Hole," "Lucy," and the most amazing Beatles tune ever, "A Day in the Life," throughout the house.

As soon as you're born, they'll make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
'Till the pain is so big, you feel nothing at all

See, up until then, my only exposure to the genius of John Lennon was the occasional tune on the radio -- usually the more pop-esque old Beatles -- or the gawd-awful Bee Gees movie that came out in the late 70s. Until I heard Sgt. Pepper for myself, sitting there mezmerized, just staring at the record player, I had no idea of just how powerful music could be, and just how much it could influence your life. I dubbed the album onto a cassette tape, and spent the entire summer listening to it over and over and over ... somewhere between "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "Within You Without You," I learned to think for myself, to form opinions that ran counter to my parents and the world I knew around me.

They'll hurt you at home and they'll hit you at school
They hate if you're clever and despise the fool
'Till you're so f*cking crazy you can't follow their rules

That's why, several years later, it was almost comical when my parents cracked down on my music. I must have been 16 or 17, Gulf War I was in full swing, and I had a real problem with where our country's leaders were taking us. So I protested ... which didn't go over all that well in the lilly-white, exurban town in which we lived. One thing led to another, a baseball bat was swung, the cops were called, and I ended up spending several hours in the Good Shepherd ER awaiting my turn to get an MRI and stitches to my head. When my parents found out why I had been attacked, they went ballistic: at the time I was pretty heavily into new wave and punk music, and they took away my boots, my military-esque clothes, and banned me from going to any shows.

When they've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function you're so full of fear

What they didn't take away was this photo of John Lennon, which has graced my bedroom walls since I was 16. See, listening to Black Flag sing about six-packs and TV programs wasn't driving my new-found political voice -- instead, my ideas and ideals were all about imagining there's no heaven, no countries, nothing to kill or die for. I was active in our local Amnesty International chapter, I put an anti-war/anti-establishment spin on every speech I did in debate contests, I went out of my way to challenge the status quo of the crap most of my peers believed to be true.

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're still f*cking peasents as far as I can see

Then I broke. The last straw was the t-shirt I bought at Lollapalooza (the first and only one) that had the cover of Ritual de lo Habitual (with its naked people on it). I was on my way to college, and my dad took it away. I was going to school to get an education, not to express myself.

There's room at the top, they're telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like all the folks on the hill

And that's the way life continued, up until a few years ago. Right about the time I started taking control of my life, I rediscovered the Beatles. I re-learned what it was that John Lennon had been preaching. I realized that I hated the way my life was headed, and began to reject the well-meaning principles that had been drilled into my head. I found my voice again.

I also discovered Green Day, and have been a huge fan ever since. Sure, there is some irony in Billy Joe (and John Lennon before him) singing about being a Working Class Hero. Hell, as I sit here at my keyboard I know there's more than a bit of irony in me identifying with it. But ultimately it's the sentiment -- that you can be who you are, and reject the ideas that others have for you -- that speaks volumes. It's not all about climbing the corporate ladder and "getting ahead." And for me, it also means doing what I can to make a difference in this world. I've missed that for too long.

Epilogue: That photo of Lennon? The first photo I put up in our bedroom in each of Kim's and my homes. I've been living with it for 18 years now. As I was preparing to write this blog entry, I realized that I don't even own a framed photo of my parents. It's not that we don't like each other -- we see them all the time -- but I guess our philosophies just don't fit.

And that's OK too.


velogrrl said...

Love the Green Day version of Working Class Hero. It gave me chills the first time I heard it.

Anonymous said...

Great entry!

Yes I know my enemies
They're the teachers who taught me to fight me
Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission
Ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams
All of which are American dreams

Zach D.

Anonymous said...

Well all right!