A Luddite Weeps at the Gym

I once picked up a woman at Packard’s. She was heavily tatted and pierced, had the geometric, multicolored hairdo, some scarification—the prototypical gal I’ve been attracting since I was twelve. When we got back to my place, the first thing she noticed was a copy of Rolling Stone sitting on the ironing board. “Lady Gaga is the shit!” she said. This saddened me. It made me yearn for the old days, when we met at all ages shows: all sweaty with sticky hair and runny makeup. Ripped jeans, safety pins, Doc Martens with colored laces. Ten dollar T-shirts from Newbury Comics. We were like a tribe. Maybe we weren’t into the same bands exactly, but fuck pop music, fuck the radio (though we loved our college stations), and definitely fuck Mtv (unless of course it was 120 Minutes).

Well, I’m old now. And times have changed. The average freak is more likely to be into Katy Perry than Nick Cave. How the hell that happened, I can’t say. It probably has something to do with Madonna. (That issue of Rolling Stone, btw, featured a piece on Dennis Hopper’s final days, which is why it was on my ironing board. As for why I had the ironing board, I have no excuse for that.) I think everyone, including me, figured I’d outgrow punk rock culture. But not only do I still love it at forty, my appreciation for it has grown, perhaps because it’s always been there for me. For years I avoided downloading, for fear of it. There’d be nothing tangible there, and I was reticent about providing information,typing shit, and, like, committing to something.

Well, all that’s changed. I got my account with iTunes (way easier than I imagined) and I’m loving it. I even had my mother dust off my old cassette tapes and ship them to me, so I could see what I’d forgotten about. Dag Nasty. The Virgin Prunes. Anti-Nowhere League. All my old favorites at 99 cents a pop! I’ve been having a blast building my library. Syncing to my Shuffle.

I was one of those sensitive-type punks. (We didn’t have a name for it then, but I read that it’s called “emo” nowadays. I also read that emo-types, understandably, hate that label.) So what went along with all the thrash and hardcore was a slower, more melodic sound we called New Wave, which sort of morphed and mainstreamed, becoming “alternative” in the 90’s, but that’s getting off point. Among my latest downloads is a song called “What’s the Matter Here?” by 10,000 Maniacs. It’s about child abuse.

With the shuffle, obviously, any song could play at any time. I was at the Northampton Athletic Club, doing shoulder shrugs real close to the mirror, when Natalie Merchant got to me. It was the crescendo that did it:

All these cold and rude things that you do, I suppose you do because he belongs to you. And instead of love and the feel of warmth, you’ve given him these cuts and sores that don’t heal with time or with age.

I’d forgotten about the passion in that vocal, so hauntingly beautiful. I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I worried that this might look odd: a grown man crying in the gym. I hoped that people would simply assume I’d had a blistering set, hence the puffy eyes and crimson face.

And then I wondered why it mattered. I was feeling something. And feeling felt good. It was that old friend again, the one I keep neglecting. The one who’s kind enough to keep giving me second chances.

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