Kids, mortgages, careers — somehow all the crap we’d once dismissed as the bleak concerns of geezers had caught up with us. Well, not with me. I might not have had enough disposable income to fund many trips like this, but I hadn’t committed myself to kids or mortgages, either. I was single, self-employed, only rented apartments, and lived off taco cart tacos and ham sandwiches. Such concessions guaranteed that my time was mine to fill. I could stay up until 2 a.m. reading if I wanted to, or hike in the mountains on a whim, with no fear of abandoning or disappointing anyone else. I had no one to account for but myself. I was also at that age where you started to wonder if the life you’d fashioned in youth had lost its charm.
…Counter to the usual progression of things, the older I got, the deeper my musical appreciations grew. I got into blues in my late-20s, got into late-’50s/early-’60s hard bop jazz soon after. I went through a classical music period in which I listened to Handel’s Water Music and Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos so frequently that a friend asked if I was going to start wearing white shirts with ruffles. Recently I’d seen 1950s jazz legends perform in New York, and octogenarian bluesmen tear through fierce sets in nondescript bars, men who used canes and had suffered strokes and still smoked. Although my tastes kept expanding, music had always been one of my central preoccupations.
…Unlike regular life, live music was never dull or predictable. It also elevated my existence without committing me to the sort of job required to finance the 18-year-plus task of parenting. I felt self-absorbed thinking this, even immature. So many of my friends who had kids constantly extolled parenting’s virtues: “You can’t imagine how much joy kids bring you,” they’d say, “that you could love another human being so deeply.” Baby’s first steps, baby’s first day of school, the quiet moments at home alone when they looked up at you and said, I love you, Dad — “It’s so rewarding. I would throw myself in front of a car for that kid.” I believed them, yet these were the same people who admitted: “I’m always tired.” “I’m buried in chores.” “I have no time to myself.” “I worry I’m doing it all wrong; sometimes I can’t breathe.” “I’m stuck at my job at least until she starts middle school.” “I wish I could just jump in the car and drive to the beach and talk to no one.” At night they drank too much wine to cope, or smoked occasional cigarettes even though they’d officially quit.
…Through the thin veil of our public deceptions, I could see the truth: like me, he was trying to disguise the consumptive intensity of his musical attachments, trying to look like less of a freak and avoid being typecast as the old guy who refused to “grow up.” And despite the differences in our clothing and the gray of his hair, there was no denying what he was: not only a kindred spirit, but precisely the person I might one day be if I kept living the way I was living.
I still couldn’t tell if that was a bad thing or not.
…Maybe it wasn’t parenting that bothered me so much as the mundane. Too much of life was just so earthly. If you broke down the activities that composed our daily existence, it didn’t amount to much: Which size garbage bag should I get? What’s the difference between spearmint and wintermint? Did the cashier actually give me my 10 percent discount? Always scrub the counter so food particles don’t stick. I needed something transcendent to counteract the blandness, even if it only lasted a few minutes. Which was the problem: It only lasted a few minutes. Then it was back to Is fluoride healthier than fluoride-free? Back to this.
It’s kinda strange; I’ve done all the “responsible adult” things that could be reasonably expected of me — held a steady job, had long-term relationships, owned a house, even raised a stepkid — but I’ve always felt in the world of my peers rather than of it, largely because music and books have always remained the centerpiece of my life. I prefer my music studio-packaged instead of live, but yeah, I get what he’s saying. I hardly ever talk about music anymore, because most people I know are stuck on repeat with the music of their late teens and early twenties if they even care about it at all. One friend, in the course of venting a bit about midlife crisis issues, asked how I stayed sane. Music, I said. Keeping music as my focus was what kept my entire sense of self from ossifying; it was the invigorating current that kept me from feeling like a stagnant lake. It’s all the transcendence I need.
And while I’m sure they do love their kids, I have to smirk a bit at how utterly boring most of them become as parents, boring in the sense of having no interesting thoughts about anything anymore. I don’t know how I managed to be born deaf to the siren song of the genetic imperative to pass on my DNA, but I sure am grateful for it.