Opinion | Biff America: Great words and molding minds | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Biff America: Great words and molding minds

Jeffrey "Biff" Bergeron, Summit Daily News
Jeffrey “Biff” Bergeron/Summit Daily News

“Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a trunk, passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk.”

Taken at face value, I’m still not sure what those words mean. But at age 17, I assumed he was talking about me.

Bob Dylan’s words spoke to me during a difficult time in my life. I would play his records over and over, trying to discern exactly what his words meant. Truth is, then and now, much of what he wrote was vague and subject to much interpretation.

“Temptation’s page flies out the door. You follow, find yourself at war. Watch waterfalls of pity roar. You feel the moan but unlike before. You discover that you’d just be one more person crying.”

More often than not, I would massage the meaning of his words into something that pertained to me.

The words of Dylan, Jack Kerouac and the beat poets were my go-to plagiarisms to make myself seem way smarter than I was. They also made me feel included and hopeful.

Bob Dylan performed at a venue about 15 miles from my home this summer, but I did not attend for a few reasons.

First of all, I am unfamiliar with any of his recent stuff. I would imagine it is quite good, but I can’t recite the lyrics faultlessly like I can his old songs.

Secondly, I wanted to remember him as he appeared and moved during the many shows I have attended over the years. To be fair, I also look and move differently than 20 years ago when last I saw him perform.

But most importantly, I don’t need Bob Dylan like I used to. My teenage angst, anger and confusion have evolved to comfort, stability and wrinkles. Now, those words are less of a balm to sooth the uncertainty and insecurity of a young man as they are a reminder of a time I was more flexible, but way less sure of myself — much like looking at an old photo of a different person who used to be you.

“May your heart always be joyful and may your song always be sung. May you stay forever young.”

If I outlive Bob Dylan, on the day I hear of his passing I will play few of my favorite songs, like “Desolation Row,” “Farewell Angelina,” “My Back Pages” and “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” No doubt I will cry. Those words will scratch the scabs of lost youth and past confusion. 

I do the same with Kerouac’s prose on the anniversary of his death.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

I’ve heard adolescence described as the best time in your life. It was not for me. I was conceited, confused and ready to explode with raging hormones. Though the music of Bob Dylan and the words of Kerouac helped, more importantly, there were teaches and coaches on the ground who were mentors, counselors and role models. They did way more than just sing to me. They lent perspective, listened to tales of a dysfunctional home life and reminded me that, provided I could get through the next few years without totally screwing up, things will improve with time.

I believe teaching is the most important and underpaid job in America. Artists and authors and whoever the kids are inspired by today get rich while educators toil for a middle-class wage. They do a job that would give most of us a bleeding ulcer.

The world is more confusing and difficult now than it was for my generation. The temptations are more accessible and dangerous, and the stress is off the books. Bullies can bully from the comfort of their own keyboards, and the divisiveness of the nation spills over to the youngest and most vulnerable. You can take you pick of negative influences: media, video games, misogynistic writings and music, or it is simply the result of brains being not fully developed. It takes a village to raise a child. A village complete with parents, relatives, coaches and counselors, a village of teachers and staff.

So to all you educators and staff who started school this week, you are needed and appreciated. Though childless, I’m happy my taxes go into paying you, and I wish it was more. But I would remind you that you are teaching way more than reading, writing and arithmetic. You are on the front lines of molding our nation’s future.

“Girl by the whirlpool is lookin’ for a new fool. Don’t follow leaders. Watch the parkin’ meters.”

I still have no idea what that means.

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