What happens to teenage Dirtbags? And why were they teenage Dirtbags to begin with?
I met my best friend in math class. My skills had been underestimated and my ability stood forth enough that I was moved into the top class. It was strange to think that I might be rubbing shoulders with those destined to be doctors and professors. It had never occurred to me that as a researcher math would actually be a very important aspect of my career, therefore it was by luck that I was proficient without applying myself. I was lead along the corridor, apprehensive of the social duress that might be awaiting my arrival two doors down. Mrs Hendrick welcomed me in and offered that I might choose my own seat, which proved that I was now in respectable company- trusting an eleven-year-old to sit where they will work best without distraction displays a lot of faith in the student. And there she was.
Bright red hair, big brown eyes, spindly fingers weighed down to table height with large rings of skulls and the grim-reaper. At this age we wore our style as an identity badge and this girl was screaming without saying a word. She is quiet, my best friend- she’s gentle and excitable at her best. But she is also bi-polar. She has an inborn chemical imbalance to her system that results in giggling highs and strife filled lows. My attention was drawn to the idea that we wear ourselves and our personalities in our taste and style. I was ordinary looking, pliable. I always had been. If you spent enough time with me you might have thought from the notion of taste and style that I was the bi-polar one. Or perhaps that I was never sure what I liked or who I was. A colour a week keeps my vitality at its peek- I wore clothes based on what colour I liked that morning. Sometimes I wore grey eyeshadow, sometimes pink lipstick. There might be a blue butterfly around my neck, or there might be a guitar pick on a black chain. Teenage me was a Dirtbag in disguise. The music was my badge. That did result in being referred to as a ‘mus-o’ and some cliquey/hipster behaviour (because no one had heard of my bands and I liked them before they were cool). Although my Mama often accused our music of being ‘slit-your-wrist’ worthy there were lyrics within a lot of it that talked of being full of life and feeling truly alive. We loved the songs that felt like you were screaming your emotions from the rooftops, and admittedly the only thing that fit how she felt whenever she was down was music that discussed depression and suicide. Our taste was not dictated by the friends we’d made or our rebellion from our parents. It was all about the songs that already seemed to be speaking about and for us.
One of the best lectures I have ever attended was one on the Psychology of music taught by a man named Adrian C. North. I was majoring in applied marine biology at the time so attending a different life science lecture was a welcome break from the intense ecology, microbiology and chemistry courses. He spoke about a few relevant studies he and his PhD students had done- but the jist of it was what left an impression. He compared work by Raymond MacDonald, David Hargreaves and Dorothy Miell with his own to try and ascertain the best angle of approach to study the importance of music in our lives. It’s a bit deep for a personal blog [Developing identities in music education, David J. Hargreaves, et al. Volume 5, Issue 3, 2003. Music and Adolescent Identity, Adrian C. North & David J. Hargreaves, volume 1, Issue 1, 2006- pg 75- 92.] but in essence one of them believes that music develops us and the other that we look for music as we develop- both agree that as adolescents we then use this music to show others who we are. In his lecture he hypothesized that we choose music for the aspects that we identify with and that once we have done so, it creates a shield or hiding place that we might use while we figure out the parts of our character not yet defined.
My best friend dressed the part of course. Most of the time it was to avoid too much interaction with kids who were not of the same taste. It cut out a lot of the leg work and requirement to make connections and it worked very well. Although, a lot of her time was spent hiding at home when she couldn’t find the courage and energy to come to school. As expected, she was chastised by our classmates and other close friends. They would call her out and tell her she wouldn’t do as well in exams, but she always did. Eventually they changed tact and said it wasn’t fair that she got to stay home. As the spoken poet Shane Koyczan wrote so well, “as if depression is something that can be remedied by any of the contents found in a first aid kit”. We were very much a clique in the sense that we only tended to blend with those who professed to like similar music whether they dressed in black or not.
I have not yet had the opportunity to visit another high school to see how they as a chain have changed. Have the types of cliques that you will find be different? Have they merely absorbed current culture? If they have, then I can imagine that the schools play host to NEDs, Hipsters and Anti-Hipsters as current archetypes of what were NEDs, Preps and Dirtbags. As a concept, how old are cliques? Preferences have probably always separated the alligators from the crocodiles but it’s more than likely that before the 60’s you just kept your interests quiet if you were too different from your peers. Is being NEDish, preppy or gothic a phase? My mother told me that my trench-coat wearing friends would stop wearing them when they tried to find work.
We are not so much older that Mama has been entirely proved wrong. All of us are looking for work or have it though. Therein lies the story. What happens to teenage dirtbags? All the ones I knew still are Dirtbags. It’s because liking music, whether it’s hardcore or not, has very little to do with ‘what is cool’ or ‘what is popular’. Many of our parents would think this crazy, but it’s true. Did our long black coats, funky hair and tattoos stop us from following our dreams? Well… my best friend is a gaming programmer. Some of the others have gone into psychiatry, physiotherapy, photography, physics (ph-ph, ph-ph-ph). It’s just me that’s hanging onto my ambition by the tip of my fingers. So on the hole, us lifetime Dirtbags do alright.
A drop-out marine biology student from Scotland. Certainly some cursing will be bandied about.
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