I Used To Be A Radical

Phil Goldstein | North Forty News


One of my favorite musical recordings is The Byrds’ 1967 cover version of Bob Dylan’s 1964, “My Back Pages.” What resonates the most with me about the song is the refrain, “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” interpreted as a rejection by Dylan of his earlier personal and political idealism and his desire to move in a different direction musically.

While not so poetic as Dylan in expressing my own idealism, I once was somewhat of a radical myself, never encountering a boat that didn’t warrant rocking.

When I was four years old, my parents received a call from the owner of my nursery school, Mrs. Cochran’s Teddy Bear Cave (presumably Mrs. Cochran). It seems I’d rallied the other tots to move snack time ahead of nap time. My parents weren’t amused, but they didn’t admonish me either, which no doubt provided tacit endorsement for what became a long and often bumpy path of activism.

My next foray into open revolt happened in high school when I suggested to my wrestling team’s coach that perhaps it would be a good idea if the other guys showered before practice. That’s likely why the principal recommended I forego the wrestling team for the debate team.

Then in college, I counterintuitively thought I was taking a stand by not attending commencement to receive my diploma because the university wouldn’t allow our fraternity’s graduation toga party.

Jumping ahead to my former career in intercollegiate athletics financial administration, my father warned me that my sense of propriety would surely be conflicted by the counterintuitive bureaucracy and emotion-driven decision-making that is higher education. He was right, thus affirmed when a university vice president who felt my business-oriented pain bestowed upon me the faux title, of Associate Athletics Director for Caught in the Middle. Somehow I survived and even thrived, none the worse for the considerable wear I’d endured for 30 years as the guy who always had to say ‘no’.

And even in semi-retirement, when my days are filled with more of what I want to do than what I have to do, I still find myself motivated enough to jump into some perceived need when nobody else seems inclined to get involved. Even with certain volunteer service—which I naively thought would be a way to stay relevant and contributory without the stress of my former day job—I’ve found it necessary to un-volunteer when the standards and/or practices of the endeavor didn’t meet my integrity tests. In such circumstances, my father always advised that I just make my point and move on, but for me, it’s never been enough to just lead the horse to water; I can’t stop pressing until the horse drinks if I’m sure it’s thirsty.

Of course, unlike the major socio-political issues about which Bob Dylan railed in his songs and discourse, the hot-button topics for me at my current age are more likely dog poop scofflaws, mistakes in the development’s newsletter, or teenagers careening around in golf carts.

No big deals, right? So, am I foolish for even trying to right the wrongs? Is the pushback and sometimes payback for advocacy worth it? I know plenty of people who sleep better because they don’t rock any boats. I know what it’s like to lose sleep for calling out mis-, mal-, or nonfeasance, major or minor: Did I do the right thing? Will someone not like me anymore? Will I not get invited to the next party? In other words, one surely must weigh the benefit/cost of disrupting the social fabric before acting.

And just because it’s never been my thing, I actually envy those who don’t make waves, those who can still sleep well if something in their orbit goes amiss. I suppose some of my inclination not to go along to get along is a function of my need for remaining productive, or maybe I can’t leave well enough alone because well enough’s not good enough. But each to their own, and while I can’t fathom not boat-rocking, I also won’t judge those who sleep better at night than I do because they found a better path.

Another of my favorite songs, by the obscure recording and performing artist, Root Boy Slim, is, “I Used To Be A Radical”. Note the past tense verbiage, ‘used to be,’ in the song’s title. Although Root Boy (aka, Foster MacKenzie III) tragically succumbed to his wanton schizophrenic ways at the age of 48. If he eventually could see the wisdom of no longer being a radical by climbing over the White House fence or urinating on the Pentagon (as he reportedly did, thus inspiring the song), surely I can temper my own temper too. And if I do join the ranks of go-alongs-to-get-alongs, perhaps I’ll sleep better knowing I’ve finally let well enough alone.

Phil Goldstein writes Tales from Timnath periodically for North Forty News. Phil is a 12-year Timnath resident who proudly serves the Town of Timnath as chair of the Timnath Planning Commission. Phil is finally using his journalism degree after getting sidetracked 49 years ago. The views expressed herein are Phil’s only. Contact him with comments on the column or suggestions for future columns at NFNTimnath@gmail.com.


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