Saturday, March 01, 2008

Daydreaming Boy

Just watched the men sing in the only reality show, as they call them, that I routinely watch ... American Idol. Quite an impressive lot. But one of them just plain blows me away, ever since the final 12 men.

Sweet shy Jason Castro, dreadlocked of Dallas, plain rocked my world with his innocent and genuine interpretation of the old Lovin' Spoonful 1966 standard Daydream a couple of weeks back ... I remember the song from my teenage years as What a Day for a Daydreaming Boy ... on the Best 12 Guys American Idol show on Fox. I actually bought the iTunes version and put it on my iPod. American Idol is a guilty pleasure, but only the singing part ... the eliminations and the recursive self-referentiality are so boring. One has to assume that the modern young TV viewer likes vast oceans of empty blather in which content appears only as occasional flotsam. But old farts like me prefer some content.

Anyway, young Castro got the song right not so much insofar as he imitated the original version but insofar as he made it a universal anthem to boyness ... to the carefree concernedness of being and tooling around and caring more deeply than you can fathom or handle. Of wondering and focusing laser-deadly-serious. I have never forgotten my boyhood, never allowed its contours to dissolve in the face of the greater and deeper satisfactions of adulthood. I remember all-day excursions with my dog Laddie, I remember hard biking on the Monkey Trails in Winnipeg, I remember dark anger at the surrounding world that did not get me, I remember first loves unrequited and not knowing what requitedness would mean or involve. I remember having my bicycle stolen at a public pool and raging at the injustice. And, again, I remember the enduring friendship of my dog. I was a lonely boy, a serious boy, a boy who knew, who really knew, that adulthood was what I was destined for, and boyhood was only a torment in the way of and on the way to freedom. Still, I love that boy who is gone, and I never forget his carefree concern.

Thinking about Castro's rendition of Daydream, I found a Paolo Nutini version on Youtube ... I have never heard of Paolo Nutini before, but he would almost certainly set the teenage girl set a flutter. His rendition is fully competent and everything, but seems strangely shy of the romanticism of boyness ... there's is an affected feebleness of the voice that seems staged and artifice. There's a somewhat better duet involving Nutini here. And there's a version by some apparently French group called Sixty-six here but it appears that they think that rhythm has no importance in what amounts to a folk song. A faceless man named James Gillespie has a rather bluesy version here that conveys a more adult sense of the boy in the man ... its emotion focuses more on "my bundle of joy" than on the daydreaming boy ... I can grok that interpretation even if I prefer to be swept back into the ambles and perambulations of boyhood.

The bundle of joy is the girlfriend. I did have a girlfriend rather late in my boyhood years ... I was 18 ... and I genuinely loved her and still have warm feelings for her. But my passionate loves were other boys. That said, passion is what leads out of boyhood, and the intrusion of sex chatter into boyhood ... the notion that boys should be thinking of girls at 10 or 12 or 14 ... is one of the ways in which modern life interferes with the boy. Boys should be left alone to fester and grow. As an adult, I find the notion of the boy appealing, but the reality of boys annoying. In other words, I recollect what it took to be a boy, but I really can't stand actual boys. They storm through the train in the evening commute, either loud and demonstrative or skulking and faux-threatening. If they think you notice them, they shoot daggers with their eyes. And, of course, there is an actual physical threat, rarely realized but always potential.

Still, boyhood has been nay-sayed by a combination of factors. Feminism ... which is the ideological concomittant of women's liberation ... felt it necessary to downgrade maleness. I think that was an error. Feminism ... again, the ideology as counterposed to the social movement ... has had to retreat of late, and that has been a boon to free thinking among radicals. The actual data these days suggests that girls outperform boys in education all the way up to, but not including, graduate school. The problem that feminism had with understanding boyhood was that it projected the dominance of men onto boys, and then failed to see that boys are themselves dominated, and it is that against which they recoil and fulminate. (I think that is true of men too, but that is another argument.) And so now the ideology has nowhere to go when it becomes apparent that boys are not really doing that well, while girls appear to be coming into their own, at least as a social average if not in every case.

... nay-sayed by a combination of factors ... commercialism has created the boy as a critical consumer, and then demanded that he be not-innocent. The boy has also been lumped in with "children" as the innocent object of vile threats. No matter that many children are victimized, that sweeping with a single broom leads to a preternatural protectiveness that undermines the wandering, wondering, glowering, inventive boy of yore. Boys may neither be male nor not-male ... neither strong nor weak, neither free nor protected. Because in each moment, some force rises up to undermine the thrust, and leaves out the boy so that the boy can be made into whatever his interlocutor, his inventor, deisres ... consumer, victim, criminal, annoying passer-by.

How hard it must be to be a boy now. Harder indeed than when I was a boy. And that was tough enough. I fear that modern life has deprived boys of their daydreams.

Here is James Gillespie's version ... the boy man.

And, for reference, here is the Lovin' Spoonful doin it just right.

I'll close this post with a song that was my anti-anthem in the summer of 1966: Summer in the City. Every time that I hear this, I am a lonely boy again, wondering, wandering, angry and ecstatic, just rolling along, hoping it all turns out somehow.

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