Lucy Thomas and Ellen Plays Bass: How Young Women are Earning the Respect of ‘Old Men’

In November of last year, I sat in a tattoo studio. I was a bit anxious and excited. I was getting my first tattoo. After nearly ten hours of enduring needles and a band called Fit for an Autopsy, I had Anne Frank’s face etched on my left arm.

“I have to ask you, why Anne Frank?” My friend said this with a bit of ridicule and curiosity. My arm was still bleeding ink.

True enough, I am in middle age, so why would I tattoo an image of a 13-year-old girl on my arm? I told him that she was a writer like I am. That seemed to satisfy him.

My professional focus in literature was on women writers. I’ve always been interested in young women as cultural icons: Anne Frank, Joan of Arc, Simone Biles, Pocahontas, Greta Thunberg, and Malak Yousafza.

These are (or were) teenage girls that have had a significant impact on our culture. It’s this contrast that fascinates me, those we historically see as innocent, weak, and vulnerable—cute objects that should do what they are told—being young women of change. As the bumper sticker noted on the back of a generic SUV, “Well-behaved girls don’t make history.” Anne Frank, despite our school-censored popular version of her, is not “well-behaved,” and neither are any of the young women I wrote above.

I admire Anne Frank because she is so much like each of us. Yet, I am not totally removed from any objectifying of the supergirls we clamor over throughout history. I am a mix of good and gross, nice and naughty, appropriate and inappropriate, and sure-headed with a hint of chronic adolescence. Our choices determine everything, not our thoughts, feelings, or fantasies. If you are purely good or bad, you have a mental disorder. We often see these traits in ourselves when we admire people.

We spend a lot of time running away from ourselves. But these young ladies had to confront themselves, and their inner thoughts, very early that forcing them into a kind of teen-middle-age reckoning. But my interest here and for much of my professional career has been on how men of middle age respond and react to girlhood in social media. In most respects, we see such as predatory. That view is problematic and can be harmful.

In often skimming YouTube, I could not help but notice there are some super girls on there, and many people follow them, including much older men. Some are questionable like the young girl with 700,000 followers that always happens to be in a bikini. But there are plenty of others that focus more on talent, not body exposure.

I have written in the past on how men over-sexualize prepubescent and pubescent as well as teenage girls in social media. Yes, these are distinct groups that need distinction. I have also argued that those opposed to such “sexualizing” are naïve and attempting to “de-sexualize” or castrate girls visually, and such seems more about their acting out their trauma-triggered responses than anything else. But I also started to see something more positive.

A lot of older men are really admiring young women and girls that show talent. Now, they may still fall into the “you are so beautiful” stammer, but the reason they admire these girls so much is that they have talent. No, the kids are not wearing bikinis or doing some kind of challenge that can be interpreted in one’s mind as sexual (and just about any activity qualifies). There is plenty of that. However, there is a more positive trend where adult men are finding inspiration, not in Donald Trump or the Tate brothers—men that clearly see females as second-class citizens, but in young women.

Ellen in Ellen Plays Bass has been learning bass guitar for just under two years. She is phenomenal. At 11, she is attracting the attention of seasoned bass players, guitar manufacturers, and plenty of adult male viewers. Yes, she is adorable, and, yes, she has one of the most infectious smiles one can have. But her talent seldom escapes anyone.

Contrary to a culture of negativity and trauma-focused trauma, the vast majority of viewers and commenters are decent and respectful. Many have written to Ellen and her dad with stories like this.

One man said that he played bass all his life. A few years ago, his son was shot and killed. He said he could not ever play bass again, that is, until he saw one of Ellen’s videos. He then decided to pick up his bass guitar. Many other men tell similar stories.

Yes, Ellen’s smile and cuteness captivated them, but her passion, her interest in learning, ignited in them the long-extinguished flame of hope and wonderment. She may be cute, but she plays beautifully.

In the video above, Thomas Nordegg, a well-known music technician, is going to visit Ellen and her dad’s studio. Nordegg is very excited. Ellen’s dad decided to play a trick on Nordegg when he gets into their car. Ellen will hide in the back and surprise him. When Ellen appears, Nordegg says to her, “You are the most beautiful girl in the world. I should know because I am an old man. I’ve seen many women.”

Such may sound threatening or inappropriate to say to a little girl, but when watching the video, it really was rather cute and touching. Here is a very successful man in music that totally loves this kid because she plays well. Sure was not creepy. Rather, it came across as respectful. You can see that he admires her, even when using the typical terms of endearment. Sure, he could have first said, “You are the most wonderful player in the world,” but in reality, emotion does not work that way. It was not scripted. He admires Ellen for being Ellen.

In Nordegg’s generation, not many women played bass. To see his admiration of her, and to pick her up and inspire her, as Steve Vai also did is wonderful to see. Ellen got to play on stage with Steve Vai. Many young girls and women got taken advantage of in the music industry. My mother did at 15. These men are trying to promote talented young women.

Then there is Lucy Thomas. At 19, I already have her four personally-autographed CDs. I bought CDs because I wanted autographed copies. I love everything she sings. Her singing of “Run” is one of my favorite songs. She is 15 in this video, but what a voice! Her version of Hallelujah has 33 million views.

What I love about Lucy Thomas is just how natural the setting is. In so many of her videos, we don’t see any flashy stuff. We see pure talent. She even has wonderful duets with her sister Martha. In one comment, the writer notes, “Given the talent in this family, I would not be surprised if the cat is playing the piano.” Many of her fans are men like me. Her appearance and beauty are not blind to me. When you see a pretty girl sing the way Lucy Thomas does, it’s nearly impossible not to admire her regardless of age, and maybe that is it. We should admire anyone that moves us regardless of age. Loving a person or performer is not predatory. Love has nothing to do with that.

Yes, “old men” can look at young girls and be respectful. We can admire the talented young women we see. They can inspire us. I started to take singing lessons after listening to Lucy Thomas. I like the way she sings so much that I want to try and sing like her. After I find my voice, I can vary, as most singers do.

I am not trying to be the next Boyle. I was just inspired by a talented young woman to pursue something I wanted to do my whole life but could not. Ellen inspired me to get a guitar and a piano. If I can get the money for lessons, then these instruments will be ready.

I have Anne Frank on my arm because her body was taken from her, and so was her life and what would have been an extraordinary writing career. I feel the least I can do is give part of my body to her as a dedication. I can respect girls and women, like so many of the men that follow Ellen and Lucy do. Sure, we have our idiosyncrasies, where we suddenly act like adolescent boys, but given their talent, such is understandable.

We would be so much better off if we learn to have appropriate connections and relationships with people of all ages. As a longtime teacher and, now, school bus driver, I learn a good deal from those I teach and transport. But we have little time to communicate. Learning is not one-way.

I also hope that I give all of them something, that a young man sees an older man with a tattoo of Anne Frank and thinks, maybe I will forgo the skull tattoo for someone I admire and respect. Maybe a young woman or girl sees my tattoo and is encouraged.

As one 12-year-old girl asked me, “Mr. Earl, are you sexist?” I showed her my arm in response.