Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Outside Looking In

Outsiders understand more than insiders can.

I drove past my old apartment yesterday. Stopped for a second and looked up in the window -- the one window that had a tiny sliver of an ocean view. Somewhere up the street, someone was playing the Hair soundtrack.

It was a neighborhood of outsiders when I lived there. Homeless people slept in the alleyways; the streets and the sand were not quite safe after dark. We recognized each other and our fellowship of not quite belonging -- like we were members of the same tribe of outsiders.

Outsiders and outcasts gather. Rejected by the cool kids, driven to carve out their own identity far from the warm embrace of the mainstream. Until that identity somehow becomes mainstream. And this is the irony of rock and roll -- the outcasts, haunted by unhappy childhoods and various demons, create something so compelling that one day the hippest and coolest of the cool (the ones who might, a few years earlier, have beaten up those very same outcasts) want in.

I once saw Milos Forman near my old apartment. He was the ultimate outsider -- a Czech who lost both parents to the Nazi death camps and was more sympathetic to the outcasts and madmen of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus than the cool kids who ran Hollywood. Only an outsider like Forman (and writer Michael Heller) could make sense of Hair and transform it into something more coherent than James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and Galt MacDermot's raggedy collection of songs. I was born too late to be a hippie, but I've seen several great (and one horrible) production of the play and loved the movie version.

I guess not everyone in my old neighborhood thought we were a tribe. One day my upstairs neighbor was robbed at gunpoint. A week later, a homeless man was stabbed to death 20 feet from my front door. I moved out shortly thereafter.

The last time I was in Iceland, there was a production of Hair at the National Opera House, but I missed it by 6 days. In Iceland, they really are their own tribe -- in a country with fewer people than live within the city limits of Toledo, most people are just 2 or 3 degrees of separation from every other Icelanders -- so I wondered what a country bombarded by images of all the cool kids in Europe and America would have done with a show like Hair. I'll bet it was amazing.

Back in my old neighborhood, I looked up at my window, the one with the fragment of an ocean view. For a second I thought I saw myself from years ago looking down. But my past self didn't recognize my present self... and my present self didn't understand how my past self could afford the neighborhood as it is now (with million dollar condos and a complete absence of homeless people). Milos Forman and the hippies were nowhere to be found, so I put my car back in gear and drove 4 miles inland back to the present.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Icelanders I've met did have beautiful hair... and I wouldn't mind seeing them naked!