Thursday, September 15, 2011

You mean it really is hip to be square?

Okay, so once upon a time, about a hundred years ago, I wanted to be cool. And I tried. I really did, but it just wasn't me. In kindergarten I ate the paste. In the fourth grade, I somehow managed to staple myself. In junior high, my dog really did eat my homework. I failed driver's ed, for god's sake.

But there was this lovely two-year period where cool didn't matter. Those were the years I spent as a freshman and sophomore at New Trier West High School in Northfield, Illinois.

Now, New Trier is a seriously cool placeFerris Bueller's Day Off was filmed there. Ann-Margret went there. And Rock Hudson. And Christie Hefner. And Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H.  As a matter of fact, there's a whole Wikipedia page devoted to cool people who went to New Trier.**

New Trier High School, west campus
New Trier was a great place for me. I tested into the highest academic level and I was surrounded by smart, interesting kids. My best friend and I translated Latin story books into English, just for fun.  I totally coveted her short-wave radio. Nobody ever went to the pep rallies, and everyone went to the musicals. It was heaven.

My best friend also turned me on to Chicago's folk music scene. Most notably, I heard Bryan Bowers play the autoharp at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I fell in love with the sound, managed to get a used autoharp of my own, and learned to play. I got to be pretty good at it, too.

Then we moved to the Detroit area, where I  continued to play and sing. My first public appearance there was also the first night I ever got drunk. God, between the rush of the applause and the warmth of the wine, I existed!

Anyway, from there I built a little following by doing open mics and such. But as my alcoholism progressed, my singing regressed. I couldn't remember lyrics and my voice was soon shot from smoking.

I stopped playing sometime around 1977. Well, no. I didn't just quit; I disassociated from the autoharp completely. The fact that I could play became a guarded secret, a source of embarrassment. The autoharp was not the stuff of serious music. It was a lame, stupid novelty that revealed my failure as a musician. From 1977 on, I can probably count on my fingers and toes the number of times I played. Occasionally, it was for my kid.

Here's the thing:  Recently my kid -- the very coolest person I know -- said she wishes I still played the autoharp. I didn't think she even remembered.

It seemed prudent to listen to her. So this past month, I played autoharp and sang before sizable audiences at two recovery-related events. I was terrified. I was embarrassed, too. But through all the white noise I could hear that long-ago voice I thought was gone for good. And I liked it.

It was pretty damn cool.

** Charlton Heston and Donald Rumsfeld went to New Trier, too, but they're even less cool than I am.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so pleased to read this, Lynne. Someday I hope you will play for me.