I’ve heard it said that “youth is wasted on the young,” but I’ve never found that to be the case.
Youth is the necessary condition that keeps us going as we stumble our way through the gates of early adulthood, failing miserably and often. Still, in flashes and on good days we can also feel the rush and energy of what we later arrogantly call “accomplishment.” If I had known then what I know now, then what happened then wouldn’t have been what it was, and that would have been a damn shame because what was, was awesome. I’m getting ahead of myself though, so let me take it back a moment.
My grandfather had a great axiom he used to share with me: “Never believe your own propaganda.” Hearing him comment to that effect hundreds of times filled my brain with a healthy skepticism about what others would say of me, on both the positive and negative sides. The press, when they thought of me at all, would often write cutting reviews with the underlying message that “this guy is nothing special.” Sorry mom, but they’ve found me out! As such I tended to think of the press, when I thought of them at all, in much the same way they thought of me. Nothing special.
On the flip side it was also easy to assume that anyone with a positive assessment of my work was probably just friendly and it had nothing to do with my work actually being any good. A little self-destructive and kind of a messed up way to think, right? Nonetheless, these are the murky, narcissistic waters Hunter Sharpless was entering into when he approached us about touring with our virtually unknown band in 2009. Some would call it baggage but I like to think of it as awareness. After all we’d been making a living at it for a decade and who needed any more validation than that?
I guess I did.
The fact is, I was not at all sure I wanted a young guy around, judging my friends and me. I held fast to Andy Rooney’s assessment that everyone thinks they could write a book “if only they had the time.” Having attempted to write one myself on multiple occasions, I realized it was harder than it looked. All the same, the lead singer in me felt a level of validation even from the whisper that someone had chosen our work to write about. I wanted to believe in Hunter. I just didn’t want to be hurt by being misunderstood or ignored (by the very real possibility that the book would never actually get written), and I didn’t want to be the subject of a “puff piece”—something I know all too well wouldn’t be representative of the man I am.
I needn’t have worried. In the book we all come off, including the author himself, as a little damaged but ultimately decent. Most of ong of the Foo is composed of material I had no idea was being observed. The moments that fit more in the cracks. They weren’t the high highs or even the low lows of the road—this was the everyday stuff. And the everyday stuff is sometimes all we have in life, so we’ve got an obligation to make the most of it. I remembered that while reading this book.
So yeah, Hunter’s a young guy, but that’s what makes his memoir special. No one told him that you don’t write books about underground cult bands that perhaps will only be read by diehard fans. You don’t write memoirs of what it’s like to be a suburban-raised, well loved teenager traveling with a painfully normal bunch of guys who treat their band as their business, guided by an affable girl with a great sense of humor. All the edges that the media and buying public crave are missing. No one told him this or if they did he didn’t listen (also a trademark of youth).
Thank goodness they didn’t, because what resulted is a snapshot of real stuff. Authentic stuff. The stuff that makes up all of our days. No, youth isn’t wasted on the young. It’s lathered on the young in the hopes that someone will do things that haven’t been done yet and use their superpowers for good. That someone will illuminate the truth. I hope that others can learn from some of our mistakes and enjoy the reading of this story half as much as I enjoyed the living of it.
Stephen Kellogg June 2014