Slack Tide: Out-dated again

The following is adapted from my recent appearance at the live storytelling event “Mudrooms.” To hear a recording of the performance—which includes enthusiastic impersonations of the various musicians mentioned—visit the live recordings page of my website:


As anyone who’s been to my house lately can attest, very rarely do I hang out without an acoustic guitar nestled in my lap.

For one, it hides my gut.

But also, it’s a prop. Moreover, it’s a really cool prop.

When we were teenagers, my friends used this really cool prop to hook up. I’ll set the scene for you: a darkened suburban bedroom circa 1991; there’s a black-light, black-light posters, a case of Molson Ice (and wine coolers for the girls); whatever bottle we could steal from our parents’ liquor cabinet without them noticing, like Vermouth or something; and a cardboard toilet paper tube stuffed with fabric softener sheets that, when exhaled through, covered the smell of smoke (although surely our parents knew something was up when the whole second floor reeked of Bounce).

The friend would wait for his moment, usually when the cassette tape reached the end of side A. Then, filling the nascent silence with soft strumming and breathy, nasal earnestness…

“Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven?”

If that didn’t work, he’d try something more “extreme,” so to speak, with slick finger picking and a yearning falsetto...

“Saying ‘I love you,’ are not the words I want to hear from you…”

Girl: That’s so beautiful. I wish I could play guitar.

Friend: Well, I could show you some chords.

Then, after fumbling through a minute or two of a brutal impromptu lesson…

Friend: Sounds real good. Now… Put down the guitar.

Girl: Why?

Friend: (Leaning in) Because. It’s in the way.

Ensue heavy petting. End scene.

Of course, at the time, I didn’t play guitar; I played bass. Girls aren’t nearly as interested in learning bass.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my share of amorous interludes, even a few girlfriends.

Still, a bass player who runs with a crowd of guitarists is destined to be out-dated.

Honestly, that’s part of why I switched over to comedy when I got to college. Not that comedy yielded many more dates, either. No one who gets laid does comedy, and, for the most part, no one who does comedy gets laid.

Although, I did eventually meet my wife via comedy — she was a friend of a friend of someone I performed with in New York — notice I didn’t say comedy got me laid; I said it got me married. There’s a difference.

Anyway, while I stopped playing music, I never stopped loving it (nor would I relinquish my secret suburban white boy desire to play guitar). While my tastes would mature and my horizons widen to include everything from jazz fusion to Tuvan throat singing, there’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by early 90s rock. Even Top 40 fluff that at the time I wouldn’t have listened to with your ears.

But then, something odd happened. Somehow, two decades passed. Although I only found out about a month ago.

Back east for Thanksgiving, we’re driving on the West Side Highway in Manhattan, listening to the classic rock station, and what are they playing but a 20th anniversary special for U2’s “Achtung Baby.”

We’d just left the apartment of a friend who spent the whole time raving about a documentary he’d just Netflixed: Pearl Jam 20, celebrating the 20th anniversary of their album “Ten,” which changed rock music forever by introducing the garbled Eddie Vedder moan. Try getting rid of it now.

At first, I was like, no, can’t be. Has it been two decades? Really? Seems like only yesterday “Jeremy spoke in class today.” The Achtung Baby is a sophomore in college now?

But I did the math.

2012-20=1992. Yep, checks out. Buzz-kill.

The whole thing reminds me of a quote from the Simpsons, itself now a relic, too. In the episode where Homer goes on tour with Hullabalooza, Grandpa warns: “I used to be IT, but then they changed what IT was, now IT seems scary and strange.”

Case in point: not wanting IT to be scary and strange, I decided I’d tap some teenage cousins to send me their music, their IT; they directed me to some crazy pirating, seeding, sharing file transfer site that I couldn’t figure out how to use. And I just couldn’t be that old geezer calling up a kid to have him walk me through a computer glitch. I just couldn’t.

Nonetheless, here I stand, at the precipice of geezerhood. Seems I’ve traded one type of out-datedness for another.

The thing is, I don’t mind now. The difference? I’m 35, not 15. I’m no longer formative; I’m formed. Growing up might mean losing touch with contemporary pop culture, but for me, at least, it’s also meant getting more in touch with myself. All things considered, I’d much rather be out-dated than out-dated.

Honestly, I’ve got my wife to thank on both fronts.

For one, I’m married, so I don’t expect to date very much.

But she’s also the one who finally bought me shiny, new acoustic — better late than never, right? She’s also my inspiration to keep playing, practicing, learning new songs.

Not because it makes her want to get with me — that pretty much only happens when I swap out the snow tires — but because she loves 90s rock as much as I do.

And being out-dated’s a lot more fun with company.

When I call “If you see a faded sign at the side of the road that says 15 vmiles to the…” she answers “Looooooovveeee Shack!”

If I go “I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride, and I’m wanted” she goes “wanted!” then we both go “dead or alive.”

If I start strumming “Patience… yeah, yeah” she busts out with “I’ve been walkin’ the streets at night, just trying to get it right, but it’s hard to see with so many around, and you know I don’t like being stuck in the ground….” And we both do a mean Axl Rose, too, with the sneering, and serpentine dancing, and pelvic thrusting.

Man, are we going to embarrass our kids. Good. Serves them right for waking us up so much at night.

• “Slack Tide” appears every other Sunday in Neighbors.


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