We Just Weren’t Made For These Times

Once again I was listening to the local high school radio station. A student whose show I enjoy was signing off for good. He’s headed to William and Mary in the fall. I will miss his astute music knowledge. His last show was comparing the Beatles’s Rubber Soul to Pet Sounds to Revolver, a sort of battle of the bands for the pinnacle of musicality. He played a Beach Boy song with the Phil Spector-esque Wall of Sound, and then he played it without – just the harmonies of five beautiful voices. Marvelous both ways.

He also played the song “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” Watching the Showtime documentary on Brian Wilson reveals his emotional troubles, which are well-documented, and this song is emblematic of his discontent. And all our discontent?

I often have this thought myself and I know I am not alone. I think of my friend Will and a friend’s daughter who yearn for something….else. We’re fairly certain it’s not this. My friend’s daughter, Emily, is a beautiful tall blonde athletic Amazon. She’d been perfect for the surf culture decades back in San Onofre and Point Dume. She’s trying to find her way in this nutty world, and is not feeling the manic pull of over-achieving-I-have-to-get-into-Harvard nonsense. 

Will, who is her senior by ten years, is a sweet guy who wants everyone to be happy and love one another. He hangs out at a local vintage shop full of 50s and 60s memorabilia. He has not taken the usual route of “success” and chooses work where he can connect with people. He’s good at it – everyone loves him.

What we have in common is an attraction to a simpler, freer time, which through the rose colored glass is the 1960s. A time of division in the country and an vibrant youth culture – not unlike now. There’s a growing feeling inside of me to light out of where I am and drop out. Hunker down either for “the end” or for the backlash to lash back. I was always like this, even as a kid. A friend’s older brother would laugh and say, “Clare, how far back do you want to go? Do you want the right to vote?!”

Back to the student DJ and his open-mindedness and insight. As a counterpoint, I was talking to my friend Sebastian who is in his twenties. We were discussing a song from the 60s, and he said, “I know I’m supposed to hate it, but I don’t.” That was the saddest thing I heard and it also pissed me off.  What is this “supposed to” stuff? What happens if you download a song “not of your time” on Spotify? Does a red rotating alarm light go off and you’re taken to an underground bunker for reprogramming? To Sebastian’s credit he remains open, but I was discouraged nonetheless.

What is the remedy, I wonder, as we watch everyone exercise their right to act crazy – publicly and privately. While we are lamenting the death of the 99 cent avocado, some maniac who has just been on a high speed chase with police runs into Trader Joe’s wielding a gun and holds the store hostage. Or as we hand over our democracy to Russia with a big bow on it, will we rue the decision of learning Mandarin instead of Russian? 

My answer: not sure. Find a patch of peace, make it your sanctuary, watch, wait, and hope for the best. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Yes, some of us just weren’t made for these times.

Clare Irwin

 

A Last Chance Power Drive

Every Sunday a number of older men congregate by the local coffee franchise with their custom vintage cars. They sit in their beach chairs and talk about…cars. They relish in the passers-bys’ compliments. Magnificent machines.

Back in LA I remember a similar crowd would assemble at the Bob’s Big Boy in the Valley, and of course these were the zenith of car collections. It all started there didn’t it – the custom car culture that Tom Wolfe wrote about so wonderfully in his book The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. 

The men assembled this morning were a good-natured bunch, sitting in the hot sun, basking in their handiwork. I asked to take some pictures, and they were happy to oblige. One of them said, “But not of us! Some of us may be wanted men!”

As I left and headed towards the water to enjoy beach activities, I was thinking about these men and their cars. I imagine they are of the age that would have made them eligible for the Vietnam War. I wondered where the next generation of vintage car enthusiasts will come from, or if they are a dying breed.

Times change. The car, the open road, Detroit: the realities and dreams that those words conjured defined America – its industry, fantasy, music, and spirit. America was “the car.” No longer. GM, Ford, Chrysler were either dismantled or bought by foreign car companies. Today, the association is indistinct.

When I was a kid my father went through a phase of collecting British cars: Aston Martin, Alvis, Jaguar, Bentley. They were exquisitely made – the day of the hand-made car has definitely departed – but they were temperamental to say the least. Unreliable would be a better word. We used to joke that our place was where British motors went to die. No one but my father drove them, that is if they started,and they were stick shift, which we all learned on but abandoned for the convenience of automatic. What a shame! Eventually those beautiful dreams were donated to charity.

Collectible cars may be moribund, but romanticism remains. The lure of the open road still beckons with all its promise and possibilities. I hope that never fades away.

 

So drive on. The road is waiting. You’re gonna get to that place
where you really wanna go.

Say hi to Bob for me…and be free.

Clare Irwin

 

 

Pandora

You’re probably thinking I’m going to lay another Greek myth on you. Not exactly. Well maybe…I’m not sure where this is going. The Pandora of which I speak is the music streaming company. I forgot it was installed on a bedroom TV. I had it for my father who lived with us in the last years of his life. So, the stations are his, and as I have been listening to them these last weeks, I think of my dad and what an amazing person he was. Since it’s his selection of music, I feel him with me even more – music is one powerful force. I love how nothing is by accident, and by mere happenstance (not really), I just read an article on how music affects the brain. Even if you’ve heard a song hundreds of times, the anticipation, the frisson, is as strong as ever, and dopamine and other happy chemicals are emitted by the brain. Then, I was listening to a show on YouTube about essentially the same thing – that music is good for you, and if you want to listen to your favorite songs for the 1,000th time: go for it!

Perhaps I did open Pandora’s box –  actually in the versions of the myth it’s a jar. Nevertheless, what was released for me were not plagues and evils, but beloved memories. I was impressed by the variety of music my father enjoyed: classical – Cecelia Bartoli, Shostakovich, Brahms, Schubert, Mahler, – Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday (he adored her), Louis Armstrong (I think “What a Wonderful World” was my dad’s personal anthem), Bob Marley, Wilson Pickett, Milton Nascimento, Big Band orchestras, Jo Stafford, The Beach Boys, the Beatles, Charlie Parker, and here’s a few I found amusing: The Go-Go’s, R.E.M., ABBA and Cyndi Lauper. Where the hell did he come up with those? There’s many more – I’ll stop grocery listing – but they are indeed intriguing and genuinely eclectic.

Dad’s Pandora stations reaffirm for me his marvelous ease and joy of life, his open-mindedness, his embracing of all, his massive capacity to love, to forgive, and to endure. I’m not canonizing him, he was a beautiful wonderful flawed human being like the rest of us, but I must say that he did have an extra dazzle and sparkle that was a joy. He was a true gentleman, to the marrow, and women seemed to intuit this because they all loved him – often to my mother’s dismay. His humor and wit were superlative, and even when life threw him cataclysmic losses – they had no dominion over him. He remained the glorious generous person he always was.

Pandora in the ancient Greek means all-giving, I had forgotten that. How appropriate. It sums my father up – it is also what music does. At the end of Pandora’s story, the only thing left in the jar is Hope. Among the scholars and philosophers, Hope is another evil, a mixed bag at best. Much debate abounds – even drilling down to the meaning of the ancient Greek word, which is ambivalent at best.

Well shoot, it’s a sunny day, I’m in a good mood, and I need to wrap this up, so I’m going to go with the Pollyanna view which is hope is good thing. Hmm…isn’t that from The Shawshank Redemption?

So…Rock Out?

Clare Irwin

Be True To Your School

I heard The Beach Boys song of the same title this morning. Upbeat, it’s endearing and anachronistic. Coincidentally, I had just received one of my schools’ quarterly magazines. The magazine is designed and edited with exquisite taste, and the thick paper stock makes it tactilely satisfying. Like all my reading material, it was placed on the ever-growing teetering pile.

I finally got to it. As usual I am filled with bursting pride of all the accomplishments and truly unique endeavors the alumni of this matrix produces. For a small house of education it churns out an inordinate amount of famous and successful people. At the same time as experiencing pride, I feel a sense of gross inadequacy – not of self, but in “notable” yardstick achievements. It’s a confusing dichotomy of emotions. A fellow alum and I have discussed this, proposing the idea of creating the anti-version, or the “Un-version,” of this periodical of success. I guess we would fall into the “late bloomer” category.

What I find amusing is that the school itself has no school spirit, nor encourages it. It doesn’t attract that sort of person.Thinking back I don’t remember anyone expressing much interest in esprit de corps. Sure, we played field hockey, soccer, softball and all that, but for the most part it was because we enjoyed it, and didn’t care about whether we advanced, or if it would look good on our college application.

One of my set’s mothers talked us into joining the tennis team. I don’t think we ever set foot on the court. I do know we spent “practice” at Trader Vic’s having neon blue drinks in carved-out coconuts with parasols and plastic swords skewered with maraschino cherries and miscellaneous fruits. I think we drove our coach to the brink; I remember her shaking with anger and anxiety having to deal with us. And, we thought it was hysterical. There’s nothing more ruthless than a teenage girl.

Brian Wilson, the driving force behind The Beach Boys was 21 when he wrote the song. Apparently, it’s a tribute to his Hawthorne High, and the B-side of the hit single was the polar opposite in sentiment: “In My Room.” Wilson grew up with an abusive father, and battled depression and mental issues his whole life. I wonder if at 21 Wilson was already looking back and cognizant of the duality of his reality – the happy, everyone is popular, idealization of school days, and the private aspect where “through a glass darkly” one battles demons and isolation – real and imagined. 21 is a tender age to understand this. Possibly, Wilson knew he was letting go of carefree childhood, and on the flip side, leaving sanctuary. Both songs have an undying appeal – it’s that frisson of nostalgia – homecoming and ache.

So whether you’re teeming with school spirit, or couldn’t care less, as a friend of mine says: “It’s all good.” So pick up your pom-poms or ignore the whole thing, chances are, not terribly far into the future, you’ll feel the pain.

 

It’s a good one.

Clare Irwin