alternative (2) (adj.)

In German, alt means old. Do you really need to know anything else about any political or social movements claiming this moniker? Then try explaining to my mother this concept.

Like a lot of moms, she’s someone whose existence renders the concept of an “alternative” silly, pubescent. The other day we were in a car together. Chris de Burgh’s “The Lady in Red” came on the radio, a song which, in a bar in Berlin at 2 am, might sound mournful and creepily debauched; a woozy middle-aged drugged reminder of where you came from. Nostalgia and distance cooking up some potent sexiness. Etc. However, passing strip malls in upstate NY in your mother’s Mini Cooper? It is ghastly. It is an assault. Is she hearing this, your mom? And how did we let Chris de Burgh into so many radios, into so many moms’ cars and ears and steely mom minds? Is it like how cancer is just built into some people whether they like it or not? Chris de Burgh and the Fine Young Cannibals and Gloria Estefan coursing through the air like murderous DNA. Anyway, so I asked to change the channel. I asked nicely. “Well, it’s not the ‘alternative rock’ that you like,” my mother said, adding: “But I just like the company. It’s just something to have on.”

It had been at least 25 years since I’d seriously heard the term “alternative rock,” or thought of anything I listened to as “alternative.” It made me laugh, kind of. That I was still that boy to her, or that my teenage taste had so imprinted itself on me to her. I was the alternative son. But this thought also made me ache for that boy. The screaming pubescent idea that is alternative, sold to comfortable sad children yearning for something—anything—different from, say, upstate New York, or Paula Abdul. A boy too young to know his mother is right: there is no alternative, silly. It’s all different parts of the same thing—different color shoes, same beautiful feet. I remember when those feet were so small they could fit in my hands. And your toes!

Because alternative is painting the walls of your room black. A room in the same comfy damaged dumb home the rest of your family lives in. They bought you the paint. They comment on the black walls as if they did not buy you the paint. You need these comments; the black walls were for them. They still call you down for dinner, and you pass the rolls.