Fads Grow Sillier with Age

The little-known Cezanne “Self-portrait with Lifeguard Tank Top,” circa 1885.

Fads are often silly from the start, and yet they grow even sillier with age, some of them degrading entirely to pure nonsense (think tight-rolled jeans). One of the sillier fads I embraced as a kid was the lifeguard tank top shirt. It must’ve been about 1984, give or take a year–the start of a period which, spanning the entire second half of the eighties, I’m realizing was seminal in the development of who I am. The seeds of lifelong interests were sown in those roughly five years. Memories I have from that time rank among my favorites. There was a magic in that long corridor between ages eight and thirteen that I didn’t identify then–though I certainly felt it–that is becoming clearer with age. An innocence on the verge of experience. The mystery of girls deepened, resulting in some killer crushes. Music became a vehicle for any emotion or memory I might have had, and it did so with increasing intensity–any music I was into, in fact, from Huey Lewis and the News to 3rd Bass to Guns N’ Roses. What I now know to be a budding self-consciousness, was to me then an expansion of the horizon itself, and the awkwardness and heartbreak were as necessary as the triumphs and thrills.

At that age, I also became increasingly image-conscious, which sounds a little shallow to the present me, but at the time, it somehow fit: blissfully ignorant of social class, the idea I could wear a certain shirt and be part of a certain group held a charming simplicity. I didn’t know any better then; I see the folly of that view only in reflection. What I did know was that the world (for me) was getting bigger; that the teenage years looked exciting and grownup; that things were now either “cool” or not, and to be “cool” was everything. Even if it meant traipsing sunburnt down Panama City Beach in a tank top with the word lifeguard printed on it in red letters.

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist

The Breeders in a Beater

I used to find scary faces in the glovebox pattern.

In every memory of the front view of my childhood home, my dad’s 1978 Ford F-150 two-tone brown and tan pickup is parked in the street. It’s not because my dad stayed home all the time–he maintained a long workweek for most of my youth–but because I can’t separate the truck from my memories of growing up. My brother and I both learned to drive in that truck, and we both left our marks on it, some of which remained indefinitely. Yet even as a self-conscious late-stage teenager, long after appearance had begun to matter, I was never too proud to be seen in the beat-up truck. In fact, I excelled at finding excuses to drive it, one of which involved 90s alternative band, The Breeders.

Different wheels, but the same kind of truck.

Imagine a lonely northwest Tennessee town in winter. It’s night and the brown grass and busted-up concrete of vacant lots lends a desolation to the sideroads off the main drag. Behind and around the big-block headquarters of the local paper, the shadows are deep, as they are around the Bakery Thriftshop across the street, its facade like the whitewashed walls of an abandoned warehouse. This is all seen from the road, where the 1978 Ford cruises along. It may or may not be 1993, but the teenage boy driving the truck is most certainly me. I had my own car by now, so I’m not sure why I was in my dad’s truck–perhaps mine was in the shop, I don’t know. Memory’s not yielding this detail. What memory does yield, however, is the music I was listening to: the album Pod, by The Breeders. The old Ford had a cassette deck, but I was all 1993-modern with my compact discs. My solution was to set a boom box on the seat next to me, but for this to work, I had to have enough D batteries. Did I buy the batteries that night, or did I find them at home? I don’t remember this detail, either, but it’s likely I bought them, because nobody keeps enough D batteries lying around to power anything. Or maybe they were C batteries. Whatever they were, I went through a lot of trouble to listen to The Breeders. No one was with me, and I had nowhere to be, but when you’re young and restless and have a driver’s license, sometimes you just have to get out, and if you’re going to get out, you’ve got to have music you love. So I traveled the sideroads, alone and looking for signs of life, while Kim Deal sang “When I Was a Painter.”

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist

Image and Associations of the Idle Mind

An odd connection formed in my idle, driving brain this morning. I say “idle” because I was consciously seeking neither the image nor the associations. The 1998 song “I Think I’m Paranoid,” by the band Garbage, had queued on my Spotify Daily Mix, and I was going to skip it, but then it kind of drew me in as certain songs mysteriously will, and I ended up listening to the whole thing. Except I never really cared for that particular song. By 1998, Garbage had already pop-musicked themselves out of my zone of interest. There was something else at work.

The primary image, which, as far as I can tell, was raised by the song, is that of a steel, white bar, similar in shape to a 2×4, covered on one side by a row of large, multicolored lightbulbs. If what you pictured is part of a carnival ride, then you’d be seeing what I saw. It’s the arm or otherwise supporting beam of a traveling carnival ride, one of many on any given attraction, taxed with bearing the weight of carts and riders of all sizes, be they on the mixer or the Ferris wheel. This image, in turn, raised other associations: the sights and sounds of midway, where rough men with handfuls of darts try to taunt you into winning prizes for your spouse, date, friend, and/or kids; the smell of funnel cake and various other fried things; the general sweaty skeeziness that is somehow attractive and repellent at the same time.

Beneath these sensory details, a vaguer sense takes hold: that of the joys of youth–memories, probably half made-up, of walking the rounds with your friends at the county fair, hoping to see the girl you liked but afraid to let her know; the promise and possibility of the world beyond your town, the future which you were blossoming into, while unaware how safe and secure you already were, and how once you’d left, things would never be the same. So it’s not just the joys of youth but also the sorrows (though all of it has a rosy patina when you look back twenty years later, both the good and the bad).

All of this came to mind, because back in 1998, singer Shirley Manson thought she was paranoid.

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist

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