Sunday was pretty much the first time ever that I felt too old to be at a punk rock show.
Now I don't really know what "too old" is supposed to mean. I've had people as young as 20 tell me they felt the same way, but for some reason I never did, even though I didn't attend my first punk rock show (either the Avengers/Nuns or Ramones/Dictators) until I was almost 30, and didn't play in my first punk rock band until I was 37. Hell, by the time most of that Gilman/Lookout/East Bay stuff happened, I was into my 40s.
And yet through all of that, it seldom if ever occurred to me to wonder whether I belonged there at the club or on stage, rocking out with people half my age (or less). Why should I start worrying about it now? One possible explanation is that now that i don't drink, I'm capable of observing social situations more dispassionately and objectively, but while that could be part of it, I've been off the booze for more than six years now, whereas these feelings of being out of place at the punk rock show have only just come up.
Another explanation is that I look (and sometimes feel) older now. Not that I was ever going to pass for one of the teen or twenty-something types who populate most punk rock shows, but until a few years ago, people generally figured me for at least 10 or 15 years younger than my true age. Hell, I was frequently getting asked for ID right up until around the time I turned 50.
No longer the case, however; I've grown used to people calling me "sir," and when I was crossing the country last week, one motel desk clerk asked if I was going to be claiming an AARP discount. And if that's not enough to make a guy feel over the hill, imagine my chagrin on discovering that most of my friends in the New York pop-punk crew have parents who are younger than me.
But there's the crux of the issues: some of these parents come to shows when their kids' - my friends' - bands are playing. They stand there politely, maybe looking a little uncomfortable, grimace slightly when the music gets too loud, and tell their kids, "That was very, um... interesting," before scurrying the hell out of there to do more age-appropriate things.
Whereas I know the music, and love it, find it more enjoyable than almost any other kind of music, and have little or no interest in age-appropriate things,l whatever they might be. STILL... at one point Sunday I caught myself whining about how the in-between-sets music was too loud and abrasive. (Well, it WAS; not only was it turned up to the level where normal conversation was impossible, it was also some kind of awful - albeit trendy - garage music that consisted of pretty much all high-end distortion.)
My complaining got the desired result: out went the garage music, replaced by pop-punk tracks played at a more intelligent volume, but despite this small victory, I felt even more like an old fart. It didn't help that I was wearing my new Ergs shirt, purchased only the day before and therefore not yet washed and not yet shrunk to the appropriate size. Even that wasn't the worst of it: as I should have known (would have known if I weren't too busy being an old fart - oh, and not having any other clean shirts), there were at least three or four other people there wearing the exact same shirt.
What's the big deal, you ask? After all, pop-punkers are renowned for wearing what amounts to a virtual uniform: band shirt, jeans, Converse All-Stars. The one thing they don't wear, though, is matching t-shirts. In fact, although few of them will admit to this, considerable thought goes into coming up with the shirt that will be most obscure and esoteric, and if nothing else, certain to be the only one of its kind at the show.
And while the Ergs, probably Greater New York's most popular band at present, have reached the point where practically everyone has one of the shirts, actually wearing one to a show kind of falls under the heading of the old Yogi Berra-ism about a popular restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore; it's always too crowded."
But having the wrong shirt (only for this particular show; it's a beautiful shirt and suitable for wear almost anywhere else) can't have been enough to set me off into this self-pitying morass of "I'm so old" and "I don't belong here." If that were the case, and considering some of the more unfortunate shirts I've sported over the years, I probably wouldn't have left the house after 1987.
No, I think it's more a matter of realizing that as much as I love the New York pop punk scene, my role in it is and always will be somewhat delimited by the age difference. Most of us choose our social scene - or at least try to - because it offers us at least the possibility of meeting ideally not just one, but several of our basic needs in terms of human relationships. We don't go there exclusively in hopes of finding romance or friendship or intellectual stimulation or career opportunities, but the more of these possibilities that we find there, the more appealing a specific social scene is likely to be.
Most of the local pop-punkers are now at the stage (mid to late 20s into the early 30s) where they're settling down into long-term relationships or marriages, in some cases having kids, something I seem to have neglected to do when I was that age (or any other age, for that matter). People of my own generation are more likely to spend Sunday afternoon hanging out with the grandkids than rumbling around in the pit at a punk rock show, but while on some levels I envy them for that, I still don't feel ready to be a granddad, either literally (highly unlikely anyway) or figuratively.
In other words, I seem to be at an awkward age, which is really nothing new, since I seem to have been at one for as long as I can remember, i.e, back to when I was 3 or 4 years old. Too old to hang with the kids; too young (or at least too immature) to run with the grownups. I was trying to explain this to Aaron Cometbus, someone who I've known for more than half his life but who still seems at least partly like a kid to me, and he pooh-poohed the whole notion (to be fair, he does this with many of my notions). I told him I was probably the oldest punk rocker still functioning in North America; he laughed and claimed he could provide me with a list of at least "a thousand" who were older, some of whom would make me look like a snotty-nosed young brat. He could only name three such individuals on the spur of the moment, but promised to have a much longer list next time I see him.
Not that it matters; the way I see it, I can't quit the scene even if I want to. There's just nowhere else to go, at least not anywhere that both would have me and where I'd want to be. And if things go to plan, in a few weeks time I'll be celebrating my 60th birthday in Gainesville, Florida at American's biggest and craziest punk rock fest, surrounded by people half and a third my age. Weird? Kind of, I guess, but it sure beats a Metamucil-laced cake down at the retirement home. Oh, and for those of you who were hoping for an invitation to the big blowout birthday bash featuring Op Ivy, Green Day, Screeching Weasel and a host of other bands who've played a major role in my life, sorry, I guess you're going to have to wait for my 70th.