I grew up feeling like Jan Brady. I was the middle child with 3 beautiful sisters and 3 handsome brothers. I had long blonde hair hanging to the middle of my back. I wore gray cat-eye glasses and was always saying or doing the wrong thing. I was also painfully shy, very introverted and always had my nose buried in a book. My dad called me stubborn and my mother called me “wild flower.” I never felt like I belonged to this family; for a while I was sure I was adopted and my siblings took full advantage of that fact and teased me mercilessly. After all, I had golden blonde hair (but not like my mother!) and all my siblings had lustrous dark hair. I was the alien outsider, always out of step with the rest of the family.
When the popular TV series The Brady Bunch was on TV in the early 70s, I watched it obsessively, looking for clues about how to relate. My mom was a first-generation American Sicilian vivacious stay at home mom, once in the theater, now acting the part of a lifetime as the matriarch of this clan of 7. My dad was an Austrian-born brilliant scientist who single-handedly saved the US brewing industry by developing hop varieties that produced more and were resistant to a strain of fungus that was destroying hop plants around the world.
I aspired to have a life like the Brady’s’ where my parents would take me aside and gently ask me what was wrong. I yearned for a mom like Carol Brady, who intuitively knew how to say the right thing, and help me sort through my feelings of anger, jealousy, and weirdness. But the reality was, with 7 kids, there was never any time to do that. You just have to hope your kids figure it out and find a way to make the best of whatever situation was tormenting them at the time.
Jan’s cry of “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” in response to the attention her beautiful sister always got struck a matching chord of frustration so deep in my soul that even today, when I hear people chant that phrase, I laugh weakly and get chills all over my body. No one can understand how painful it is to feel invisible unless you’ve experienced it.
In one episode, Greg Brady became a rock star, and a light went on. Rock and roll was a way to stand out, be noticed and be cool. I started listening to my records all the time, wearing floppy hats and sunglasses and bell-bottom jeans that were flared out with shocking orange and purple paisley silky material. I felt hip, I was cool, and I looked like a rock star.
I learned to embrace my weirdness, my freakish otherness that the rest of my siblings never struggled with. I learned to make it a part of who I was, to enjoy standing out in a sea of conformity. Punk rock and the underground lowbrow world of hot rods, art and music became my family. It didn’t matter that I didn’t look like everyone else. That was the whole point. It was ok to be different. In fact the weirder you were, the cooler you were.
The passing of Florence Henderson, the actress who played Carol Brady, several weeks ago triggered a moment of mourning, as if my own parent had passed. I deeply love and respect my parents, but Carol Brady was the mom I longed for as a child. I see now that my own mother accepted me for who I was, and was happy to help me express myself. She sewed the clothes I wanted and supported my struggle to find my creative voice by signing me up for art and music lessons, no questions asked. I will always be grateful for that support.
When I was in college, a record by an all-girl band called The Lunachicks caught my attention. I played their hit Jan Brady every chance I got, an inner knowingness that I had found kindred spirits in this raggedy group of girls empowering me every time I played the song on my radio show. I longed to tell them how much that song inspired me, but was too shy to track them down and tell them. Maybe someday I’ll get that chance.
Jan eventually learned to love her “otherness” just as I did in real life. Embracing your uniqueness is what gives art, music and hot rods that special something no one else can; your own voice, your own perspective.
Live Fast and Be Weird! It’s the key to enjoying life.
Automotive Journalist, Editor and Publisher of Gearhead Magazine, Gearhead Records, Gearhead Apparel, DJ, Punk Rocker, Master Gardener, Minister, Environmental Activist and Animal Lover... who IS this person?!