Zevon could tell I was discouraged at the progress I was making toward my Hipster Quest to the point of being bereft. I had no hipster title, no hipster place in the world of cutting edge professions, and no “slim fit” in hipster jeans. The fact of the matter was I lived in a cave in the suburbs. I was middle-aged, my life narrative was already clearly defined. My life’s sense of finality was heavy and unforgiving. To underscore this latter point, I explained to Zevon that my two-year-old 2007 Nissan Maxima only had 26K miles on the odometer and that I only drove 5,000 miles a year. Probably, I wouldn’t buy another car for ten years or so, which would put me in my mid to late fifties at my next car purchase. And that car would be my last. The next car I bought would be the car I drove into the grave.
“What’s your point?” Zevon asked me.
“Don’t you see?” I said. “My Maxima is the only buffer between me and the Death Car. My life is over.”
“Hipster’s don’t fret about aging,” Zevon said. “They keep their brains alive through wit, wisdom, and the most important mental elixir of all—irony.”
“Have I not impressed you with my keen sense of irony over the years?”
Zevon scrutinized me through his oversized dark-rimmed glasses. “Frankly, you could use a heavy dose of irony. I think a healthy injection of irony would make you more buoyant, psychologically and spiritually, and definitely make you more hipster.”
Zevon then want on to explain that if the world could be divided into two perennially-conflicting tribes, it would not be theists vs. atheists; it would not be conservatives vs. liberals; it would not be home-owners vs. renters; no, the world could be divided between Irony Lovers and Irony Haters and hipsters of course belonged to the former camp.
“Is not my love of irony evident?” I said. “Am I not clearly an Irony Lover and therefore safely nestled within the Hipster Camp?”
Zevon shook his head and looking at me with a doubtful expression said I was in dire need of a crash course in the finer points of irony. “We will make you an Irony Lover yet,” Zevon said.
“But I already am.”
“You will be. But before this can happen, you have to stop insisting that you love irony so much and listen to me.”
Admonished, I remained quiet and did my best to absorb Zevon’s lesson. My mentor then went on to say that there were certain ironies that even a sheltered suburbanite like myself knew. There was of course sarcastic irony, saying one thing but meaning another, and plot irony in which there is always a reversal of expectations. But these ironies were too remedial for us to be concerned with. As Zevon said: “Everyone’s junior high school teacher tells him about this irony and then uses the example of the driver who never uses a seatbelt for several years without incident and then the day he feels compelled to wear his seatbelt is the day he gets into a car crash.”
This type of irony was a cliché and thus was anti-hipster. Zevon had to elevate my understanding of this essential hipster knowledge. “Once you truly understand irony, you will savor it the way a sommelier drinks fine wines.” He then laid out the Essential Hipster Ironies:
#1: Serendipitous Irony. Zevon recalled a high school party at Joe Lasconi’s house in which he got in a shoving match with Eric Silva over the use of the bathroom. Silva shoved Zevon toward the toilet. Falling backward, Zevon extended his hand and broke his fall as his hand fell into the toilet bowl. Having your hand in a toilet bowl is a disconcerting thought, Zevon explained, but to my mentor’s surprise his fingers tickled something cold and solid at the bottom of the bowl. He perceived the item to be a large coin. He grasped the coin, erected himself, and held into the air a shiny silver dollar as beads of cold toilet water rolled down his hairy forearm.
Hipsters did not get depressed, as I often did, Zevon observed, because their sense of irony consoles them with the fact that good fortune is often born from the most woeful circumstances.
“I’d like to think that if my hand fell into a toilet bowl, it wouldn’t be worth my while unless I landed at least a hundred dollars.”
Zevon rolled his eyes, then said, “Your greed has blinded you from my major point. We hipsters have a saying. A crisis is an opportunity. You would be well served to let that soak in for a while.”
#2: Pathological Irony. Zevon explained when it comes to human nature, the hipster is essentially a “compassionate pessimist” who has a keen sense of irony when it comes to human folly and self-destructiveness. One form of pathological irony was our tendency to overreact to a problem so that the cure was worse than the affliction. “A man has a wart on his big toe and he cuts off his foot,” Zevon said.
“Man, that’s stupid,” I said. “He should have just cut off his big toe.”
Zevon sighed. “This is no time for jokes,” he said. “Do you want to learn about irony or don’t you?”
“Must I pursue it so seriously? Should I not learn this lesson with a certain ironic detachment?”
“Except that you confuse ironic detachment with being fatuous and flippant. That’s a problem of yours that you need to work on.”
“So a hipster can’t be glib or flippant?”
Zevon shook his head. “Of course not. Glibness is for superficial fops.”
“And a hipster is never a fop.”
Zevon nodded. Then he said, “Another kind of pathological irony is the man whose life is relatively perfect—perfect job, perfect health, perfect relationship. The problem is that he thrives on a challenge and without any hurdles to jump over he becomes bored, so he creates problems out of nothing. He starts a fight with his girlfriend or his wife or he starts an unnecessary conflict at work. The point is all of his problems are self-induced.”
“All of them? Like in one hundred percent?”
“More like ninety percent. Must you interpret everything I say so literally?”
He seemed annoyed by my small, anti-hipster mind and I decided to encourage him to continue to the next type of pathological irony, which is Jungian irony. Zevon explained that the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, whose works are well known by hipsters, had conceived the idea of the Shadow, a person’s alter ego or opposite self, which was a reaction to an extreme type of behavior. “A man becomes a prude,” Zevon said, “and then he inexplicably develops a compulsion to walk around his house naked with his windows open. Or a woman admonishes others for their unhealthy eating habits and then develops a compulsion for secretly bingeing on gallons of ice cream.”
“So,” I said, “the man who dedicates his life to becoming a hipster at the same time develops a compulsion for shamrock green sweaters with cat designs and listens to Anita Bryant music without trying to be campy or ironic.”
“Exactly,” Zevon said.
“I think it’s been happening to me,” I said. “Ever since I embarked on this Hipster Quest I’ve developed this urge to go to Las Vegas and see Captain & Tennille.”
“You’re being flippant again. It’s the pose of the guy who thinks he’s hipster but he’s really not.”
I didn’t understand why we had to pursue the subject of irony in such an earnest, unironic manner, but I held my tongue lest I suffer more scolding from my hipster mentor.
Zevon had one more irony lesson to give me under the pathological category and this one he called narcissistic irony. As he explained: “The poor lost soul who tries to find himself, either through some misguided form of psychoanalysis, therapy, Buddhism, or some other Self Quest finds himself actually getting further and further from his real self. In other words, his naval-gazing becomes the source of his very demise.”
“It reminds me of interview I heard on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air with Werner Herzog who said he distrusted therapy immensely and compared it to going into the funny house hall of mirrors in which one gets lost in several distorted images of oneself.”
Zevon nodded approvingly, then said, “Quoting a Terry Gross interview is very hipster.”
#3: Deceptive Irony. The hipster is keenly aware that nothing is what it seems. For example, if sees people who think they are rising in life, soaring in success and stature, he understands that they are unaware that they are actually falling because they cannot see that they are blinded by vanity and a sense of invincibility that their success creates. “Success is a drug or a Trickster,” Zevon explained to me. “And the inverse is true as well. Failure, which makes us think we are falling, is actually the time in our life we are rising. The humility and modest means and temperance we are forced to muster during our lean years hone our best character traits so that often failure accompanies the best time of our lives. Therefore, the wise hipster is always a bit unsettled by success and finds himself looking over his shoulder, wondering how his balloon will be soon punctured.”
“So the hipster is paranoid,” I said, “and can never enjoy his success.”
Zevon shook his head. “That’s not what I said. The hipster never takes him or his success seriously. Thus the hipster is never pompous. The pompous man is a square.”
“But,” I said, “being so anti-pompous is a form of pomposity.” I referred him to the hipster’s required television viewing, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and explained that I had seen too many hipsters so self-congratulatory in their ability to understand the show’s often ironic attack of pretension, pomposity, and fakery, that these hipster viewers had become, ironically, somewhat pompous and pretentious in their own right.”
Zevon beamed a smile of approval, then said: “That brings us to our next and final form of irony.”
#4: Hipster Irony. A hipster can be so emphatically, conspicuously hipster that he becomes a predictable caricature or stereotype so that he becomes, unwittingly, anti-hipster. Having all the hipster trappings of kitsch and swank and fashion rebellion, as laid out in Robert Lanham’s The Hipster Handbook, transforms the aspiring hipster into a cliché, which is definitely anti-hipster.
“So the irony is that a hipster can be too hipster.”
“Wrong again. The irony is that the aspiring hipster who plugs into some preconceived notion of hipster is a walking affectation and a fake.”
“But there are notions, codes, and rules of hipsterdome. That’s why you’re helping me.”
“There are good notions and there are bad, or rather, misguided ones.”
“But those who take it upon themselves to claim—rather arrogantly I might add—that they have the right definition of being a hipster and that those whose hipster lives don’t agree with theirs are somehow misguided is rather pompous and therefore anti-hipster.”
“That’s the smartest thing you’ve said all day. Very ironic and very hipster.”