An unanticipated result of someone putting together this Internet and keeping it running in a windowless building somewhere, is that I’m frequently putting a photo of myself on whatever new website I’m playing around with.
So I’m always scrounging for photos of me that look how I think I look.
Or how I would like to imagine you think I look.
(But not, I’d like to point out, how I want you to think I look but which isn’t really how I think I look: I wouldn’t do that.)
So, for one of the websites that I put my music on, I went through iPhoto till I found a fun picture taken at a local charity music event. My friend Evan and I had gone to see some friends’ band playing, and our other friend Greg was there snapping photos, and he said something really goofy just before the shot and got a really nice laugh from both me and Evan. I cropped Evan out and used the photo.
Later, a guy I’d met at a songwriting seminar emailed me this [spelling and punctuation “sic”]:
“it was great meeting ya’ll in class and hanging at Barbara’s.
Your main photo looks nothing like you. i had to check your other photos to make sure i was talking to the right person!”
…hmmmmm. Okay. Let me investigate this a little…
OH MY GOD THAT CHARITY EVENT WAS IN, LIKE, NOVEMBER OF 2002.
Je suis ont.
That’s a phrase that my wife and I think means “I am ashamed” in French, even though I was recently told it does not actually mean that, and is, in fact, gibberish.
Still, I cling to what I think that phrase means.
And to what I think I look like.
Is it denial if you admit it’s denial?
Apparently I’ve aged. A little? I don’t know. My hair has been cooperating, mostly—not falling out as much as some guys’ (knock wood), turning gray slowly at the temples and mixing in with the original color. Thanks, hair.
I do have a permanent Basenji wrinkle above my eyes.
But overall, I don’t look that old, do I?
See, it’s important. Even though I’m not trying to be an artist, even so, Nashville is like Hollywood in about a hundred ways, and one is—if you’re old, you better have power.
Otherwise, ick. Who wants old people around?
Same goes for my day job, advertising.
Forget wisdom. Wisdom is for old people. We want fresh perspectives.
So I dress the part: not-too-light-not-too-dark-not-too-new jeans, Keen shoes, casual-but-not-too-casual shirt (arrived at by a fussily uncasual effort). I try not to reference things that happened in the ’90s, or the ’80s—at least not with nostalgia. The ’70s I have learned to treat as if it were the ’30s.
If I want anyone to hang with me, if I want anyone to seek me out, I have to at least appear to be younger than I have, it turns out, lived to be.
I felt really old one day in Nashville after a co-writing session with a couple of people who are much younger than I. None of us acknowledged it. We’re all sort of testing to see if we want to use each other to advance our personal interests, so it never came up. It wasn’t an issue.
Except when, after awhile, we sort of decided we weren’t getting anywhere and that was enough for the day. One of the writers was a girl whose name I shan’t use. She suggested we help another writer we all knew, who was moving to a new apartment that day.
It was pretty clear we were helping him because he might be grateful and powerful someday. This girl is very straightforward about looking for thorns to pull out of a lion’s paws.
So the girl and the other guy and I squeezed into his beater. I sat in the back. And we drove way the hell out of Nashville. Just sitting in the back of a beater reminded me of high school, which reminded me how far I was from high school, and how recently these two must have been in high school.
Anyway, we got there right when the So-Young-It’s-Surprising-That-He’s-Old-Enough-To-Be-Recently-Divorced-And-Moving-To-A-New-Apartment writer guy was finished. We each moved maybe one box. Then he had to return the U-Haul.
“We’ll drive you, and then give you a ride back!” the girl volunteered. I don’t know why there wasn’t this sort of plan already in place, but the guy with the new apartment accepted the offer as if he hadn’t made any other provisions. You young people! Don’t you ever plan ahead longer than fifteen minutes?
Again, I felt old.
After we waited (and waited—Jeez, is this why I left my family back in Indianapolis to come down and write a country song? So I could stand in the parking lot of a suburban U-Haul dealership and watch the sun go down?), someone suggested we go to the McDonald’s next door.
It wasn’t the girl.
Because we all got there and ordered, and she wouldn’t order.
I thought all young people ate McDonald’s! Look! Even I’m eating McDonald’s (nom nom nom)! Because at heart—and in that photo on my website—I am just as young as anybody!!
But she was watching her weight.
“Pffft, what weight?” I would have scoffed if I knew her better. She wasn’t fat.
But I guess… I guess… if you were judging her on a stage with the eyes of someone who might decide to take her on and invest in her and make her a star—maybe you could see how her mom might have had to fight a few extra pounds here or there? How it would be possible that someday she might have a weight problem?
But not today. No, you’re fine, girl-writer. You’re fine. Have a French fry. One French fry.
She wouldn’t do it.
She hadn’t given up on being an artist, a singer-songwriter instead of just a _____-songwriter like me.
So she couldn’t just relax and be a young person.
Nashville, you should be ont.
Or whatever the French word for “ashamed” is.