I had a friend in college who had the ability to guess the kind of music that a person liked with remarkable accuracy. We were in an a capella group together1 and we went on a few road trips to sing at other schools. On one such trip, each of her passengers rotated picking the “soundtrack.” When each person chose a CD from her massive catalog she was able to guess the genre, and sometimes, the exact album that the person had picked. I wasn’t so impressed when she said that a friend of ours had picked Aretha Franklin; frankly, that was a pretty easy one if you knew the girl. But I’ll admit, I was kind of surprised when she said, quite confidently, that I would choose something in the alternative/hard rock vein. She had nailed it; I was holding Live’s “Throwing Copper.”
When I was in middle and high school, I struggled a lot with self-esteem issues. I had long-ish hair that was awkwardly parted in the middle and glasses lenses that were so thick that I could have used them to wreak havoc on ant hills.2 One of my favorite songs was Dave Matthews Band’s “Dancing Nancies,” which asks, “Could I have been anyone other than me?” The song itself is written more as a question of hypothetical situations but I always thought of it more as, “Why couldn’t I have been someone else?” It was a typical middle school refrain; I wondered why I was me instead of someone more popular/funny/good looking/talented/choose your adjective. My music tastes at the time were mixed, as they’ve often been, but I remember a lot of Nirvana, Green Day, the Offspring and Pearl Jam. There were appearances by Dave Matthews, Ben Folds, who remains a staple in my library, and Phish, but most of the music I listened to had a significant undertone of disappointment and the feeling that something was missing.
That last piece – the feeling of being incomplete – was the key behind much of my emotional state during that point in my life. I had friends at school, earned good grades, got along pretty well with my family; but still, I always felt like something was off. More specifically, I always felt like there was something inside me trying to break free. I was drawn to songs like MuteMath’s “Typical,” a song that speaks of a desire to become more than the conventional, to exceed expectations. There was a voice inside me yearning to make itself heard. I tried using a number of outlets, including creative writing, acting in the school plays, playing goalie for the high school floor hockey team.3 Things came together slowly in high school, but in college, as is the case for many people, I found the things that helped me turn into the person I would become. I joined the Tonics, studied subjects that interested me and had experiences that shaped my personality. And after I graduated, I started working, got married, Eitan was born and I turned into the person I am today.
I still find myself in that frame of mind of inadequacy from time to time, usually when I’m in a bit of a rut at work or when I haven’t slept properly and my patience with the world is worn thin. It’s in those moments that I still turn the music up, letting the heavy electric guitar engulf my senses and adjusting my pace to the beat of the song. Sooner or later I’m able to emerge from my reverie with the reminder that we all make our own meaning with regard to our destinies. I count my blessings – a loving and supportive wife, an amazing and healthy child and a community of relatives and friends, among others – and remember that, to the people most important to me, I’m anything but Typical.
1. The Binghamtonics. We went to Binghamton University. The name is a musical pun. Every group has a name like that. Yes, we knew we were dorks.↩
2. Both of my parents and three out of four grandparents wear glasses. My brothers and I were doomed. Thank goodness Eitan has his mother’s eyes.↩
3. I wasn’t a crazy, quirky goalie like the guys who play in the NHL. I didn’t choose the position because I enjoyed the bruises I endured from every practice and game. I played goalie because I have asthma and I didn’t have the stamina for the running the other positions demanded. Goalies don’t run, so that’s where I played.↩