Four-Eyes About To Rock, I Salute You
(First published Spring 1999)
Four-Eyes About to Rock, I Salute You
The sky was black. Lying on my back on a hill by my high school deep in the heart of the suburbs, I could feel my new wallet freshly folded and uncomfortable in my back pocket, with my learners permit and my fake ID snuggled inside. The long-haired science teacher had arranged a night meeting of our astronomy class. I took the class because I heard it was easy, but this was impossible. The sky was black; a void. There was nothing to see. Without the one meager telescope that was being passed around, I was totally lost. Then my friend Jimmy, in a moment of pure idle boredom, handed me his glasses - their 70's aviator-style too awkward and ugly to ever return as retro - and I put them on. "Oh, man, this is freaky. I can, like, see, like, EVERYTHING!" With newly visible galaxies swirling around my head, I could also feel my universe shrinking. I hated glasses. Glasses were for math kids, or AV kids. They certainly weren't part of any rocker image I knew of. Contact lenses were out - too expensive and who could touch their eyeballs twice a day? What was I going to do? I caved. I would become a four-eyed rocker.
The next step in resolving my vision problem was finding a pair that fit my evolving sense of style. There weren't many role models among my idols, and there weren't a lot of choices at the glasses shop either. Most of them made me look like Elton John, and a few made me feel like Kiki Dee. I settled on a pair of round John Lennon "working class hero"- styled frames. The salesman authoritatively told me they were the standard issue of the English public health program. How prol. How European. Seeing clearly after all those years was a revelation. The new glasses had some distinct side effects on the people around me; they seemed to assume I was smarter and one or two meaningful years older. But the most surprising change was totally unexpected -- suddenly this straight-C student not unfamiliar with detention hall was a "good" kid. My Eddie Haskell routine was already playing to rave reviews with parents, but the glasses really helped with new and colder audiences like highway patrolmen and club doormen.
After high school, New Wave and New York City took over my world, and I realized the Lennon glasses had to go. With Joey Ramone and Elvis Costello wearing happening frames, it seemed time for me to make a stronger statement. In keeping with the Salvation Army fashion aesthetic of the moment, I went to the back of the shelves and started rooting around the discontinued bins. I located a pair of odd $12 frames at a tiny shop in Grand Central Station, probably manufactured before I was born. Almost safety glasses, they were horn rimmed and bulky, but very rock n' roll. "F-R-E-S-H" I thought as I worked my way through the subways. Then, as I rounded the corner to my studio apartment, I heard it for the first time: "Yo -- Bud-dee Haul-lee!" My usually silent Brooklyn neighbors had spontaneously deputized themselves as fashion police. "Yo, Bud-dee. Let's rock n' roll!" For the next five years, I could accurately gauge the rebroadcast of "The Buddy Holly Story" on local TV by the frequency of these cases of mistaken identity.
In my career as a musician, people react to my glasses as if their presence provides profound insight into my personality. This can be flattering or infuriating, and I'm still not sure if they have been a help or a hindrance. Glasses define you but they're really not a choice. The act of choosing frames, whether they re boring or aggressive, says more about you than you might care to put out into the world. With the change of a frame one can go from Roger McGuinn to my father to Bootsy Collins to the Unibomber. It is here that glasses and rock have a problem. People feel they know a lot about you if you wear glasses, and they are probably right. Rock is all about mystery and getting free. Right or wrong, glasses imply book learnin,' and rock is truly uncomfortable with anything related to book learnin.' However -- for all its limitations and its packaged rebellion above all rock is about distinct characters. The rock audience remains staunchly pro-weirdo, and although it might be easier to sell the wiggling sex freak to the masses, as long as the four-eyed loner in the corner can rock you, then it's still time to rock. And folk like Buddy Holly, or even me, are grateful for that.