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    Mean Street

            I am more responsive to music today than I was when I was eighteen. Because I’m more comfortable with myself. I’m happier, and I like myself a lot more than in the halcyon days of my youth. I’m more myself than ever before, which means not only do I let it all hang out more, but I know more of what I’m hanging.
            I find myself energized by a youthful exuberance that I haven’t felt in a long time. I feel younger today than when I was...younger.
            Music ignites that youth within me. It’s always been there, but now the flame is very close to the surface instead of buried beneath layers of emotional insulation. Like a load of napalm held in a very thin membrane of tissue, music is the catalyst that sets me off. Not only do I “explode” more easily, but more “violently”. And I don’t mean that in the context of temper or anger. I mean it in terms of excitement, joy, passion, and self expression.
            The other day, I found a 1983 live recording of “Mean Street” by Van Halen on YouTube. My favorite song by one of my favorite bands, and the quality wasn’t bad at all. “Mean Street” is one of those songs that I never tire of; one of those songs that automatically pushes the thrash button. I pulled up the video to watch it, but soon found myself looking for my tennis racquet. The tennis racquet that I keep near my music source in case I get an attack of air-guitar-itis. I’ve never found playing air guitar very satisfying; I need a tool in my hand to complete the effect, and a tennis racquet is my weapon of choice. And a quarter does just dandy as a guitar pick.
            So instead of watching the video, I crank up my computer driven audio system, grab my tennis racquet and quarter combo, and I’m off. I can’t play a lick on the guitar, but you would never know it from watching me. You’d swear I could play my ass off. I hit all the notes, utilizing both hands in a flurry of strokes and fingers. I flawlessly mimic dozens of actual guitar techniques (and even a few impossible ones). I strut and preen and have more moves than a box of Ex-Lax. My facial expressions include snarls and sneers, cheshire smiles, bug-eyed stares, pouts, lip-puckering kisses to imaginary groupies, and a variety of “fuck faces” normally reserved for orgasm. By the end of the song, I’m sweating profusely, out of breath, and my heart feels like it’s in my head. The bottom line is that this is about as much fun as I can have by myself with my pants on.
            The point is that although I’ve been doing this since I hit double digits, I enjoy it now more than ever. Playing like this is actually more fun than when I was a teenager. And I ask myself why. Is there something wrong with me because I get more out of it today then when I was in high school? Does this mean I’m regressing? Going the wrong way? In need of a padded cell, even? Does having this kind of fun in this kind of way somehow hard wire me for immaturity? Am I stunting my own development by continuing to enjoy such goofy activity?
            After a few moments, I realize who’s asking such questions. It’s my judge. My critic. My internal drill sergeant. The inner control freak who needs some air time. So instead of ignoring the questions, I answer them. Because these parts of me are still me. I’ve come to understand that these critical, judgmental voices inside of me can’t be ignored. They have to be engaged. I have to talk to them. But I have to know what to say. I do now, more than ever. So I’ve got a better relationship with these parts, which means I’m a more whole person. A fuller person. More myself. More ME. I’m more integrated, as opposed to more separated.
            What this means is that I can enjoy the harmless and not-so-guilty pleasure of playing the guitar on a tennis racquet because I’m letting more of myself be. The kid in me who wants to rock out like this gets his chance, and then so does the piece of me who thinks this kid is nuts and should just go away because, damn it, you’re too old for this shit. I don’t spend much time with that judgmental part, but I spend enough time to answer his questions and let him know that I hear him. And that’s really all he wants. To be heard. To matter. And as long as I use him as a check and balance, as long as I keep in relationship to him, he can help me know when I’ve gone too far. The judge, the critic, in me can’t run the show, but he can play a small part in it. He can bring me back from the brink of disaster should I ever get too close. And sometimes, I do.
            I encourage you to get in touch with all those little pieces of you who either don’t get enough air time or get too much. What I’ve found is that by doing that, they are all able to live inside me, side by side, all at the same time, much more comfortably. I don’t vacillate between the fun loving manic and the harsh critic as much as I feel them both alive in me simultaneously. I appeal to my higher self to help them live more harmoniously. Because they both have something to teach each other. And neither of them can run the show without getting me into trouble. I have to run the show. I let my kid play as often as possible, and I incorporate him into all of my activities. I do the same with the critic, but his role is a much smaller one, and much more limited. Which is fine, because he knows his place. If he doesn’t, then he’s all over me, beating the crap out of me for everything I do. I’ve done that gig before. It doesn’t improve me or lead to happiness.
            I’d much rather crank up “Mean Street”, grab my racquet and my quarter, and just let it all hang out. Maybe you would too.

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and a Mean Street full of Wrongs) Reserved.

    To hear a bit of “Mean Street” by Van Halen, go here. To see the video that inspired this post, go here.

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