I think a fair bit lately about that Bruce Springsteen song,
"Growing Up". This part of the lyric runs through my mind:
"I stood in the clouded wrath of the crowd
but when they said sit down I stood up".
The song has an image attached to it in my mind. When I was 20 or so, I stood in a crowded pub and watched a band called Clive Gregson and Any Trouble do a spirited cover of this song, as fresh as day, almost mod, a million miles away from the Greetings from Asbury Park version but really reaching me. The whole little space was probably not forty feet square and it was jam packed (I believe Melody Maker had run a puff piece on the band lately--years later, Gregson became a sort of minor folk icon) and my friend Jim and I watched this incredible show while the interesting very-bright-yet-rather-angry woman acquaintance who came with us picked up one of the blonde-with-a-big-smile strangers in the bar and proceeded "home" with him to make her tourism experience a bit more personally satisfying than ours. Somehow, standing in a crowded room of strangers listening to a little band for a little moment doing a song only a few people really knew connected me to the part of the song about "coming out with my soul untouched".
Small southern towns like the ones in which I grew up actually can tolerate a fair bit of eccentricity. In that way (and I am tempted to say in that way only), Faulkner and Harper Lee and Welty and Ellen Gilchrist still ring true with their deeply "southern imagery. Nonetheless, conformity is a touchstone in such places. The "in kids" in school, and the "people who matter" in town, still tend to be cut from a fairly rigid mold a surprising amount of the time. The net effect is that one can easily be a "drop out" from small town society, and still get a friendly smile and a wave, but always that feeling that one is not quite "in the mix" of things.
I wish I could say I was the fiery rebel of the Springsteen song, but the truth is more prosaic. I was a kid who followed the rules, by and large, not the kind of kid who "fits in" by being the "cool outsider". For that matter, I read books and dreamed dreams, but I never had the charm or red hair to even pass as Anne of Green Gables, much less the moxy to be James Dean.
Still, I feel as though the "clouded wrath of the crowd" is something I've largely been able to endure without surrender, and that somehow standing during the sitting times has now become second nature for me.
Isn't it funny how all the people we really admire in history, literature, life or anything are people who don't really "fit", and yet while we pursue our own goals and dreams we constantly live a little worried about being the apaloosa in a herd of black mustangs?
Even worse, don't we sometimes turn our differences into yet another "cool", another way to disdain and exclude the very people
whose disdain we would hate to emulate, and then do?
It's perhaps natural--people are social animals, too--but
finding one's own voice and one's own path, oblivious to others' ways, seems so important to me. That elusive "I live in this moment alone" can be a blessing, the only true conquest of K-1, but for me (and I'm sure for others) it sometimes seems like such a chore, even a lonely feeling (and I am not by nature a lonely person).
Some people want to live in the bright sun of social approval and material success. Some people want to dash headlong into that sun, fighting it in every way, hoping for victory or some glorious flame-out. But I love the people in the penumbra of that sun, turning pirouettes in the shadows, hearing music nobody else hears, telling stories nobody else tells.
Heaven save me from "fitting in"--or being "cool".