What is uncovered during an organization project ends up helping an older guy understand his younger self and the changing times.
I am a saver, and as I get older (I just turned 73), I do think about my legacy. Some years ago, I hired a professional organizer to help me get rid of stuff and to organize what I kept. After a total of perhaps 40 hours, I had recycled many pounds of stuff, but had kept far more than I had let go of.
One of the first questions the organizer had asked me before we started was, “Is there any category of material that you think you’d definitely be wanting to save?” and I answered immediately, “Yes, my creative stuff.” For me this meant my writing – by that time I had already written millions of words – and my music: I had many, many hours of my original songs on cassette tapes, going back to the mid-1970s, and even on reel-to-reel, going back into the early ’60s.
I won’t go into a history of my songwriting and performing here, but from around 1963 to 1978, it was a very important part of my life. My songs, many of them humorous, were very well-received, starting when I was a graduate student in psychology and continuing after I started teaching at a state college in upstate New York. By 1974 I was playing them with a young friend who was an excellent guitarist (I wasn’t bad, but he was just a natural player), and later we were joined by other excellent musicians.
Though my field is psychology, I am not really psychoanalytical, so I tend not to look for special meanings in my songs; but the preservation project I began some six months ago has me thinking about the meaning of what I was writing – often simply improvising – decades ago.
The project is to copy the contents of my numerous cassette tapes and substantial number of reel-to-reel tapes onto digital files. These include songs that I haven’t listened to in 40 or more years, some of which I don’t recall at all. There are others that I do remember, but only vaguely. (Incidentally, the cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes have held up remarkably well.) As I listen, I do get a glimpse into what was on my mind back in my 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s; and I can see that my longtime interest in changing gender roles, which I wound up focusing on in my research, teaching, and writing, showed up in my songs as well. In fact, in two of the songs, separated by 21 years, you can hear a man who has experienced two different worlds.
The first, which I wrote in 1974, is “Super Cool,” and, as I listen to it, I hear a 31-year-old guy (and one who had, in his younger years, been pretty nerdish) talking – with humor – about someone who is the opposite of him. The guy I portray could definitely use some training on how to be a good man, but even in that song, you can see the beginnings of a new consciousness. He is starting to have some awareness of how a woman might feel, and the song ends with him not simply using a woman for sex.
The second, “I Am Still a Little Boy,” which I wrote in 1995, is far more serious. In this song, a man addresses his wife, but it is actually portraying a man struggling with the changes in relationships brought about by the women’s movement. This is truly a song of vulnerability and confusion about gender roles, which certainly marked the mid-1990s, but still exists between men and women today.
Listening to what are quite literally the “old tapes,” but this time, my own old tapes (not messages from a critical inner parent), has been helping me understand myself and the times I have lived in. You might try it too, whether your “tapes” are songs you’ve written, pictures you have drawn, or your words on paper or computer files.
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