When I was a child, I had heroes. I don’t think that’s uncommon. I was a teenager prone to idolizing, building up ordinary people– young people not much older than I am now– to pedestals beyond the reach of any mortal being. They were heroes to me because they chose to do things that everyone I’d ever known had not– artistic things, without the tether of major labels, publishing companies. They simply packed up all their things, bid goodbye to their loved ones, and hit the road to whatever adventure lay ahead: Jack Kerouacs in bright colored hats and black denim, Patti Smiths with cans of spray paint in their purses.
As always happens, though, these stories had a tragic ending. Middle age is a villain I have been waging war on since I realized that I was going to have to face it someday, he and his evil side kicks Adulthood and Responsibility. I thought of art as a circus, a place I could hide and lie in wait until I was strong enough to defeat Middle Age. I watched my heroes fall. They got jobs– real ones with salaries and dress codes– and got married, had children, had to stop throwing parties, left Neverland. They stopped writing so much and stopped playing house shows. They disappeared one day from Chicago without a trace and the next I heard of them (after months of scouring the internet), they were married in Portland with their long-time girlfriend, for whom they had sung such beautiful songs. Worst of all, they seemed happy with it. They hadn’t put out books or made a million dollars. They hadn’t traveled the world. They hadn’t built a new Paris. And yet, they were content. They didn’t feel any need to grind because they’d found whatever it was they were looking for, and if not, a good compromise. I was crushed. At the time, I didn’t understand it.
I’ve been looking for years now for new inspiration since I’ve seen those heroes grow up. I wanted art that made me feel like a child again, made me love something unabashedly again. I found others who felt the same way, who loved the same strange things and were as given to hero worship as me, who lived in the same shimmering world or were at least willing to go there with me. I built a kingdom for them to play in, and when that kingdom was overrun and corrupted by people trying to do adult things like get laid and get their name out there to coast on, I let that kingdom go. I struck out, searching out the wildest and the truest, the most valiant, scorning anyone with intentions I deemed less than pure. I collected a decent army without generals, a band of leaders whose raison d’etre was in order 1) make beautiful things, 2) get wild, 3) drink good whiskey.
A couple of my friends have already made the decision to pursue another path. They’re trying to find the perfect balance between art and growing up, and I don’t blame them. I wish them the best of luck, actually. They are in a lot of ways, far braver than me.
But at the bottom of this all lies another dichotomy. I’ve spent my whole life looking for inspiration from somewhere higher– not God, certainly, and not even in the mainstream, but some step above me that I could strive after and guide me. I’ve had guides, but they were quick to give me what they could and go. I’ve been looking for heroes for ages. It wasn’t until last night, at an intimate house party in Logan Square that I realized that if I’m still looking for heroes, I’ve been looking too high. The most beautiful things that I’ve seen and the art that I love best has been made lately by my peers. The most promising poetry, the most exciting and well-crafted music, the most firebrand spirits who light up our eyes with their dazzling displays of love and life. I’ve written in this very blog some of my adventures with them. It started with the DIY endeavors, but it seems now that the rest of the established art scenes in Chicago and abroad are beginning to step aside and welcome the 20-whatevers into their new place in the empire of art. Some are grudging in this handover of power. They complain about the community not being as powerful in their auditoriums while our living room shows are packed with dirty kids sitting close and listening intently, they complain about the craft when they hear the well-played notes they didn’t even know existed at our age, they wonder if we’ve got what it takes to replace them. They’re scared. They see us taking the ball that they dropped and running it into a new time. For those with such an impulse, I say: relax. We don’t mean you harm. Most importantly, we know what we’re doing. If you want to join in, this is probably your last chance before we leave you behind. And for those who have been nothing but helpful, who are interested in being a part of what we’re creating, welcome. We’re glad you’re here.
And for my friends, my family, my comrades in arms: thank you. You’re what I’ve been looking for all along. Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t worry about what haters have to say. Ash your cigarette on their foot, give ’em a great big smile and wish that the door to Middle Age doesn’t hit them in the ass on their way out. This is a wonderful time to be young and strange in America. Take as much advantage of it as you can.