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 place. Ferris 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|
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.