Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Write Your Rock 'N' Roll While You Are Young: An Old-Testament-Style Exhortation

O my daughter, write all your rock ‘n’ roll while you are young.

My kid. This exhortation is for her in 10 years.
Rage, scream, pierce, sulk, defy. I give my blessing for your worst tattoos. I want you to grab the microphone and screech into it. Wear pants that are too tight. Stomp around. Growl at people.

You will never be so safe and free as you are right now. And it is only from this wealth of safety that you can so blithely growl. It is only from the peace of your perfect, unspoiled life that you can stand there, razor-sharp. You can criticize me and everything I stand for. I’m so glad you are that safe.

Change the world. Why not? Defy me to change the world. Get in my face. Write a manifesto.

I remember standing on the basement stairs in the house where I grew up, and my mother was unloading the washing machine. I was challenging her about the morality of the death penalty, not because she disagreed with me, but because she agreed, and that maddened me the more. “If you believe in change, then why don’t you do something about it?” I raged at her. And she stood there, with my clean underwear in her hand. I was so disgusted by her complacency.

Kid, hate me hard while you can. As long as you hate me, you can’t miss me. As long as you are repulsed by my life choices, you can not imagine what it will be like to lose me. I want to be here for you, stupidly steadfast, boring you to death for all your life. I dread the moment when you look at me and realize I will die. Because I know in that moment you will become a little bit quiet and a little bit afraid. Why should you be afraid now? You are so young, no one you need can ever die. It is unthinkable.

So now, write all that brave material that only you can write, sing the songs that that only you can sing, tear down the edifices that only you can muster the sufficient angst to bring yourself to hate. Now while you have not seen sorrow or felt pain, while you are still self-righteous enough to muster indignation. Do it for me, your mother who has been scared stiff.

Me, when I was 19. I knew everything, so it was a good time to be loud.

I remember writing political songs and singing them loudly in public spaces. I said a lot of brazen things. I used the word “America” in songs with a “message.” I stuck my head up high, as high as I could get it, and yelled about indignities and injustice. I hope you do that. I will listen.

O my children, I used to have balls. Balls no more. And the saddest thing is -- it didn’t even take that much to stomp it out of me. I went down hard with a few deaths, some sadness, a little madness. Used to be, the threat of consequences made me laugh. Now, consequences terrify me -- imagined, real, inevitable, yours, mine. I am rigid with it. Put a guitar in my hand, and it cracks.

Because I’m afraid now, I’m quiet. A microphone? Outrage? The stage? It takes everything I have to say anything at all, even in a small voice. It takes everything I have to crawl out from under the bed and say “I’m still here.”

But I want to listen to all your songs, especially the loud ones, the angry ones, the ones that stand outside of memory, that pay no attention to history or the inevitable repetition thereof. I’ll clap. I’ll yell. I’ll be like “That’s my kid! The ignorant one! Look at her! She’s so amazing!”

I am not saying this in scorn and I’m not scoffing at you. I really would love for you to stay like this forever. Just as hot. Just as ignorant. To be able to write that rock ‘n’ roll all your life. To speak for 20-year-olds and to 20-year-olds. Stay so perfect and unassailable and so convinced of your own idea and so untroubled by the weight and the stickiness of reality.

I earnestly hope for you that you will never be able to write anything that is at all relevant to an adult audience. But the world is probably not going to treat us that way.

Me at 40. Acquainted with fear.
I write this to you because I know that time is short. While my hope for you is that you never outgrow your ragged edge, I know you will. You will not be one of those people who still jingle and rage and thrash around when you’re my age. Your heart will break and shatter, and the things that charm you now will not be interesting. You will no longer be able to fit yourself into a mob. You will not be able to be reckless.

I know this because of myself, but also because of you.

Growing up is a trade. You trade in your rock ‘n’ roll but you will get your own spouse, your own children. You will trade in your white water rapids and get a riverbed so deep, a surface so flat, it reflects the sky. I see that in you already. Your time to scream and rage is going to be short. So don’t miss it. Life is a good trade, but you don’t have to make it yet.

When I say “Stop!” to you, understand that it’s what I have to say, and know that it’s your job not to listen. Press on. Do stupid things. Don’t tell me about them. It’s okay, you will live. Don’t worry about who’s listening, or what people will think, or what adults will say. Find friends that really get you and let them become very important. Drive around and do dangerous things and don’t tell me where you are. Tell me, “I’m fine!” and “Back soon!” and “I love you!” Don’t ask my permission, worry about my feelings, bow to my judgment. I’m only your mother. I love you, but I really don’t know anything.

Me at 18. Fearless. About to write a manifesto.

This is twenty year old me that was, writing to twenty year old you that will be: Write your rock ‘n’ roll this year. Set fires you don’t know whether you can put out. Forty year old me can’t tell ten year old you the things that I have done. The bottles smashed, the boys kissed, the cliffs hung from, the trains caught, the words screamed, the people hurt, the ropes cut. I can’t tell you about that because forty year old me is contractually obligated as your mother to hold up a stop sign and say “No more piercings. Home by ten. I want to meet his parents. Call me when you get there or your phone’s confiscated.” That’s my job. And that’s what means that you are safe enough to ignore every one of those restraints and write your rock ‘n’ roll and dangle yourself over those cliffs.

O my children, do the things that can’t be undone. Do the brave, stupid, wild things. Do everything that doesn’t make you die. Write your rock ‘n’ roll while you are young. Time is flying, don’t I know it? But no, this is not a suicide note. I’m happy! To my surprise, at this age it only takes a metal watering can covered in red enamel, with a big brass spout. And to make me whimper, it only takes a truck in an oncoming lane with overly bright lights. I’m not strong anymore. I’m not like you are. But I’m glad I was. Now I write books about it.

Where will you be when you sit down to write your books? When you settle into your deep riverbed? I hope you are panting, and tired, and worn, and I hope you come to your senses smiling and crying and barely holding yourself together. It’s one youth you have. Make much of it. With your warm blood, rock. With your new eyes, roll. When you tell your daughter how you put it all away, give her something to remember.