Thursday, November 25, 2004
How does it happen? Painlessly, you change from the 6-year-old who admires the bigger kids who rule the skatepark to being that bigger kid to being the guy in the driver's seat of a Jeep Grand Cherokee yelling to your 6-year-old that you'll pick him up for dinner in an hour. The change happens so slowly that you don't even notice. Only after the change is complete do you see yourself as you are.
"This is not my beautiful house," etc.
That was me this summer, sitting in a smoking-banned dive bar in Portland, Maine, called the Free Street Taverna, watching Lady Kensington and the Beatlords. Let me first tell you that the Free Street used to be cool. Artists would wander over in the evenings after days in their studios trading drawings for beer. The best bands always played there despite the crappy sound and the small stage. And Pete -- the big Greek owner -- was popular with the ladies.
Those days passed years ago, and the Free Street Taverna quickly transformed from the good kind of dive bar to the toothless-clientele, aging-prostitute, bad kind of dive bar.
But a breath from the past was blowing through the place that night. I was there by a strange coincidence and so were many others from "the good old days." There hadn't been any fliers or write-ups for Lady Kensington, but everyone was glad they were accidentally there to witness a new band made of two local hipster staples, the Groovy Ghoulies and the Clown School Dropouts.
I knew everyone at the table except for one guy -- a music writer for NPR.
He pointed to a guy across the room.
"When I'm that age," he said, "I hope I'm at home putting the kids to bed. I hope I pour myself a cocktail and turn on the stereo. I don't want to be standing in some bar, trying to be cool."
I followed his finger across the room to a curly haired guy in a leather jacket. It was Jim. For as long as anyone could remember, he had hosted a weekly punk rock radio show where bands such as The Melvins would just drop in to say hello. He was hip. He defined hip.
"Do you know who that is?" I said. But the NPR writer had moved on already.
That was the first time the phrase "aging hipster" crossed my mind, but it wasn't the last.
I remember a Rolling Stone article about Bill Clinton. The reporter was pre-occupied with one question: Is Clinton cool? Cool never rubs off, the reporter said. If Clinton had been cool when he was young, then the residue of cool would still be on him. I don't remember the reporter's conclusion (though I think the answer was "no"), but I always remember that idea that cool leaves a mark that time and a tie can't erase.
Aging hipster revelation No. 2:
A citywide smoking ban has an effect I call "buffet nightlife." All the smokers gather outside, giving passers-by a glimpse of what's inside. So it was as I walked toward a group of thrift-store fashion and dark-rimmed glasses waiting for Southern Culture on the Skids to take the stage. These are my peeps, I thought. But as I walked in the door, I realized that because SCOTS has been around for years, like cans behind a bride's car, the band drags behind it a line of aging hipsters.
The band took the stage. Singer Mary Huff still had her gigantic beehive and her super cool clothes, but I spied a wattle dancing under her chin and the look of an old diner waitress on her face.
How did this happen? How did my world fill with aging hipsters? It must be the kind of shows I was going to, I decided.
My summer epiphany about aging hipsters, slipped away when I returned to Steamboat Springs. In Steamboat, there are only so many layers of cool because there are only so many people. In Steamboat, all the ages mingle and there is no "scene," because people just go where the action is, whether it's cool.
My thoughts about aging hipsters didn't return until this weekend as I watched the mosh pit at The Plagiarist show fill with business owners and otherwise quasi-respectable people in their 30s and 40s. They were grinning and bouncing into each other, and a cloud of hipness residue was rising above them. The show ended; everyone removed their earplugs and went home to their wives and children.
Aging hipsters, I thought to myself. Isn't it interesting I keep finding myself among them?
Aging. Not that it's happening to me. It's just something I've started to notice.