Just the title of this post makes me a square, coming as it does from the lyrics of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ 1965 frat-rock classic “Woolly Bully.” Let’s don’t be L7, come and learn to dance. What kind of a dork would quote that barnacle-covered old relic?
I guess the term comes from the Beatniks, and it might not have meant literally “square,” but rather it might have been meant to describe someone who is squared away in life, all neat edges and perfect alignments, no disarray, no eccentricity, thus no creativity. Of course, there’s a good chance the Beats stole it from the blacks, who have always had better slang than white people in this country, often incubating entire sublanguages for months or years before white kids find out about it and “mainstream” it, which means “bring it to the attention of marketers.”
Wherever it came from, it evolved to mean dull, old fashioned and out of it. Square.
I used to be painfully shy. Now I’m just shy. There was a time when social situations caused terror to well up in my stomach and chest, and almost come out my mouth. I was insecure and unworthy, and I thought everyone knew it, could read it on me. I thought it made them look away and try not to let me know that they knew. But I knew, and their kindness added to my humiliation. I looked with longing at the ease with which the normal people would laugh and talk and touch each other, making plans for after school, after the game, after the dance, and I had no way in. I was isolated and afraid, a perfect candidate to join a gang. Little boys walkin’ away from it all, so cold.
I retreated into music. Huddled over the old kitchen radio after everyone had gone to bed, listening to whatever came through the static. Walking the city, the tiny six-transistor radio pressed to my ear, decades before Sony gave us the Walkman, in splendid, rockin’ isolation. Touching no one, no one touching me.
In ninth grade, as if my pain and alienation had been judged not horrible enough, I got my first pair of glasses. Black plastic frames. The stems hooked over and around my ears, like my Uncle Dick’s glasses. I wore them only when my parents or the optometrist were there watching. Fuck them. I never knew Buddy Holly, until it was too late. It would be years before John Lennon would come along and make them a hip fashion accessory, and make it cool to read books and write poetry and know about Neitzche and Buddha and painting, before I could say it right out loud: “Fuck them.” That’s when you fall. When you fall into a trance, sitting on a sofa playing games of chance.
In my shyness I learned to play guitar, by myself in my bedroom, until I dared to come out and show myself. Shielded by my guitar I could join all those people, the ones who were better than me, who pitied me and ignored me. I still couldn’t be of them, but I could be with them. And I found that if you don’t act shy, it is as if you are not shy. No one knows. No one cares.
You’re not hip. You’re not square. You are merely the word made flesh. That’s the thing to do. Get you someone really to pull the wool with you.
Thanks and apologies to Van Morrison, Paul Simon and Domingo Samudio (Sam the Sham).