I was complaining to a friend recently about just how out of touch I'm feeling with the cutting edge of our culture. "Jeez," I asked, "just how hip am I when TV reporters are talking about designer drugs I haven't heard of yet?
"I wouldn't worry," he advised. "TV reporters are probably the people those drugs were designed for."
Maybe so, and, anyway, I have to admit I'm getting tired of trying to keep up with the latest trends.
It used to be a damning thing to be out of touch. Remember the caustic Bob Dylan lyric, "You know something's happening, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?" Do you also remember the Dylan lyric where he goes, "Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a bowl of soup?"
That strays rather from the point, but I think it's always healthy to remember that the poet laureate of my generation is, shall we say, a versatile talent. The rumor was that the Mr. Jones of the song was based on Dylan's meeting a particularly un-hip reporter from Time magazine. And now Time magazine is such an arbiter of hip that it recently ran a cover story declaring "Everybody's Hip (And That's Not Cool)."
I was too hip to read the story, but I gathered from the pictures and captions that they were concerned that hipness, once the domain of a sullen few, is now being cast willy-nilly into the American mass consciousness, and everybody's trying to catch it.
As much as I hate to admit it, Time might actually be right for a change. It seems that no sooner do kids and whatever passes for a counterculture these days come up with some new music or fashion meant to disgust their elders and corporate masters, than that latter group has co-opted the trend, put a price tag on it and stuck it in Kmart.
If some kids in Nome, Alaska, decide to honk off folks by dying igloos with snow-cone syrup, you can be pretty sure that in no time fashion designers will be sending gooey igloo-wearing super-models down the runways of New York.
Perhaps you've been to the Lab in Costa Mesa, the self-dubbed Anti-Mall (right next to the Pep Boys, where they only have antifreeze). I sort of like the place. There's a vaguely post-apocalyptic garage-Gothic coffeehouse vibe and an interesting mix of businesses: fashion outlets, a bead shop, comic books, an alternative-skewed Tower Records, as well as an art gallery with the obligatory artist's statement posted beginning, "My paintings are intensely personal internal dialogues. . . ."
The doorways to the shops are ragged holes in the walls, as if some robot was so anxious to buy a $60 grunge shirt he tore his way through the concrete. Actually I'm sure they're not grunge shirts anymore, but some variant representing a new movement I'm not yet hip to.
I'm hip to $60, though. One thing I've noticed is that the Anti-Mall doesn't take anti-money. They could at least take barter, so a kid walking in holding a brace of rabbits could walk out with that new Rancid CD.
A lot of the goods in the Lab shops may look trendy but are spiritually no different than those at the non-anti-malls. Namely, they're expensive duds made in Third World sweatshops by workers who only see pennies of the sale price, which is not an especially new way of thinking.
The most encouraging thing to me at the Lab are the magazine and book racks at the Tower store. At the same time people are bemoaning the decline of literacy, there has been an explosion of magazines and journals on every subject imaginable, including several with new pointers for kids on how to rebel.
We had it made in the '60s. All we had to do to peeve our parents was let our hair grow over our ears and occasionally burn down a Bank of America.
Nowadays kids have to go to wild extremes to get noticed, and it doesn't help that their jaded, Woodstock-raised parents have pot-dimmed memories.
So when the kid comes home from school with a scythe, saying, "Dad, I disemboweled the principal," the parent just says, "Yeah, yeah. We already did that in the '60s."
"I ate his liver."
"Son! Don't you know dangerous nitrates accumulate in the organ meats?"
Short of actual mayhem, the young folk do finally seem to have staked out a domain of their own, one the rest of us may write about knowingly but don't enter. I'm talking about the Modern Primitives scene, which along with entailing getting complex, colorful tattoos that are actually larger than your body, also involves getting pierced.
Folks are piercing their noses, tongues, navels, nipples, eyebrows and some other very tender parts of the body--parts I do my conscious best to keep at least six nautical miles away from any sharp objects, thank you.
I don't really see a good side to this: You set off metal detectors in airports; you attract lightning; and if kissing couples in the past thought it was tough when they got their braces locked, they ain't seen nothin' yet.
It may be misery, but at least it's their misery. Barbara Walters probably isn't going to get a nipple ring, and I'm right with her on that. Let the kids have it. If we adopt the look, they'll just have to take it one step further.
Then I'd have to follow suit, and next thing I know I'd be impaled on a four-foot cargo hook, having a huge crane hoist me from one trendy coffeehouse to the next, as the kids look up with a dismissive glance and say, "Ugh, how retro!"