I often fight with my friends about what type of city Pittsburgh is. Some like to think of it as the first Midwest city, the buckle on the rust belt is how I believe they phrase it. Others, those like me, believe Pittsburgh to be the last of the Northeastern cities. It’s a major distinction and means a lot depending on what type of city in which you want to live. Besides the amazing cultural events that take place in the city on a daily basis—the world class symphony, the Broadway caliber shows, the art galleries and concerts, I’ve always been able to show the hip retail stores that exist here in Pittsburgh. You aren’t going to find the same type of store here in Pittsburgh as you would in Cleveland, it just isn’t happening. You would in New York though, you do in Boston, you could in Philadelphia. One such store that I always thought show our East Coast credentials was Eides—a megastore of the musical hip. Three stories devoted to music and the underground. You could find comics, action figures, underground books, DVD’s, anime and a plethora of musical genres only available at Eides and to boot you could be checked out by a goth or metal kid with tattoos up and down his body who didn’t care if you purchased anything or not, the only certainty was they were going to feel whatever you were buying wasn’t cool and if it was you weren’t cool enough to buy it. Yeah, it was that type of store.
Last week I heard that an album had come out by one of my favorite industrial bands, Skinny Puppy. Now in all honesty I hadn’t listened to the band for years. Long ago I had moved away from harsh, confrontational, electronic music to my roots of guitar driven hard rock or experimental/progressive electronic rock—more Tangerine Dream less KMFDM if you will. But still, I’m nothing if not honest so I went to Eides and bought the CD. I’m assuming you know the state of music these days, there are only so many stores one could buy the new Skinny Puppy, luckily I lived in the last East Coast city and could walk down to an indie record store to purchase it. I don’t know what kids in Indianapolis would do! I was far removed from college days and my desire to really, really want to be accepted by the “cool” guys that worked at the store. I knew I had awesome musical tastes, I knew I knew more about music than these kids ever would, I was sure I didn’t care what they thought in any case. Still, I sure do hate walking into any hip store wearing my business suit and tie which does more to make me look pudgy and uncool than a slider rule and a box of Twinkies ever could.
I walked into the store and quickly scanned the shelves. Unable to locate the industrial section I asked the kid behind the counter, he called his friend 20 feet away at the end of the store on the phone and asked if they had the new Skinny Puppy. The clerk answering the phone assured the kid I was talking to they did and that he would be right out. As he’s walking out to assist me he started yelling, saying he was coming to help the person in the store with the best music taste, that whoever was looking for Skinny Puppy was awesome and knew music. Even after he saw me and realized that I wasn’t a goth kid dressed in black with piercings anywhere that he could see he still went on about how cool I was. Vindication right? Let’s be honest, the 18 year old kid inside of me was thrilled. He had made it and was now considered cool. The 39 year old though, the guy on the outside just wanted to get back to work.
At the end of the day I got in my car and put in the new Skinny Puppy CD and, well to put it bluntly, it was awful! I’m not sure if it’s that I’m so far removed from this music now (I was in an industrial band at the time I listened to them regularly, wore black, painted my nails black, died my hair black, was getting tattoos, etc.) or that it’s just an awful CD but I hated it. My heart tells me it’s a CD that doesn’t live up to their standards and is just awful but my brain tells me it’s that I’m old, that I no longer have a point of reference for this style of music and I’m no longer willing to put in the time to go layers deep to find the hidden gem that makes it worthwhile. Industrial is a young man’s game now, even when it’s played by guys in their 40’s.
So, what lessons did I learn? By the time you’re cool enough to have your musical, art or literary tastes recognized by the kids who work in these stores as the best they’ve ever seen you’re old enough not to care what they think. At the point when people will consider you cool for making a purchase you’re probably too old to make the purchase. Once you’ve accepted the person you are and made peace with the person you’ve become you no longer care what others think. Sometimes cool, artsy music from your past should stay in your past. So, the next time we’re in a store together and I’m buying a Stephen King novel or Warrant CD just keep quiet and look forward, remember I was the guy so fucking cool that even looking pudgier than Elton John in a suit and tie the kids working the cool indie store still thought my musical tastes rocked!