“It’s more than a feeling (more than a feeling)
When I hear that old song they used to play (more than a feeling)
I begin dreaming (more than a feeling)” – “More Than a Feeling” by Boston
We carry around the stuff we’ve been through like baggage through the airport of our lives. We wear what’s happened to us, even as we dress ourselves to become the people we need to be. I played guitar in a rock and roll band called Hog Lady 25 years ago, and the experience defined me. When I close my eyes, I’m there again, in the music. My friends and I are conjuring something together, from inside ourselves, from the crowd, and the room, and our instruments, and the moment.
But when I open my eyes again, I’m a 48-year-old English teacher, and have been for almost 15 years. When I look in the mirror, I see my father’s face. I can’t remember what I used to look like. Sometimes I barely remember how it all felt, and I reach out, desperately trying to pull the past to me across the abyss of time and time spent. I know I’ll never feel that way again.
I’ll never recapture that magic. So I cling to the memories instead. I wrap myself in my nostalgic obsessions, in my favorite bands, and in my undying belief that rock and roll can save the world the way it saved me. I wrap myself in my “rock and roll” jacket, as my family calls it, and pretend that time is just a game we play, and not a song that ends.
I found the dream coat at the White Elephant sale in Oakland. I liked that it didn’t look new. Neither do I. Almost immediately, I set out in search of patches and pins, tributes and advertisements to the music and musicians that still mean so much to me. What started as a uniform, designed to conceal individuality in a swathe of sameness, would become a tribute to my own uniqueness. Instead of medals, I would adorn the jacket with badges of musical tribute.
One after another I entered the names, like a roster of gods, into the Etsy search bar: Jimi Hendrix, a personal hero; Black Sabbath, the band I spent so many stoned hours studying like a holy text; The Melvins, who I saw for the first time in 1992, and have seen at least two dozen times since; Oh Sees, the band I took my son to see for his first concert. As each patch arrived in the mail it was sewn on the jacket like a medal celebrating valor on the musical battlefield.
The jacket and I are frayed. We both show signs of having been around for a while and well used. The jacket’s collar is worn to the point of partial disintegration. Bits of string and ripped fabric hang from the sleeves. My hair is thinning, and my beard is graying. We both have a lot of scars. Some days my body feels old. I no longer leap and spin over parking meters on my way home at the end of a wild night. I barely even go out anymore. The coat doesn’t keep me very warm either, but that’s not what it’s for.
I wear the coat so I don’t forget, so I don’t suddenly and accidentally grow up and grow old, and lose the person I was. It’s there to remind me that I belong to the roar and bark of overdriven electric guitar, not the button-down shirts and loafers I encounter at department meetings. It’s there to remind me to try to do everything in my life the way that 22-year-old kid took the stage: utterly fearless, convinced of his transcendent badassery, and committed to destroying everything in front of him in the most beautiful way possible. The jacket is there to remind me that all these scars, all this wear and tear, all the aches and pains and the ringing in my ears, are inscriptions of the wisdom I’ve obtained in my life.
Maybe I’m just a loser, a guy whose best days are behind him, a pathetic old man, pretending to be something he can no longer be. Maybe rock and roll is just a young man’s game, and life is a march toward something more substantial, some adultness that should fill the cracks and empty spaces inside of me with something more substantial than these wispy and fragile memories.
But I don’t think so. I don’t think we have to lose who we were to become what we’re supposed to be. Life is a jacket we wear, a song we write, an instrument we play. Sometimes it’s our greatest hits, and sometimes it’s something new, a jam with the great big wild world out there. The key, as Public Enemy explained 30 years ago, is to, “Turn it up, bring the noise!”