This idea, oddly enough, came from my explaining why I enjoy the Point compilation CD so much and why I collect T-shirts. The compilation CD, to begin with, has the sound that a lot of bands around the early- to mid-'90s cultivated...and hearing it again reminded me that that's the time period I refer to. I'm becoming the way other friends' older brothers and sisters used to be (still are, really, but I don't notice it these days, not being around any of them much), with their frame of reference musically being the mid- to late-'80s. Not so long ago, those were my role models, the people who were about four or five years older and who actually remembered the '80s. That fascinated me, 'cause they really looked at things from a different perspective: they knew different shared pop culture things, they dressed differently, they listened to different music, etc. People that age are the ones who were around and really listening when alternative broke big. Hence I suppose that's part of what I found so fascinating about popular music when I first started listening to the radio back in May 1996—there was this tradition, these songs that had been around a few years already that I hadn't even heard, all this background information that I was missing, and it seemed to me that these people comprised a whole cohort of people who had been listening to the radio and watching MTV all their lives. It was just something I hadn't been initiated into yet.
You see, I never got into any of the fad bands in the early '90s like New Kids on the Block, as the exposures I had to music at that point were an M.C. Hammer tape ("Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em") that I played incessantly until my dad gave me an En Vogue one ("Funky Divas") and some Spyro Gyra to replace it, the M.C. Hammer music video for "2 Legit 2 Quit" that I insisted my parents rent from Schnucks Video, music reviews in the Disney-owned Adventures magazine glorifying Michael Jackson and other Disney/Sony artists, and various songs on a "kids' radio" station that I listened to obsessively, even convincing my parents to take me to an event the station held where I got a T-shirt signed by all the DJs. (That was about when I first figured out that the sound you get from people singing harmony in pop songs can't be recreated by one person singing with a purposefully fuzzed out voice; I came up to my mom singing like that and she told me to go away, exclaiming, "What're you doing? You sound like a sick cow!")
But yes, it's obvious that within any given four- to five-year period, the students are going to be somewhat into the same music, know these same things, etc. Everyone's tastes pretty much concretize themselves by the time they're 30, in any case, or so it's been shown—this happens to everyone, regardless of how much you might want to pretend that you're some forever-soul fairy who never settles for a period of music to feel comfortable with.
The revelation, however, came when I tried to explain my T-shirt collection. There's this authenticity people's older siblings get from having T-shirts to things they've done that you've never even heard of—it was one of the things that made them seem wise beyond their years to me as a little kid. Sure, those of you who actually have older siblings might not have fallen for that "worldly" ruse like I did, as you probably knew your elders a bit better than that, but I only knew of older kids, like the bully (a real live bully, yes, with the stereotypical orange hair and freckles) at Commons Lane with orange hair and about a billion friendship bracelets on his arms who was in sixth grade when I was but a mere first-grader. There was a mystique there. When I got to high school I'd read the back issues of Ad Astra I found amongst various apocrypha on these hidden shelves at the back of the library, with absurd essays, poems, and paragraphs by Dave Bell and the other founders of the mag, who had this complex system of nicknames and obscure references to each other, and I'd think, "What's this that I'm missing? I want this!" They'd mysteriously title things in a Kerouackian style, calling things "The myth of the night at Steak 'N' Shake" or "The rules of this and that." I had the inkling that they, too, were just making it all up as they went along, but still—there seemed to be this gnosis that I was simply not privy to, and I wanted it.
Even with the wanting, though, I also got the slow-trickling suspicion at times that really, they just didn't know what they were doing. The whole idea of "If they're so smart, why do they ___?" came up several times—it came as a big shock to me, for instance, to figure out that really, the seniors and "elders" I looked up to weren't any smarter than I was. They simply knew different things, referred to a different time period, etc. Rumors abounded in the band room about things our section leaders and various senior valedictorian candidates had done...then there was that yard marker with claims written inside about how so-and-so had gotten it on in the band room after hours...and then I found out through various conversations just how much all those seniors really did drink. I wrote an essay about it in Ad Astra freshman or sophomore year, claiming that my soul had been maligned by their misrepresentations, and, per usual, the world went on and no one but me cared.
This is one reason why I hold this simultaneous love and hate for literary magazines. Even by senior year, I still aspired to attain some kind of gnosis that I might represent in its pages. I liked the illusion that something existed there that I might aspire to learn. Sean Cothren did a lot, though, to forward my ideas about the utter moral bankruptcy of the whole Ad Astra endeavor, though by the time Sean and MLE began their decadent reign over the lit mag, the whole thing was coming apart at the seams, anyway, with the whole tradition of drama-department flunkies unraveling. Selfish gits used it as a public forum to proclaim their self-indulgent poetry, while the more intelligent among the drama department acolytes decided to patronize Proxima, the new literary magazine. No one seemed to care about the fact that all this glorious tradition was going away; the secret gnosis wouldn't live, though I began to adore Proxima, too, eventually hanging out with the ultra-geeky in its basement berth. At this point, I myself was a high-school senior, and it occurred to me that at that juncture, I'd probably surpassed a lot of the people I'd idolized or looked up to or wanted to be liked by when they were seniors and I was a freshman. I remember sitting on the steps in the courtyard talking to a couple friends and relating to them my revelation, how it'd occurred to me that really, there was no magic gnosis stemming from my years of experience to give me leverage. All I knew were the ways of things and various in-jokes, and I guessed that that's all they'd known when it was their turn on the vast stage of senior year.
But yeah, this is how the idea of being the oldest in my family begins to take on relevance. There's this thing that I've managed to become, an older sister, and I know my brother looks to me for an example. In that context, the T-shirts are more to me than just buying a shirt; there's also a sort of heritage involved. As I never had an older brother or sister to hand down shirts to me, I'd envy other friends who had the comfort of hand-me-down shirts, music, and friends. Hence somewhere along the way I consciously or unconsciously determined that I'd create a gnosis, I'd get unique shirts from things I've done and create my own in-jokes and pass them along.
I'd start—and uphold— a tradition, in short.