Photo by Tyler Lloyd
I really wanted to be a rock star, as corny as that sounds. Not at the level of an arena full of a worshipful, swaying sea of thousands repeating entire verses of our hit songs, but more like a darling of serious music critics. The Psychedelic Furs band pops into my mind; they always seemed to toy with and periodically attain more widespread success, while staying hungry and keeping their street cred. But I wasn’t wired in a way to get there. I couldn’t shake my responsibility genes, no matter how black and how tight my jeans were. I wanted to have children and a family, which posed a dilemma. I remember a friend of mine, upon telling her that my wife Patty was expecting our first child, saying with almost theatrical seriousness that my life was going to change completely and that, essentially, I might as well just forget about any thoughts of a carefree, creative life. I scoffed at that. I was going to prove her wrong! I partied, beat my head against the wall, burned the candle at both ends, didn’t take no for an answer, etc., and in the end, depending upon your point of view, I either adapted, did it all, or was beaten down. The children were magnificent (with credit to Patty, of course) and the Government job put food on the table and then some. I kept up appearances of being cool, though, and would let the pressure off a little bit at a time with humor, like whimsically asking my kids “Wait, who are you calling Dad?” I wouldn’t give myself credit for certain life decisions by, for example, saying that I “backed into” a job at the EPA, or shrugging off the fact that I stayed in a job for what would eventually be 35 years. What’s the big deal? You just had to not lose the job! I rode my bike to and from the Metro (DC subway) station in all kinds of weather, took the Metro downtown, endured a sometimes-stultifying office bureaucratic culture for 35 years. Similarly, when someone offered congratulations on Patty and my ever-increasing wedding anniversaries, I might respond with “uh, thanks….I guess.” It’s easy, you just don’t get divorced. What’s the big deal?
I tell you what, these are big fucking deals. There were no raging tabloid headlines and virtually no glory. It’s just plain fucking hard to put your big-boy pants on, go to work, and admit that you want a family that bad. Charitably, I did it all: produced artful rock and roll, was part of a scene, kept my job, stayed married, and raised a family. I’m a little humbled at this point of my life. Sobered may be a better way to describe it, sobered to the fact that the metrics for success shifted to something more (gulp) realistic. Sure, I’m jealous that fellow musician friends in DC were interviewed/included in a spate of recent movies on the punk scene (such as Punk the Capital). I wasn’t. And people actually moved to DC because of the energy surrounding the bands Fugazi, Minor Threat, and the Bad Brains. They didn’t move there for my band, Acrylix. I participated, though, and I wasn’t just an armchair general or Monday morning quarterback; I got in there and broke a sweat. And while I didn’t throw a television out of my hotel room window while on a world tour, die under mysterious circumstances in a Paris bathtub, or engage in other widely accepted standards of rock and roll excess, I did in fact do it Myyyy Waaaay. As a performer in the documentary “Paris is Burning” put it: “I always had hopes of being a big star. But as you get older, you aim a little lower. Everybody wants to make an impression, some mark upon the world. Then you think, you’ve made a mark on the world if you just get through it, and a few people remember your name. Then you’ve left a mark. You don’t have to bend the whole world. I think it’s better to just enjoy it.” Exactly.