The meaning of hip

by Michael Ryerson

Well, late to the party here, as usual. And I’m older than most of you guys so my frame of reference is maybe a bit different. For me it was pretty much Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys and then the Beatles leading into the Marine Corps and then the Stones coming back from overseas and into the World. Not a lot of other stuff although there was always a bunch of stuff playing wherever I was. But I had no real strong affinity for any of it (beyond the Stones). It was mostly about getting laid so you had to know the names and maybe some of the lyrics. Couple of things…First, I was in a unit in RVN where some guy had managed to get a little record player from some godddam place and they had it set up in the corner of one of our bunkers (we were right at the edge of the DMZ, lotta noise) but they only had one record, a 45 (remember them?), Bobby Vee with Rubber Ball on one side and I don’t remember the other side. You guys are talking about the torture of AM radio and long upper Midwest crossings, let me tell you if I’ve heard that fucking song once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. I went through the stages of grief, kinda liked it starting out, catchy, pleasant, then it kind of started irritating me, made my skin crawl, threatened to bust up the player and then found I could ignore it, just tune it out, until finally it actually started to make me laugh, I mean actually laugh out loud. Maybe I was losing it a bit right through here. Anytime I had to pass that bunker I could hear that goddamed thing playing…I can hear it now. Second,…a few years later, living in Berkeley, big three story house, 19 roommates. Like everything else in those times you had to know a fuck of a lot just to make your bones, it was impossible to get laid if you had no opinion about music, so I had to actually pay attention. Big list of bands and composers goes here…lots of music in that house, you had to be able to name the band and the lead singer(s) on the opening chord…one guy in the house that I knew, but not well, but someone I suspected if circumstances had been different, could really be good friends with was this totally unhip guy from back east. He wore these big old heavy wingtips and Levis with a belt(!) fer chrissakes, had a bit of a gut, had never been to the beach but really fucking knew the music scene, almost savant-like. He knew the groups, the instruments, the lead singers and their managers and the studios where they recorded, and in an environment where groups were frequently breaking up and then reforming in different combinations he somehow kept up with that too. He also knew a lot of shit about other things too. Probably the best student in the house. Graduated and went to Boalt. He was a really interesting guy. So unhip. But so fucking hip. If you know what I mean. So one time we’re in the kitchen at the same time, and I’m probably eating Kraft Mac&Cheese (this is almost a sure thing) and we’re just there at the same time, not really eating ‘together’ but eating at the same time, does that make sense? And there’s music playing someplace in the house and we’re not really talking, just letting the music fill up the house and then looks over and says, ‘You know who I like?’ and I look over at him and he says, ‘Donovan…and Neil Diamond…’ And I kinda grunt ‘yeah?’ and nod my head conciliatorily because at this time and place these are not things you’d admit to unless you were really, really uncool. But he recognizes my tone and he then says, ‘No, really. I do.’ And, of course, all these years later I see he was right. Easily one of the brightest and coolest guys I’ve ever known. Last thing…my maternal grandfather, Bill Stemple, was the first guy to have seatbelts in his car that I knew, put them in himself around 1948-49. Also screwed a compass into his dashboard and mounted this big honkin’ spotlight at the side of the windshield on the driver’s side. Another guy I really admire.

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