Personal Essay

Davy Jones: My Imaginary Friend

This post was written in response to a writing prompt from The Daily Post. The prompt suggests writing about your childhood “imaginary friend.”

davy-jones-the-monkeesMy imaginary friend when I was a girl was a real person and yet he was not a real person. Already half himself, a fictional creation bearing his own name, he was transformed in my child’s mind into something even more magical. He was my own creation. A figure I could weave into my own stories.

I don’t remember the stories in which Davy Jones starred. I know the Monkees album played on my Winnie the Pooh record player in the background and that I cast stuffed animals in the other roles. There was a lot of dancing involved.

Later, during the 1980s Monkees revival, when I was in high school, I would discover an affinity for Peter Tork as I grew into an attraction for the 1960s counterculture. In case you’re of the mind that knowing a person’s favorite Monkee or Beatle tells you all you need to know about her, these are my answers: Peter Tork, John Lennon.

As a little girl, though, I somehow knew (from fairly tales probably) that being in love was the most powerful force in the world and the most transformative thing that could happen to a woman was to “fall into” it.

Davy was “the cute one.” He was presented as the one girls were to love, and dutifully I did. This is not to say that my affection was not real. It was very real. I remember coming upstairs (my playroom was in the basement) and announcing to my parents that I had something serious to tell them. I was in love. With Davy Jones.

My father laughed. I was crushed.

I have a diary that I wrote at this time. I filled every page with hearts and variants on “I love Davy Jones” and “LL + DJ.” This, I assumed, was what people in love did.

As I fell in love with the comic mop-tops the Monkees sang about “creature comfort goals” in “status symbol land” and how decisions were no longer easy there were “only shades of gray.” They even sang about suicide (see below) all topics that went over my 7-year-old head.

Incidentally, the one time I met Micky Dolenz, singing autographs at an auto show, I asked him to clarify some of the lyrics to this song, which I hadn’t caught. (This was before you could look up lyrics on the internet)  He said it was “I’ll give you three, I’ve been down nine, I’m going down just one more time goin’ down.” I looked at him with a blank expression. “You know,” he said. “Nine lives. A cat.” I said, “Oh,” and thanked him. His hand was so tired by that point that his signature read “Wing Dog.”

I also managed to get an autograph from Davy Jones too, although I seem to have lost it. I had the chance to see Davy in concert in the 1970s during what I would subsequently learn he called his “alimony tour.” It was a very small bar with tables and I was there with my parents and a couple of girlfriends. We went and stood by the door next to the stage waiting for the Monkee appearance. When he came out on stage we ran to our table. I screamed. I thought that was what you were supposed to do at a Monkees concert– it’s what they did on TV. A woman in the club said, “Calm down girls.” I think I might have cried seeing him in real life. Yet even as a child, I somehow sensed that something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t quite as joyful as it was supposed to be. This tiny hole in the wall was a huge comedown for the boy whose 16 Magazine image had graced a million lockers. During the performance while dancing and holding up a piece of toast (his backing band was called Toast) he split his trousers. Looking back, this had to have been a low point in the life of the real Davy Jones.

After the show my friends and I waited by that same door and the “calm down, girls” woman took paper for us so Davy could autograph them. She asked my name. She must not have heard it right. The autograph came back “To Nora. David Jones.” I treasured it– until I lost it.

Davy Jones, and all of the Monkees, represented layers upon layers of illusion. Somewhere behind the masks were four real performers. They played comic characters who had only the most superficial relationships to the actors and musicians they were, and yet confusingly they had the same names. Peter Tork, who was an intelligent and sensitive musician seeped in the excesses of the 60s counterculture played the character of Peter Tork, also a musician, but an innocent and ingenuous dimwit.

They had been cast to play the roles of musicians not necessarily to be musicians. The two actors, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones, had little trouble with that. The two musicians had identity crises putting their own names on other people’s music and becoming famous for it. Like all artists the four wanted to be taken seriously and they found the loveable-mop-top image constraining.

I have since read quite a bit about these men in various articles and biographies. I get the impression that these four might not have gotten along all that well and that perhaps charming, cute Davy was the most difficult to get along with. In life the cute boys are often the most assertive and strong-willed as they overcompensate for the child-like impression created by their faces.

I am not sure my life was improved by reading the biographies. The real men who made up the Monkees were not my Monkees. The real Monkees were the imaginary friends they created on television. They were the best of friends, each member distinct in his own way, but they operated always as a unit. They were always struggling to get a gig and pay the rent but their money woes had no real-world consequences except for occasionally triggering a Monkees romp. The real Monkees were the ones who lived in a “groovy pad” with a mannequin named Mr. Schneider who spouted aphorisms when you pulled a cord. I think my idea of a dream home is still the Monkees groovy pad.

(Davy Jones’s idea of a dream home is for sale apparently.)

Performers are magical. They create new beings. The Davy Jones I loved was not the actor David Jones who married and divorced and re-married, who was forced to go on the road at the low point of his fame in order to pay the alimony. That man was connected to my Davy Jones in some way, but my Davy Jones was real and he was his own person. He was born from the images the actor David Jones created and the way the character was received in my mind.

It is common to dismiss these fantasies of childhood, to laugh at the puppy love and to pack it all away, but I believe my ability to take fictional people seriously is something important that I carry with me to this day. It is part of what makes me a writer.

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While I have you here, I would like to invite you to learn a bit about my forthcoming novel Identity Theft. It explores the theme of celebrity infatuation and fantasy. There is only one week to go in the Pubslush crowdfunding campaign to make this title a reality. Your advance order of $15 for the print book or $10 for the ebook will help make its publication a reality, not a dream. Thank you for your support.

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Promote What You Love Instead of Bashing What You Hate

I was in something of a discouraged mood when this post from Soulseeds came across my twitter feed. I decided to follow this advice and put together a list of ten things I love– big and small. (It’s not all inclusive, so if you’re a person and I didn’t list you– you know I still love you!) It has cheered me up quite a bit, perhaps not quite to the point that I want to dance around my room like Julie Andrews singing about whiskers on kittens, but quite a bit.* I hope you will join me and make a list of five or ten things you love on your own blog. Spread the love, man!

1. Valery Lantratov

DSC06952Valery is the real deal. When I first saw him on stage, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He has that thing. We met for the first time in 2002 and have been partners for about ten years touring America teaching teaching ballet. When we were first on tour together, with another company, he didn’t have much English but whenever a problem arose he would say, “Don’t worry, easy.” He has much more English now, but he continues to help me not to worry. When he is here and we’re touring we are together 24 hours a day and we only occasionally (when very tired) get on one another’s nerves. I can’t imagine wanting to spend that much time with pretty much anyone else.

2. Being on the Road

IMG_1741Yes, touring is exhausting. I don’t think we could hold up for more than the three months we do in the summer (and two in the winter) without taking a break. It’s a new city each day most of the time, lots of travel, lots of logistics, too much time in the car but sometimes you get to see crazy things like this storm out west that arched over the highway like a door.  We get to meet people everywhere we go. Few people have the chance to experience so much of America, and even though we don’t do much sight seeing, we really do get a feel for the country. I feel most myself when we’re on the road. I don’t know what day of the week it is, I am focused on the thing in front of me, and time passes at a different pace. You measure time in unique experiences, and when we look back at our time on the road, one week is so packed with novelty that it feels like one month. I think being on the road means we experience a longer life.

3. Writing in Flow

I don’t have a picture of this. When you write in flow, the world falls away and you’re focused entirely on what you are doing. You’re not over-thinking it or worrying about it, you’re just doing it. Most writers lives are divided into two kinds of time, writing in flow (not a lot of time) and fretting over not being in a state of flow (most of the time). Another one of these experiences is when you have been working on a novel or proposal and you’ve given up on it and then suddenly, two years later, your subconscious delivers up the solution to your writing dilemma and you finish the thing in a mad dash and wonder where that came from. That’s how my novel Angel got made (except it was ten years).

4. John K King Books in Detroit

JohnKKing-3John K. King Books is one of my favorite places in the world. Four floors of shelves like this, and book smell and the joy of discovery. Heavenly. I used to go with my late father, and we would leave with armloads. So not only do I love the shop, it has memories of love inside. My favorite spot used to be the third floor reference shelf where I’d look for trivia books. Now I would haunt different floors. Tastes change over time.

5. Will Hoppey

If you haven’t heard him, you should. Full disclosure: He’s a friend, and I used to help him with some bookings years ago, but that is because I am a fan. So press play and see what you think.

6. Edinburgh, Scotland

06.08.2005Edinburgh is the most beautiful city I have lived in. With all of the news lately about Scotland, I have been nostalgic for it. I lived in a shared flat above a bakery on West Maitland Street and worked in a Wimpy (fast food restaurant.)  I was young and at my most beautiful. I had international friends who I met my first days there in the youth hostel. I was open for adventure. I remember it very fondly although in truth I think I was miserable a lot of the time, as I was often miserable in the “best years of my life.” Edinburgh is home to some really wonderful, warm people.

7. Birmingham Unitarian Church Rummage Sales

rummageYou will notice a trend– I love places where you can find treasures. I also like hard work. I love coming in on Monday and seeing piles and piles of unsorted stuff, feeling like it can’t be done, and knowing that it will. I like having a particular task to accomplish. I love the camaraderie. It is amazing how much can be done with teamwork. It’s a great thing. This year’s sale is October 2-4.

8. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Tunnels

IMG_2780I especially like the double tunnels of Blue and Kittatinny Mountains.  When I was a girl, we used to drive from Michigan to my grandparent’s house in New Jersey on the turnpike, stopping at Howard Johnson’s at the rest stops to get pistachio ice cream on the way. I have a certain fascination for the bypassed tunnels of the turnpike. At one time I did some digging into newspaper archives to read about the accident at the now bypassed Laurel Hill Tunnel. Eleven men gave their lives to complete the marvel of modern engineering, but it outlived its usefulness after only 24 years.  I wanted to know who the men were.

9. The Michigan Hand Map

5Nmcn7MFFWJxIf you ask someone from Michigan where he lives he will instinctively raise his right hand, hold it as if it were in a mitten and point to a spot on the palm. This amuses people from outside the state, but it is actually useful. The other day, I was watching Orange is the New Black with my mother and a character was supposed to be from Michigan. “Where are you from?” “Muskegon.” “Where is that?” She did the hand thing, pointing to the center of the hand. My mother and I both turned to each other and said, “That’s not Muskegon.” Michiganders know where they live on the hand. They also know where other cities are on the hand. You can’t just point at random. It’s a real map. If you dig the mittens pictured to the left, by the way, they’re from a company called Michigan Mittens.

10. Melcat

Mel is the Michigan Electronic Library and Mel Cat is their online catalog where you can order books from a network of all of the libraries in Michigan. Thanks to Mel, there is rarely a book that I want to read, no matter how obscure, that I can not have in my hands in a few days. I think it’s amazing.

So there you go. I have promoted some things I love. What’s your list?

*The Sound of Music is a thing I love. Julie Andrews is cool.

When the School Does the Shaming

ImageI don’t often post personal stories on this blog. I prefer to talk about ideas than to talk about myself. There was a story today, however, that brought an event from my past back into view.  According to Raw Story, a public school in Utah has photoshopped yearbook pictures of female students so they will be dressed more modestly. “There have been no reports of male students having their photos altered,” the article said. The action was in keeping with the school’s dress code, a school official said, “In that sense we can help kids better prepare for their future by knowing how to dress appropriately for things.”

How to dress appropriately for things…

There are not many days in my 45 years of life when I can recall exactly what I was wearing. There was the day I graduated from High School in a gold cap and gown, there was the poofy, shiny blue dress I wore to prom, and the sleeveless, floor-length gown I wore to my brother’s wedding, and then there was the outfit I was wearing in January 1991 when a school administrator called me to the office in the middle of a video editing class.

I was wearing a white turtleneck paired with a black skirt of a floaty layered material.  (I’ve never been much of a fashionista so excuse me that I do not have a better description of the fabric.) I wore nylons and a pair of black flats. My hair was styled, and held on top with a barrette with gold-colored baubles. I didn’t think of the outfit as particularly sexy or provocative. I was not on my way to seduce anyone or attract special attention. The pieces and accessories came from the clothing store where I worked part-time as a sales associate. I was heading there straight from school and my job required me to dress in the merchandise. I thought I was wearing something generally flattering, youthful and up-to-date but serious and respectable. That is how thought I was presenting myself, how I wanted to be seen by the world.

I should also point out that I was not in high school. I was a 22 year-old college graduate. After earning my B.A. in theater, and finding that the major theater corporations were not lining up to offer me jobs with great dental plans, I had decided to get some additional technical training in order to pursue a career in radio. It was a six-month course, if I remember correctly (there are so many details I remember much less clearly than what I was wearing that day). Most of the students entered the program straight from high school. The school catered more to these students than to adult students with college degrees. It took a stance similar to a high school– it felt it had to offer a certain amount of remedial education in behavior and how to present oneself professionally.  They had a dress code, and they explained in orientation, in a joking way, that if students came to class in something that was not up to code they would be “sweatsuited.” That is, they would be given a sweatsuit with the school logo on it to wear for the rest of the day.

I didn’t think anything of this. I was a shy kid. The sort who does not get much notice socially. I had graduated from my high school with commendation. I earned advance placement scores that allowed me to graduate from college early. My senior year of college I had worked five different part time jobs around my class schedule in order to pay for a post-college trip to the UK. (I traveled there on a student work visa.)  I had never been given any cause to think of myself as anything but respectable.

Not until that day.

I had no idea why the administrator was pulling me out of class. When I got to the office, she had a sweatsuit waiting for me. She told me that she had seen me on the video monitor (we were doing some news reading or something for the video class) and that my skirt was too short, not up to code, and I would have to wear the sweat pants or leave the building.

I felt my face go red and the tears welling up in my eyes. I did my best to fight them back. I became aware of my body, my physical presence, in a way I never had before. I was being judged sexually, and I had never intended to invite the administrator to look at me that way.  I felt humiliated, diminished and infantilized. She was telling me that I did not know how to dress myself, and that I was presenting myself as a slut. The way I was dressed was shaming the school.

I refused to go back to my classroom and face the stares and laughter of my peers in the scarlet letter of those sweat pants. I chose, instead, to give up my perfect attendance record and leave the building– to take my shameful self far from view.

I don’t know if the girl who found her yearbook image censored felt any of that; if the girl who donned her favorite tank top to look nice in her picture felt a twinge when she realized someone had viewed her as an object of lust and implied that she had intended to present herself that way all along.

The events I just recounted must have been no more than 10 minutes of my life. I am sure the administrator who was defending the dress code has no memory of it at all. I can’t say that this event changed my life’s trajectory. I finished the course, went on to work in radio (usually wearing jeans), and then to publish 15 books, tour the country with an international artist and to write for corporate CEOs and foreign heads of state. I have no reason to think of myself as anything but respectable. And yet, 23 years later, when I remember that moment, I can still feel the shame.

 

 

 

Skinny Legs and All

I drove nine hours to see the American ballet dancer David Hallberg  not dance at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. The event was streamed live on the internet, so I could have watched it from my living room.  (If you don’t know who he is, see these previous posts: The Joys of Failure and David Hallberg, Random Penguins…)

This is not the kind of thing I generally do. Or that one does in general, when you get down to it.

Last week I saw a rock star…  Perform rock music… Without driving very far at all.  This is the kind of thing people do.

David Hallberg is skinny.  “All arms and legs trying desperately to control them,” was the ungraceful way he described himself– I am paraphrasing from memory.  (All of the quotes in this post will be from memory even though the event is archived and can be viewed on the Kennedy Center site.)  He was talking about his form at age 16, but he also said or inferred that his self-image had not changed all that much.  He was still frequently frustrated in his desire to control those long limbs.

I’m not a dancer, I’m a writer.  This is what I am trained to do: spot metaphors. “All arms and legs and trying to maintain control” has the ring of a great metaphor.

I was trying to control all my moving parts a couple of months ago.  I was managing a ballet educational tour which involved, among other things, sitting in dance studios in 26 different states (not all at once) and pushing the play and pause buttons on the CD players for 112 classical ballet classes.  The play-pushing part of my job is the most relaxing.  The rest of the time I am driving, planning, booking hotels, finding meals, communicating with schools and dozens of other small, un-sexy details. (Also juggling my publishing career.)  In class, the dancer does the bulk of the work and I have time after firing up a track marked “rond de jambe par terre” to check my smart phone.  This is how I learned about the event at the Kennedy Center. Tickets were free.  (Hotel was $200)

From my friend Michelle’s dance studio in Charleston, WV I fired off a message to my friend Jenny.  (The same Jenny mentioned in my Adam Ant post.)  I sent her the link because she knew I was on a bit of a Hallberg kick at the moment and she is kind enough to indulge me in whatever catches my attention.

“Would be nice to go to this,” I said. I did not need to add the reasons I could not– too far to walk, too soon after driving through 26 states on my own tour to contemplate a road trip.

All arms and legs trying desperately to maintain control.

“I wish I could go with you,” Jenny wrote back.

“It would be nice.”

Driving six hours (Jenny lives in Cleveland) to see a ballet dancer not dancing– when you’re not even much of a ballet fan– is not the kind of thing Jenny usually does.

“So,” she wrote. “Let’s do it.”

After pressing play on a track labeled “Grand Battement” I navigated to the Kennedy Center site and reserved tickets.   There was nothing to lose.  The tickets were free. (Did I mention the hotel cost $200?)  We had begun to lose control of our limbs.

(I just had a mental image of myself at a ballet barre, sweating as I work to stretch this metaphor.)

Before I left for Washington D.C., I posted this Facebook status: “I am actually going to take a weekend off. That is so weird.” 

Even though we had occasional days off on our tour, I never took a full day of rest and I can’t remember the last time I did. A day off meant we did not have a master class, but I took them as opportunities to handle those aforementioned un-sexy details of touring, to book the next tours, and to send out queries to publishers and agents, go back and forth with my editor on an article I was writing and so on.  When I came back to Michigan after the tour I started to work obsessively on a new novel, a task which has had me at the computer until 4 AM most days.

When I packed for my weekend adventure, I put all of the notes for the novel in my suitcase.  (Can we agree, going forward, that I can imply the whole “limbs and control” metaphor without actually saying it? I’m fairly certain I am on the verge of stretching to the point that I pull something, if I haven’t already.)

When I told my friend Michelle, a talented dance teacher, that I was going on an adventure to see a ballet dancer not dance for an hour in Washington D.C. she thought it sounded excellent.  She said, “I wish I could go on an adventure.”

“Why wish?” I said. “The tickets are free.” (The Hotel on the other hand…)

If there had not been three of us going, the whole adventure might not have happened. Children (in the case of my two companions), work, financial questions… Each of us, at one point or another, decided that dropping everything and driving cross country to see a ballet dancer not dance for an hour in Washington D.C. might not be an entirely practical fit with our busy lifestyles.  Having two others counting on you for their adventure is a great motivator.  I think they call this peer pressure.

David Hallberg seems to prefer to wax philosophically about art in general than to get down to brass tacks and he even called himself out on it at one point. This is not to say that his musings were uninteresting.  As a non-dancer, musings about the nature of the artistic calling are more interesting than shop talk about cabrioles.  He said something about risk that I recall I related to very strongly as a writer and artist. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what it was exactly.

Here is why I remember so little: about five minutes into the event I realized I had to pee.  By the time we’d reached the half way mark I was suffering from  kid-in-the-backsteat-of-the-car-sixty-miles-from- the-next-rest-stop kind of  pain.

Handy Hint! If you plan to go to see a ballet dancer not dancing for an hour, try to avoid consuming large amounts of liquid in the two hours leading up to it.  (You can trust my advice. I am a professional How To author.  See my Reader’s Digest book Don’t Screw It Up)

From that point on, my overriding thought was “Do I have to leave the theater now, or can I make it through to the end without wetting the Kennedy Center seats?” This stamped out any deeper reflections the discussion of a dancer’s art might have inspired.  (I was mentally engaged enough to grab up that metaphor about control and long limbs, though.)

After the show, Michelle turned left in a quest for Milk Duds. (We hadn’t eaten all day) Jenny and I turned right in a quest for plumbing.  We passed the men’s room– no line– and arrived at the women’s room– long line.   I had made it through the show but had not budgeted any extra energy for a long rest room line. (“He was so cute,” a woman in a glittery blouse gushed. She was standing between me and the exquisite relief of the stalls.)

Fortunately I discovered, in a quiet corner, a family restroom with a sign on the door that indicated it was only to be used when circumstances warranted.  Not sure what that meant, but I felt that my situation qualified.  Let me just say that being physically comfortable is one of the small, under-appreicated pleasures of life.  I came out of the restroom, waited for Jenny to take her turn, and then we both stood waiting for some people down the hall beyond us to take pictures of each other so we could pass.

That’s when we noticed David Hallberg, the man himself, coming out of the back stage area.  We stood there as he passed. He was texting something on his smart phone. We later joked that it was probably “Two middle-aged women making goofy smiles at me, must not look up.”

Pointe Magazine described Hallberg as “Tall, with a full head of wispy blond hair and a long forehead ending in a strong brow, David Hallberg has prominent, attentive eyes that possess a melancholic, preternatural maturity. He is, in a word, regal.”

I’m guessing he looks more “regal” without the cell phone, but he is strikingly tall and slim.

Anyway, I am glad that the program was taped so that I can watch what I missed by being there in person to see it. In the moment, I am certain I responded to much of what was said. I’m looking forward to hearing it again for the first time.

Now that I am on the subject, I do remember one other part of the interview.  The dancer spoke about recovering from an injury and all of the things he had to wipe off his schedule at that time.  He took the time to see the Grand Canyon.  On crutches.

When I was thinking about taking this trip and planning what it would be like, I mainly thought about the interview.  I thought we would spend a low key day taking in the monuments and then being intellectually engaged with a lecture before settling in for an evening of conversation at the hotel.  That is the kind of vacation we would have had if we’d controlled our limbs. (Sorry, I did have to bring it back. I couldn’t help myself.)

Instead we decided to just move and see what would happen.  We spent hours in the car listening to songs from our youth and talking about every subject under the sun. We had a chance to stay in a stylish “boutique” hotel with complimentary yoga mats and zebra print robes that cost $90 if you decide you must take them with you.   We, through a twist of fate, ended up at the Rosslyn Jazz Festival.  (Michelle had stage managed The Soul Rebels once, and discovered they would be in the city at the same time.)  We (the ones who hadn’t) met the drummer and had a great long conversation in the hotel lounge.  I hasten to add, we thoroughly enjoyed the free interview/lecture, in case my description of it might not convey this.  We spent an hour getting recommendations for a great restaurant and choosing where to go only to get there 15 minutes after it closed.  We (four of us now, including our new musician friend)  found ourselves eating pizza on an outdoor terrace and bantering with a charming Italian waiter. We got lost trying to walk back to our stylish boutique hotel and found ourselves back at the Kennedy Center. We enjoyed company all the way.  We did people watching. We laughed until eyes streamed, debated until people got annoyed, and then laughed again until sides hurt.

So what is the moral of this story? Don’t be so haunted by your quest for an unobtainable perfection that you forget to enjoy the accidents along the way.

Also–and my Adam Ant post will bear this out– I am terrible at writing reviews.

On Seeing Adam Ant in Concert

Image

The author dressed as Adam Ant, circa 1983.

I lived parallel lives when I was young. I had an imitation life, a false life. In this life I was a painfully shy, slightly chubby pre-teen going through the motions of algebra classes, study hall and–horror-of-horrors– gym class. My real life was elsewhere. It began when I closed the door to my bedroom, fired up the turntable and escaped into the pages of Bop Magazine. My real peers were not the preppy pre-teens in their Gloria Vanderbilt jeans or the pimply, skinny boys who bullied me. My true peers were the friends I saw in the videos on the brand-new music television network. It is a well-kept secret that MTV was created just for me.

The greatest rock star of them all was Adam Ant. Clad in war paint and pirate gear, Adam yodeled, war whooped and pounded his way into my consciousness. Adam exuded sex appeal and a sense of freedom. His songs were a crashing mixture of electric guitars, tribal drums and yodels. He swashbuckled through his music videos as the consummate 80s hero—a suave Valentino with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.

He posed and preened and looked down at me from every inch of my bedroom wall. When I ran out of space there, the posters expanded like vines onto the slanted surfaces that led to the ceiling. Then I rearranged the furniture to expose more wall for Adam images.

The pretty boys of Duran Duran were too polished, too fashionable, too tame. Adam had emerged from the underworld of punk music. There was something about him– something complicated, strong yet vulnerable. I sensed he was wounded, and I knew what he had overcome to get where he was.
I understood Adam Ant. He had been underestimated and under-appreciated like me and now he was living a dream– my dream. I had to go to school and be ordinary and ignored but he had created his own world. He was a pirate sailing the seas, an Indian chief, whatever he wanted to be. Adam Ant gave me hope that I could do it too.

Somewhere out there– in the fake world that others called real– was a musician who had been born Stuart Goddard. He looked very much like the man in my posters, but this Adam Ant was no more real to me than a unicorn in Brigadoon. The real Adam Ant was the one I imagined– the one my true self lived with inside MTV. So I waited, planned my escape, and kept my secret.

But predictably, I grew up, moved on, and the posters came down. I never upgraded my Adam Ant LPs to CD. The dusty records sat unplayed as I devoted my attention to my own ambitions.

For my 44th birthday my mother (who attended my first Adam Ant concert with me when I was 13) gave me a pair of tickets to go see Adam Ant perform at the beautiful Majestic Theater in downtown Detroit.

I remember quite clearly when I was a young teen that I believed my tastes would never change.  I wasn’t going to be like those boring sell-outs who stopped listening to rock music and all the obviously good things.

My tastes did change. The obviously good things for me now include Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, sociology and theology texts and classical ballet.  All of this would have sounded very dry and dull to 13-year-old me.

I was curious about the concert though. Adam Ant would not get the same unconditional devotion he would have received from my 13-year-old self. He would have to win me over.

I won’t keep you in suspense: He did.

Things have changed since 1983. The audience, for example, was made up of people my parents age.  Did I need reminding? I am, in fact, the exact same age my mother was when she took me to my first Adam Ant concert in Cleveland, Ohio.

I had twisted my ankle that day.  If you must know how, I jumped in the air to imitate a popular Toyota commercial and I came down wrong. That is the kind of thing I don’t do much of these days. When the lights went down on the crowd thirty years ago, the squealing girls and a few guys rushed forward, closer to the stage. I was not about to lose my place, and I ran too.  I remember myself standing, on a bum ankle, holding onto a bar so that I could keep my spot right up against the stage.

In all honesty, I may be melding the memory of a couple of Adam Ant concerts here.  At the first Adam Ant concert I saw, Adam tore some ligaments in his knee, and came back with it bandaged.  I don’t think I was also standing on a bum ankle for that one, but the experience of staking my claim and holding that spot on the edge of the Adam Ant stage is what I remember most vividly.

Flash forward and I am at the Jack White Theater (so named because singer Jack White bailed out the Masonic) in row 14.  Not bad.  The band is on stage, the music is swelling in preparation for Adam Ant’s grand entrance. Everyone is standing. I am hoping they will not stand through the whole show, because I just got back from tour and I am tired.

I’m tall, and before iphones I had a height advantage at concerts.  Now the woman in seat 13 H has her smartphone in the air above her head, right at my eye level. She wants to record this moment for posterity instead of living it now. I see Adam’s entrance through the phone’s screen.

Adam Ant no doubt has been sent his complimentary copies of the AARP Magazine. In a couple of years he’ll be 60.  He is a bit thicker in the waist, his movements are a bit more stiff, and when he enters in his hussar jacket and Napoleon hat– fetchingly paired with horn rimmed glasses, I might add–my first thought is that it is all a bit ridiculous for a man his age.

Adam, I will forgive you for getting older if you will forgive me.

Why is it, anyway, that drawing attention to yourself seems less and less acceptable as we age?  “When I am an old woman I shall wear Prince Charming Stripes.”

“Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.”

Go on then, Adam, rock the Napoleon hat.

1983 and 2013 seemed to fold in on each other.  I saw my younger self, clinging to the stage, breathing the rock star in, willing to brave permanent ankle damage to be close to him. (My ankle swelled up to twice its size the next day and it still bothers me sometimes when it is humid.)  Am I the same person I was then? Do I want the same things?

Modern Adam performs a seamless set, rarely stopping to talk to the audience or catch his breath. One song melts into another, and the number of familiar songs, hits, favorites is quite staggering.  As my eyes get accustomed to the new version of him, he seems to slim before my eyes.  He becomes younger. Maybe I do too.

I am surprised by the power the anthem “Kings of the Wild Frontier” still holds over me. It is not nostalgia, it is something else.  I respond to a call to create a different world with  community of Ant followers.  “Ant people are the warriors!  Ant music is our banner!”

Back in the day, he was the embodiment of my ID.  He was voicing something primal that I wanted to release, if only my youth didn’t stand in the way.  If only I could be allowed out of the prison of school, out into the world instead of having to wait.

Now I stood thinking, if only I were younger.  If only I had the energy and the freedom I had then.  The freedom, perhaps, not to worry about looking ridiculous.  (Where is my Napoleon hat?)

Was there a moment in the middle I missed?

My favorite Adam and the Ants song was “Beat My Guest.” If my parents worried about the S&M lyrics of songs like that and “Whip in My Valise,” they never said anything to me about it. (My father did balk at the idea of my wearing an Adam Ant t-shirt with the words “pure sex” on it.)  The songs weren’t really about bondage to me, I just liked their energy. My friend Jenny and I made up parody lyrics to “Beat My Guest.”  I don’t remember them, except for the line “fish that fly” which I found myself wanting to shout out at the concert.

I notice something about Adam’s signature costume that never occurred to me before.  That combination of colonial military jacket and native American garb is a bit weird when you think about it. The colonizer and the colonized in one persona.

“Oh no, no the ants invasion.”

Did you know that there were European settlers who admired the Native communities so much that they tried to defect?  Hernando de Soto had to post guards to keep his people from fleeing to Native villages. Pilgrims passed laws to prevent their men from copying Native fashions.  They made it illegal for men to wear their hair long. Benjamin Franklin once said, “No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.”

The fairly unconventional definition of “savage” as “irresistible” begs the question: What was it about Native life that was so appealing that Europeans felt they had to enact laws to maintain their social hold?

“I feel beneath the white there is a red skin suffering from centuries of taming.”

Maybe the defectors looked something like Adam Ant.

Just read this today: “A great example of low theory can be found in Peter Linebaugh’s and Marcus Redliker’s monumental account of the history of opposition to capitalism in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, The Many-Headed Hydra… Their book traces what they call ‘the struggles for alternative ways of life’…In stories about piracy…they detail the modes of colonial and national violence that brutally stamped out all challenges to middle-class power and that cast proletarian rebellion as disorganized, random and apolitical.”

“A new royal family a wild nobility. We are the family.”

Perhaps a sociologist would read more into a working class boy’s appropriation of the colonial officer’s regalia than I care to. I just liked it. The Ant costume pushed a lot of subconscious buttons.

Did you know you can buy a “Lady Adam Ant” costume on Ebay for $105? I put mine together from thrift store cast offs.

I saw an interview where Adam Ant said he realized he had arrived when he met The Queen. “Adam, I did not recognize you without your makeup,” said Her Majesty.  The son of a house cleaner, and the Queen knew his name.

Pinned up against that stage, I remember dreaming. If I could only lose 40 pounds, I thought, I could be worthy of someone like him.

I skipped lunch, put my lunch money in a box, and saved up for records and pieces of clothing to imitate the Adam Ant look. I choreographed an aerobic dance routine to “Ant Music.” It was an insanely fast piece of music for an aerobic dance routine. I lost 40 pounds, but I never felt Adam Ant worthy.

If only I’d appreciated how beautiful I was when I was young. In my twenties, I was as physically attractive as I would ever be, and yet I never experienced that moment of feeling Adam Ant worthy.

Then again, Adam-Ant-worthy is not how I measure my attractiveness or status these days.

So this was my experience of the concert. It was hardly a review, more about me than about Adam. Totally unfair to him after he went to all the trouble of sweating it out for two hours.  The thing is, reporting on what happened on the stage would not capture the experience.  I couldn’t share the moment with you, even if I’d filmed it all with my iphone and uploaded it to Youtube.

I can tell you something about that awkward 13 year-old girl though. She wanted so much from life.  The music of Adam Ant sparked her imagination because she was a dreamer.  She longed for deep human connection, but her shy temperament drove her off on her own to read, to reflect and to imagine, to create other worlds in her mind.

I have not changed.

Thanks, Adam.

An Open Letter to the Old Boyfriend I Couldn’t Find on Facebook

ImageYeah, I’ve looked you up a bunch of times.  How is it that you’re the only person on earth without any social media accounts?  And would it kill you to have a less common name?

I’ve wanted to reach out to you, but even if I knew your address, writing a real letter with a stamp and all that would be too much of a “thing.”  I don’t want a “thing,” I just wonder about you.

You wrote me a letter– a real one with a stamp and an airmail sticker– almost twenty years ago.  Could it be that long?

I never answered.  It came at a bad time when I was busy falling apart over a life that had nothing to do with you and, when I think of it now, nothing to do with me either.

I did want to reply.  But by the time I had the power to say what I wanted I had a new address and it seemed as if too much time had passed.  Now it’s really passed.  Can you believe it?

I don’t suppose you ever type my name into a search engine– just to see?

In case you did and you found your way here: I can’t believe “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred was our song.  Yes.  I’m talking about you.