Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Won't Do That

Part of the Turning 30 series.

"Look at all the tiny people!" exclaimed a puffy-faced girl who became, as soon her pimple-rimmed lips finished 'tiny', someone I would hate for the rest of my life(I never saw her again).

The 'tiny people' were filling the hallways after their first class of their first day at Laurel High School, and I - a pasty bug-eyed ghost of a kid - was among them. I scurried from class to class, my middle-school honed nerd-survival techniques urging me to lay low and keep quiet. Scan the classroom, look for signs of possible allies: Metallica sticker on a notebook, comic doodling(the Marvel kind, not the newspaper kind), a copy of Dungeons and Dragons hanging out of backpack; any marker that might lead me to another teenage misfit.

Eventually, I found a set of friends - two, actually. Set one were three friends from my neighborhood who were all a year ahead of me. Theoretically, having three established sophomores as friends should have been an advantage, but they were all geeks like me(well, to be fair Joel wasn't really that geeky, just all of his friends were - which is basically the same thing). It was like knowing the prison bitches before you get off the county van; it only helps in as much you know how badly you are going to get fucked.

My other set of friends were a couple of guys that I'll refer to as SuperFresh. One half of SuperFresh was like me(all nerd), but the other was an anomaly. He was in incredible shape from karate, wrestling, and gymnastics. He earned straight As, he was a member of TV Production, and was generally well liked by everyone. Yet, he doesn't remember being popular. I'm convinced this is because he was best friends with me and the other half of SuperFresh. Our geek-worldview rubbed off on him. If it wasn't for us, he'd probably have dated cheerleaders and scored at Prom(sorry dude).

Unlike Superfresh, my other set of friends were a little sinister. Hanging out with them, I'd have my first taste of alcohol, porn, satanic metal, drugs and LARPing1(the worst of all). I'll call them the Axis of Evil.

The Axis of Evil had Joel, Larry and Robert. Joel I've already discussed.

Larry was a chubby devil's child. He was smart - too smart for high school. His parents were Wiccans. His older brother was banging the cashier at the local record store. We would have amazingly deep conversations about life, science, and philosophy on the bus ride home(at least I remember them being very deep, but my teenage perspective might have warped what I considered 'deep').

Robert was tall. Really tall. He was an only child, and routinely tried to break into his friend's houses, just for practice(I think he thought of himself as a fantasy-like thief).

Together, we would spend our high-school years playing video games, D&D, looking at porn-mags, watching Headbanger's Ball and Beavis & Butthead. A typical mid-nineties, white teenage existence. Often we'd do this in someones' basement(shit, I didn't realize how much of this was so fucking cliched), but almost never mine. My parent's were still pretty strict then, and would make us go to bed eventually. At certain friend's houses, this policy was very relaxed(eventually my house became the spot for friends to congregate thanks to 'chill' parents, but that wasn't until it was my younger brothers and their friends doing the chilling2).

Even with friends, though, high school was rough. Dating was out of the question. I tried to fit in by being a kind of class clown, channeling my beloved George Carlin albums. This worked with some people, but blatantly ripping Carlin off never gained me wide-spread acceptance. Despite being a nerd, my grades were never that great, at least during freshman and sophomore years. Depressed, I didn't see the point in some of the work. Not being one of the beautiful people can hurt.

I listened to a lot of Metallica. I didn't have a lot of money for CDs, so I taped songs off the radio. I preferred dark, brooding songs, so naturally I listened to the local alternative station, 99.1 WHFS3. Late at night, long after I was supposed to have gone to bed(just like I was supposed to have studied), I'd lie in bed with my headphones on and listen - it was a gateway to another world, though it only offered a fleeting glimpse of the rooms, basements and parking lots where the cool "alternative" kids listened to the same music. I was still too nerdy, even for them.

I remember one kid who sat in front of me in freshman English. He tormented me in middle school, and over the summer he had obviously become a huge fan of Grunge: flannel shirt, longer(and greasier) hair, and an anarchy symbol sketched in black marker on his backpack. This kid, the same kid who once tortured for me wearing high-watered pants one day(hey, it was fucking seventh grade for Christ's sake) and loved making fun of me on the bus ride home, this kid had written something else besides his pseudo-approval of an anarchist society on his backpack: 'Mean People Suck'.

Mean people suck? Well, kiss my nerdy-white ass.

When I wasn't listening to the radio, there was one album I was constantly listening to, and believe me I sometimes I wish it was something really cool like Let It Be by The Replacements(who I wouldn't discover for almost a decade), Jeff Buckley's Grace or even Stone Temple Pilot's Purple. No, instead I would stare bleary-eyed at the red digits of the alarm clock listening and re-listening to Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell by Meatloaf.

Just like you don't get to choose your family, sometimes you don't get to choose the music that ends up meaning something to you. An awkward teenager looking for something, anything, that helps you make sense of the world doesn't have the benefit of wondering if what they like will be "important" when they are exiting their twenties. And even though in some circles Bat II is considered a great rock-opera album, it's hard to find another Meatloaf fan when you play "I'll Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" on the bar jukebox. Especially if that bar is in Brooklyn.

But you fucking love that song, don't you? Don't deny it - it's "Bohemian Rhapsody" epic mixed with high-drama, gloriously long and overblown as only Jim Steinman can do it. Fierce electric guitars and beautiful piano licks crash , and not just Meatloaf wailing as only Meatloaf can, but after nine minutes we get another vocalist, the mysterious woman who is the object of Meatloaf's affection. It's a mini-movie4; Beauty and The Beast condensed into 12 minutes(six for the radio version).

To me, it was unrequited love; the only kind of love nerds get to know in high school. I'm a beast, I love you and I'll do anything for you - but none of it will matter. Plus, the beast is mysterious, gothic and reclusive, but in a cool way. When you're getting called a dork on a daily basis, you may have some aura of mystery about you, but it definitely isn't the cool kind of mystery. No, it's mysterious like a two-headed kitten or unidentified meat; you'd rather just not know.

I loved the angst of the album, and being so over-the-top in it's production and homage to rock-opera, it really stood out from my Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains records. I still listened to them plenty too, but Bat II will always have a special place in my heart.

Today, if I had to pick one song to perfectly sum up my high school experience, it would be this one(even if it was released almost a decade after I graduated).


1LARPing, or 'Live-Action Role Playing', is highly advanced geekery - not for the faint of heart, or anyone wishing to engage in regular sex.

2Lotta fucking good that did me(I'm not bitter).

3Sadly, WHFS no longer exists. It's format was abruptly changed to Tropical Latin music in 2005.

4Although I've listened to the song plenty, I hadn't watched the video for it in years until I wrote this post. Looking at it now, some things are just bizarre: It starts with Meatloaf/the Beast inadvertently killing a cop with his motorcycle. Why the cops are chasing the LoafBeast is never explained(but as in most music videos, it's heavily implied it's because cops are inherently evil), but they are bringing everything, cars, helicopters, to get him. The LoafBeast flees in the woods(away from his safe haven mansion?) and discovers a beautiful woman washing by a fountain, the way nobody does. She follows him back to his mansion, through the previously mentioned woods, where there is in an incredibly hot, almost softcore scene between her and what I guess are the LoafBeast's sexy muses. How could have I forgotten that?

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