It’s one more random than 10!
When my dad turned 40, we bought him a T-shirt that said “40 and Sporty.” It was one of those cheap T’s with bubble-font lettering. He loved it and wore it pretty regularly. It was the kind of shirt you’d expect your dad to wear.
It suited him because it was the kind of funny shirt a man could wear. And my dad was indeed a man by the time he was 40. He had four kids, worked two jobs, served in a war, saw combat, saw his friends die, saw his father rot away from alcoholism...he saw all that shit and dealt with it, rose above it, and didn’t let it hold him back. After a lifetime of serious challenges, he was entitled to wear a goofy T-shirt.
I turn 40 tomorrow, and if I got a T-shirt that said “40 and Sporty,” I wouldn’t feel like I could wear it. I could wear it ironically, sure, but honestly I feel too old for ironic T-shirts. At the same time, I don’t see myself as a man the way I saw my dad as a man. I have a kid, but it’s only been for a couple years. The worst thing I’ve dealt with is infertility—a big problem but not the same as having your buddy die in your arms in a foreign jungle far from home. My dad worked hard, damn hard, to make sure we didn’t grow up the way he grew up, in a home with a broken-down father laid to waste by the bottle. Because of that, I didn’t have to struggle a lot, and frankly, it’s made me a little soft.
At the same time, I’m way more comfortable about turning 40 than I was about turning 30. My 29th year was fraught with angst about turning 30. I wouldn’t be “young” any more. I’d have to start wearing Dockers. I couldn’t listen to new bands without looking like an old poseur. Just thought after ridiculous thought popping into my head. The Lovely Becky even made fun of me in cake form, getting a cake in the shape of a tombstone that said “Here lies Brando’s youth.” (That cake was a masterpiece, with little chocolate crumbles for dirt.)
Then I went to bed, woke up, and realized I was the same dick-joke-loving doofus I was before, only a day older. It was one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned.
So even though I wish I was a little rougher around the edges, a little more battle-hardened, a bit more Don Draper (minus the serial adultery), I’m happy with where I’m at after four decades. Sure, as of tomorrow, any window I had to still be considered “a young man” will be forever closed. My foray back into exercise after a summer layoff has been my most painful yet. I’ve got gray chest hair.
I’ve also got a happy marriage, a great daughter, financial stability, and the first draft of a novel that has a shot at being a good and maybe even a great book. Thanks to the Internet and modern technology, I’ve got more than 10,000 songs on a device that’s a quarter of the size of a Walkman, and it’s filled with plenty of new groups as well as old guy standards. So fuck it, I’m ready for 40.
1) “Surrender,” Cheap Trick. We’re all alright, we’re all alright, we’re all alright, we’re all alright! My favorite song from the 70s. It’s so catchy, clever, rocking, and funny. It’s also aged incredibly well while still capturing a particular moment in time. Cheap Trick were also rather prescient, as the idea of mom and dad getting high while getting down on the couch while cranking Kiss sounds downright normal these days.
2) “Starship Trooper,” Yes. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had a reduced tolerance for fantasy and science fiction writing.* A lot of it has to do with the writing itself—residual emotional scars from re-reading the Elric series as an adult and wondering how in the Stormbringer I had ever waded through Moorcock’s ridiculous prose in the first place. But movies, TV, and music still get a free pass, including a great Yes tune about sci-fi warriors floating through the sky. Worth it for Steve Howe’s epic flanged guitar alone. Bonus video coverage: Wall-to-wall sequined capes!
*Thankfully, writers like Cormac McCarthy, David Mitchell, and Max Barry have restored some of my faith in the genre.
3) “Blew,” Nirvana. Cobain is a cautionary tale on the price of not taking proper stock of one’s life. The death of the young and talented is sad when it happens by misadventure, but it’s downright tragic and infuriating when it’s done deliberately.
4) “Budge,” Dinosaur Jr. The music of J Mascis, on the other hand, has aged well, in part because I think Mascis is a bit of an old soul. Get beneath the youthful, noisy surface and there’s a lot of depth and maturity here. Video commentary: Everything looks better in front of a stack of Marshalls.
5) “Do It Again,” Nada Surf. I could listen to catchy, hooky, guitar-driven pop like this all day long. In fact, since I work at home, I often do. I also dig the nice unplugged version they do here. Video comentary: White-guy dreads are always a bad idea. Last weekend at Starbucks I got served by a very friendly, very competent clerk who had albino dreads, and I all I could think about was that it looked like he needed to wash his hair.
6) “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” Led Zeppelin. It vies with “Good Times, Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown” as my favorite Zep tracks off the first album. They were soft-loud-soft-LOUD before being soft-loud-soft-LOUD was cool.
7) “Faster Gun,” The Wrens. I have no idea what this song is about, and yet that has no impact on my enjoyment of it. There’s a great Pixies vibe to it.
8) “Pot Kettle Black,” Wilco. I got tagged in a Facebook memo the other day—pick 15 albums that will always stick with you. The object was to reply quickly from the gut which I did. I didn’t put Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on it, and when I saw that another person had, I instantly regretted it, along with the other 75 albums that I regretted leaving off. Sometimes I think the thing I love the best about these lists is the second guessing.
9) “Watch Me Jumpstart,” Guided by Voices. The house band for not giving a fuck about getting old.
10) “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” The National. I say with absolute certainty that “Bloodbuzz Ohio” from the new National album will be on my best-of-the-year list, but the entire High Violet album is fantastic. A couple of weeks ago, after a terrible no-good day, I decided to chill out by laying on the bed, putting on headphones, and listening to this whole album (something I rarely do but should do more often). What’s incredible about The National is that they manage to have these intricate arrangements without losing the intimacy of their songs.
11) “Here’s Where the Strings Come In,” Superchunk. (no vid, but a cool piece on Merge Records, including a Grayson Currin appearance for Pinko and UC) They put out this album of the same name at the mid-point of their career, and it’s one of the best, most appropriate album titles ever. Because what do you do after a few albums of loud, wild, youthful punk exuberance? Keep doing the same act and wind up looking like The Ramones? No. At the same time, you don’t want to mellow so much that the Raleigh-Durham Orchestra presents a Symphonic Evening of Superchunk. Instead, you adapt, you grow, and you realize that adding a few strings can not only show maturity, but a little adventurousness, without throwing water on the youthful fire that powered you in the first place. So here’s where my strings come in.
Have a great, long weekend.