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Tommy Druen: Quest for authenticity

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By Tommy Druen

In 2014, my wife surprised me with tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Concert. I've been an avid Nirvana fan for nearly three-quarters of my life. While I was too young to see them prior to Kurt Cobain's death, witnessing them inducted into the Hall felt like the next best thing.

Our trip to New York City was fantastic for several reasons, not the least of which was the hotel my wife had booked. The Library Hotel, situated in midtown Manhattan, boasts over 6,000 books and assigns each room based on a section of the Dewey Decimal System. It's a nerd's paradise.

Our room was filled with books from the 800 section, dedicated to literature. Intrigued by the cover art, I picked up a book of essays entitled "Eating the Dinosaur," my introduction to Chuck Klosterman, who has since become one of my favorite authors.

In 2022, Klosterman released "The Nineties," a retrospective on a decade filled with both nostalgia and amateur sociology. Like me, Klosterman is a member of Generation X who grew up in a rural area. The '90s shaped him, as they did countless others who were sandwiched between the excess of the '80s and a generation who would be weened with access to the internet. While we had a connection with both older and younger generations, we didn't fully belong to either.

One of Klosterman's key points in the book is the importance of authenticity and sincerity for this '90s generation, even if it was ironically imitated. The fashionable silk shirts of the late 80s gave way to holey jeans and flannel shirts because they were "real." Stock in Aquanet (and shampoo for that matter) likely plummeted as people suddenly gave up the poofed up hair for what can only be described as long and stringy. Gone were the synthesizers and keyboards, as they made way for exclusively drums and guitars. And Lord have mercy on the band that was cool and then "went corporate" or "sold out." The era rejected artificiality, demanding honesty and rawness.

This quest for authenticity was on prime display in 1994. The year prior, Jurassic Park, a big-budget action move, set box-office records. Yet, the following year, Pulp Fiction, an independent film, with a quirky writer/director named Quentin Tarantino, modest budget and unconventional cast of what can only be described as thought to be "has-beens", captivated audiences, at least of the 15-30 age range. While the prior recipe for success had been big-budget, big-stars and big-ad campaigns, Pulp Fiction was driven by word-of-mouth praise for its exceptional writing.

Klosterman's insights resonated with me, as I realized my own desire for authenticity in all aspects of life, even when its subconscious. I look for things that seem to have a soul, so to speak. I'm happier with a rundown barbecue shack than I am with the predictability of an Applebee's menu any day of the week. I prefer to listen to the musicians who wrote the songs rather than the ones who are over-produced and use autotune. I want my politicians to speak from the heart rather than only spout opinion poll driven talking points.

Most of all, I seek authenticity in my faith. Now, this not to denigrate anyone's place of worship. I think what works well for one doesn't for another, and vice versa. However, through my life, I've been in a variety of churches. Some small and poor, others large and exuding wealth. I've been to the megachurches that are scripted and I've been to small ones where the pastor had no idea what he was going to say until he stepped behind the pulpit.

What I have learned is that it doesn't matter if the person delivering a message is in a full suit and tie or a t-shirt and hoodie. If it becomes about the brand, it loses something. Much like the flannel shirts of the 90s, it's not really about the clothes. It's about what's being said, thought, learned, digested. I can't say that people in the 90s weren't brand conscious. We were, but often it was that branding was a negative. That's what I think is missing in many churches today when they think about what their brand should be.

Famed pastor Charles Swindoll remarked, "I know of nothing more valuable, when it comes to the all-important virtue of authenticity, than simply being who you are."

As I continue in my quest for authenticity, Swindoll's words remind me to embrace my true self and encourage others to do the same. Shedding superficiality is the first step toward personal growth and positive change, for individuals and society.

Tommy Druen is a native of Metcalfe County, with roots in Adair County going back to the 18th century. He presently lives in Georgetown, Kentucky and can be reached at

This story was posted on 2024-05-04 09:28:00
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