Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mom Was a Punk Rocker

This year I turned 45. One day you find yourself at a wedding, dancing in the cool way you always have, and all the sudden you are a roaring geek and an embarrassment to your children. And, of course, they do not hesitate to point this out. Well, I was feeling kind of depressed about all this, so I went out shopping. Retail therapy, you know. As it turned out I had an incredible experience at the mall that day (yes, the mall…when’s the last time you heard that out of someone over the age of 13?).

I was in one of my favorite stores, one of those retail chains that carry merchandise geared towards today’s cool and disenfranchised youth, when I saw a Ramones' Rocket to Russia t-shirt on the wall. I stood there, sighed, and said to myself, “Now THAT was a great album!” Just seeing it got me reminiscing about my New York City punk rock adolescence, and I asked a store employee if they carried the CD. The multiply-pierced, fuchsia-haired sales girl laughed, and said, "The Ramones? We've been sold out for weeks! They come in and go out the same day.” Perplexed, I went on to ask if she thought the record store might have it in stock (See? I gave my age away right there! "Like, what’s a 'record' lady?"). She looked confused (or maybe it was just the way the chain that went from her nose to her ear was pulling her cheek), and finally replied, “I don’t know, but you might try the music store three doors down, you might luck out.”

So off I go, determined to get the damn CD and continue my trip down memory lane. I swept the store's rows and rows of digital media with my eyes, and headed toward the Pop/Rock section. I thumbed through the R's. Nothing. I asked the frighteningly young sales clerk with, yes, a lip piercing, where I might find the Ramones, and he said "Oh no, you wouldn't find them in the pop/rock section, we have a new "Punk/Ska" section!" (New?) He brings me over to the area in question, and my eyes fall on the cover of the Sex Pistol’s Never Mind the Bullocks. I reminisce out loud that this was the record I bought with my first paycheck from Woolworth's when I was 14. He got this glazed look in his eyes and said, "You have this on vinyl??? This is a CLASSIC!" Then he picked up a copy of Rocket to Russia as if it were the Holy Grail and said, "Do you know they are coming out with a tribute album to the Ramones?" Since I was not really interested in the lead singer from ColdPlay singing "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" I tuned him out and said, "Oh, great."

I was feeling rather old as I brought the over-priced "retro" CD to the check out and placed it on the counter. I grabbed some headphones from a nearby rack and asked the other incredibly young man behind the register if they had any sturdier ones for my 9-year old. At this he glanced down at my CD purchase and asked incredulously, "Your nine year old is into the Ramones??" and I say, "Oh no, that's for me, I was talking about the headphones." "You're into the Ramones? Cool!" He seemed so impressed I went on to say, "Yeah, I saw them three or four times in the late 70's." At this point his jaw hit his chest and he gasped, "You SAW THE RAMONES LIVE???" Enjoying this I added, "Yeah, in Central Park for $7.50" He didn't even have words for that, he just sputtered "Central Park???" and I went on to list who I had seen live that year, Blondie, Elvis Costello...I thought he was going to have a seizure, and he looked at me with glazed eyes as if I was a celebrity.

All of the sudden as I stood there basking in the young man's awe--all 45 years of me--I felt that maybe this growing older thing wasn't so bad. I used to say that the definition of middle age was when the music of your youth comes back in style as "retro," and here I am. On the way home I turned up the Ramones and remembered the nights of CBGBs, Max's Kansas City, and the Mudd Club. After the clubs closed in the wee hours, we would stumble out blinking at the sunrise with our spiked hair, fishnet stockings and leather motorcycle jackets, and go home and change into our Catholic school uniforms and go straight to school, smelling vaguely of rum. "Well," I smiled to myself, head bobbing to "I Want to be Sedated" as I drove down interstate 89, "I may be middle-aged, but I guess I'm not so uncool after all."Recently, my son unearthed some photographs of me taken during my punk days, and he was clearly impressed. “Mom! You were so young and cool!” To which my husband replied, “Yeah, and when someone tries to insult you by saying ‘Your Mom wears combat boots!’ you can say, ‘Yes, she did!’”

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