Love, Reign O’er Me

I heard a quote today that I quite enjoyed from Pete Townshend’s Psychoderelict project:

“If you’re going to be introspective, at least do it in public.”

That’s how I feel about this blog. I’ve probably been too revealing of myself–well, not probably, definitely. Maybe it’s just that I feel a need to be understood and belong. Growing up, I always felt disconnected from everyone around me. Part of that was self-imposed, but part of it was that I just didn’t fit in, couldn’t understand what was going on around me well enough to become part of it. I have a report card from second grade on which my teacher has written that I’m an intelligent child but am “often in his own world.” I recognize now that this comes from my mild version of Asperger’s Syndrome. So I was always detached from others–a loner who craved connection and friendship, an introspective person who nevertheless expressed his thoughts to anyone around.

When I was about 10 years old, my brother bought a copy of The Who’s Quadrophenia, a “rock opera” about Jimmy, a young mod in the 1960s struggling to find his place in the world. (Coincidentally, there was a mod revival in Southern California when I was in high school.) I didn’t know anything about faces, tickets, leapers, or rockers, but I understood. The story was pretty simple: Jimmy, alienated from his family, friends, school, and life, becomes a mod to fit in, to be part of something bigger than himself. As Jimmy, Pete Townshend writes:

Brighton is a fantastic place. The sea is so gorgeous you want to jump into it and sink. When I was there last time there were about two thousand mods driving up and down the promenade on scooters. My scooter’s seen the last of Brighton bloody promenade now, I know that. I felt really anonymous then, sort of like I was in an army. But everyone was a mod. Wherever you looked there were mods. Some of them were so well dressed it was sickening. Levi’s had only come into fashion about a month before and some people had jeans on that looked like they’d been born wearing them. There was this bloke there that seemed to be the ace face. He was dancing one night in the Aquarium ballroom and everyone was copying him. He kept doing different dances, but everyone would copy it and the whole place would be dancing a dance that he’d only just made up. That’s power for you.

But, as everything does, the mod style fades away and even the “ace face” is “newly born” to a more pedestrian fate.

He smashed the glass doors of this hotel too. He was terrific. He had a sawn-off shotgun under his jacket and he’d be kicking at plate-glass and he still looked like he was Fred Astaire reborn. Quite funny, I met him earlier today. He ended up working at the same hotel. But he wasn’t the manager.

When Jimmy sees the ace face working as a humble bellboy, he asks him:

Ain’t you the guy who used to set the paces
Riding up in front of a hundred faces?
I don’t suppose you would remember me,
But I used to follow you back in ’63.

Disillusioned, Jimmy steals a boat, takes some pills and some gin, and ends up stranded on a rock in the sea.

So that’s why I’m here, the bleeding boat drifted off and I’m stuck here in the pissing rain with my life flashing before me. Only it isn’t flashing, it’s crawling. Slowly. Now it’s just the bare bones of what I am.

A tough guy, a helpless dancer.

A romantic, is it me for a moment?

A bloody lunatic, I’ll even carry your bags.

A beggar, a hypocrite, love reign over me.

Schizophrenic? I’m Bleeding Quadrophenic.

Although I was never a tough guy, this was me: a mess of contradictions, disappointment, and hopelessness.

On some level, I knew I wouldn’t ever fit in, but I found the uniform of belonging in my religion, Mormonism, with its emphasis on strict rules of behavior and a dress code of white shirts and ties. I’m convinced that in many ways, Mormonism has become much less of a religion than it is a fashion statement and a cultural attitude, just like the mod culture.

Why should I care
If I have to cut my hair?
I’ve got to move with the fashions
Or be outcast. …

The kids at school
Have parents that seem so cool.
And though I don’t want to hurt them
Mine want me their way. …

Why do I have to be different to them? …
Why do I have to move with a crowd
Of kids that hardly notice I’m around?
I work myself to death just to fit in.

I did work myself to death to be a good Mormon, and at least on the surface, I fit in. I could have said, as Jimmy did,

But I’m one.
I am one.
And I can see
That this is me,
And I will be,
You’ll all see
I’m the one.

I played this part for some 40 years, even though underneath I was still the same lost soul with “inappropriate” desires and thoughts. Even when I wasn’t at church or on my mission, I tried to force my life into the box the LDS church prescribed for me. During graduate school, I had become fascinated with philosophy and literary theory, but I put those things away as I settled into the working life I was destined for (my patriarchal blessing called it the “workaday world”).

When I finally figured out that Mormonism wasn’t true, I was devastated, not only from shock and disappointment, but because I knew that I was a middle-aged man who didn’t have a clue who he really was. One day I was listening to Quadrophenia in my car and heard Jimmy’s desperate cry:

It’s easy to see that you are one of us.
Ain’t it funny how we all seem to look the same?

This will probably sound ridiculous, but I wept in my car, knowing I’d buried myself under the Mormon uniform I had adopted, so much so that I couldn’t see the “real me,” whatever that was. I not only looked the same as just about every other Mormon, but I thought and acted the same way. But it wasn’t me, not even for a moment.

I began searching my soul to understand what I really thought and felt underneath the Mormon uniform I had adopted. I’m not sure it’s been good or bad that I’ve done much of my search in public, but at least I have a record of where I’ve been and where I am now. Part of coming to grips with myself is acknowledging that the Mormon me is part of who I am, whether I want it or not. I’m at peace with all the facets of me, and I think there are more than four.

In the end, Jimmy wants only to drown in a sea of love.

Let me flow into the ocean
Let me get back to the sea
Let me be stormy and let me be calm
Let the tide in, and set me free.

That’s where I am these days, I think: “I want to drown in cold water.” I’ve reconnected with myself not just by introspection but by making connections of friendship and love with others. That’s what was missing in my Mormon life: honest connections with other people, but then you can’t expect to be honest with others if you don’t know who you are in the first place. I’m still pretty screwed up in many ways, but I know myself a lot better than I used to.

Thanks, Pete. I owe you. And thanks to the friends I have made on this amazing journey. I love you.

6 Responses to Love, Reign O’er Me

  1. FireMountain says:

    That was beautiful and beautifully honest. Thanks. Although many of us feel like we are so alone, no one else is like us, we are not so alone in our singularity as we believe ourselves to be. Mormonism takes advantage of the human need to belong, but then violates the individual with its doctrines and culture of homogeneity. That results in various forms of tragedy in so many lives.

    • runtu says:

      Thank you. I think I always knew something was wrong, but Mormonism taught me to ignore my feelings and desires and get with the program. I’m glad I’m no longer one of them.

  2. Equality says:

    Brilliant, beautiful post. I relate so well. I wasn’t raised Mormon but joined at the age of 21 and stayed in–deeply in–for almost 20 years. Some time after I left, my mom said to my wife at a family gathering, “it’s so good to have my son back.”

    This statement is insightful: “I’m convinced that in many ways, Mormonism has become much less of a religion than it is a fashion statement and a cultural attitude, just like the mod culture.” So true.

    And Quadrophenia is awesome.

    • runtu says:

      It was the first album (vinyl, of course) I ever bought. My brother had moved out, and I was about 13, as I recall. Anyway, it does feel good to be ourselves, doesn’t it?

  3. ElGuapo says:

    Well first I had to go to Youtube rewatch the courtroom scene from Reign Over Me. Damn, what a film. But yes this post definitely resonated with me. Six years on and I’m still just learning to open up to people and be myself, whoever that turns out to be. You’re OK, John, and you’re among friends.

  4. Jadie says:

    I can relate only too well. Thank you for the beautifully written post.

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