Chapter 4: Bell bottoms, muscle cars and rock n’ roll

To a child growing up in the ’70s, everything about the world seemed huge and grandiose. I’m sure that many kids feel like their surroundings are huge and grandiose, but the ’70s were even more huge and grandiose in a way that expressed a sense of excess and complete abandonment for all things not huge and grandiose.

Bell bottom pants were all the rage, spanning monstrous proportions, flared out and seemingly capable of creating their own low pressure systems—especially to a kid hovering around that precipitous adult knee-level. Muscle cars were big, loud, colorful and ever-present, constantly speeding down our street, a risk to life and limb for anyone tooling around on a Big Wheel. Rock stars were the first of their breed—crying out for attention and promoting lifestyles of excess, smashed up guitars and attitudes that were even louder than the amount of decibels their concerts could produce. Their attitudes, in fact, were so loud that one could go deaf by simply looking at them. Celebrities were mysterious and sex was still in its heyday, prior to the AIDS scare, right on the heels of the free love movement of the ’60s. This was the age of big. The age of loud. The age of promiscuity.

From that knee-high perspective, it seemed as though a child could only aspire to some sort of greatness or promiscuity. The athletic kids wanted to be football stars. The smart kids wanted to be successful business people. The extroverts wanted to be celebrities. All of these dreams were promiscuous in their own right.

And then there was my crowd, the other kids. The creative kids. The misfits. None of us were particularly exceptional in anything we did, yet we weren’t slow or mentally deficient either. Where other kids saw things like reality and fact, we saw things that didn’t exist.

We dreamed of boldly going where no man had gone before. We pretended to have rock and roll bands while playing our older siblings’ hard rock records. We had adventurous fantasies of terrifying ghosts haunting one of our houses. We were awestruck by Star Wars when it came out. We played doctor where there was no actual doctoring involved. We abhorred sports. We got picked on by bullies. A lot.

It was this upbringing that plagued many a Generation X child. Our parents had emerged from the ’60s, full of questions for authority, embittered over the war in Vietnam, shedding traditional idyllic notions of a perfect Leave it to Beaver family and ready to forge a new path for their kids—and perhaps just as confused as their role in the world as we were. TV was fully infiltrating our homes with a new level of violence, sexual innuendo and sensationalism. We played after school to the sound effects of the Million Dollar Man. We did after-school homework to the soundtrack of Pink Floyd chanting, “We don’t need to education,” and we went to bed after witnessing the blood-pumping car chases of The Dukes of Hazard.

To a kid like me, it seemed as though there was no other option in life but to seek fame and fortune as a grown up. Greatness, after all, had to just sort of… happen, didn’t it? I had this belief that people were magically discovered for having an innate talent, and that yes, perhaps we all had some charismatic innate talent that would ultimately be realized some day. I fantasized of one day picking up a guitar and playing in such a manner that would put Jimi Hendrix to shame. Or maybe I’d be eating lunch at a restaurant with my mom some day and a talent scout would recognize what immense talent and universal appeal I had, casting me in the next Summer blockbuster without so much as an audition. Nobody ever told me one has to work hard to attain success.

As I got older, I tried to magically achieve fame, fortune and notoriety at many levels. I did art, I played in bands, I took up break dancing, I was a skateboarder, I tried to write, I dreamed. I did a lot of different things in a very average and mediocre manner. But the one thing I never did was stick to one specific goal with undying dedication and perseverance. As it turned out, the ’70s may have taught us to crave greatness, but it didn’t teach us how to attain it. That was something I had to learn on my own, after years of failing at various endeavors, falling short and always wondering what my true calling would be.

The spotlight, as it turns out, has an even narrower focus than one might expect.

To this day, I still have that fantasy in the back of my head, but I’m more grounded and do realize that if I want to be great at something, I need to focus on that, and nothing else. As it happens, right about the time that realization began to form was also about the time I became a parent, transitioned to becoming a business owner and came to the epiphany that I no longer have the time to invest in that level of intense focus and drive.

I think this is something a lot of people contend with as they reach mid-life. We realize our dreams are just that, we go through a period of mourning their loss, we grapple with our own mortality, we ponder all of the “what-if”s and then we slowly come to accept the fact that we are where we are and can only move forward in a way that fits in with our new lives.

For Generation X, this means narrowing down the list of dreams from ten to one. It means accepting the idea that, now that we have the drive and the knowledge to succeed at something, how can we do it with one tenth the amount of free time we had when we were younger?

For me, it’s finding those spare moments in the early morning hours when the rest of the house is still fast asleep, with dreams of their own. I sneak downstairs and begin banging away on this laptop until I hear footsteps on the floor above and the sound of little voices consorting with one another.

My new dreams are focused on following through, making a commitment to finish something and accepting the fact that I can always return to it and make it better. They are grounded in attainable reality, fueled by hard work, a new sense of focus and balance. They are realistic. That being said, no matter how much more realistic my dreams have become, they will always indelibly be fueled by fond memories of bell bottoms, muscle cars and rock n’ roll.


  1. inger
    Feb 13, 2008

    i often marvel at the impact that television and visual media in general has had upon our perception of reality.

    there is rarely anything magical about success. even the folks who stumble into it with raw talent, these people have to work their asses off to make something of it and not let the phenomenon implode under its own weight.

    we are a generation of microwaves, mexican divorces, FedEx. it’s taken me, personally, 32 years to realize that while i can achieve instant gratification on many small levels with relative ease, the most gratifying experiences are the ones i had after Sticking With It, whatever the It in question is.

    it’s nice to hear a similar sentiment from a kindred spirit. thanks for putting this out there.

  2. Sarah
    Dec 30, 2008

    I see the shallow waters we were taught to swim. Perhaps part of the legacy of gen x was/is to not only grasp the concept of knowing and working toward what you want. Maybe its also the ability to reach that goal, entertain one’s joy in a business adventure, or love affair, or home town for a time period, and then successful or not, be ABLE to move forward and enjoy another era of time, work, people etc…If life is so short, why do we continue to limit ourselves to one reality? One profession? One area of the world? I think you have had the right idea all along, Bret. Follow ALL your dreams. You give the world so much of yourself. You are very full of beauty. Keep going.


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