In 2012 I made a record that, in my head at least, told a story. The dreaded “concept album”. About a mixed-up teenager and his messed up family.
To everybody else it told no such thing, of course. It was just a collection of mostly loud songs with mostly 3 chords. Nobody knew what the hell I was talking about.
So I decided to sit down and write the story out. That’ll show ‘em!
Turns out almost 10 years later I’m a bigger fan of the short-story below than I am of the record. It was fun revisiting this today.
It’s free to all. Please consider becoming a subscriber! I’d love to have you…
“It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt!” I remember my mother saying that when I was a kid, usually when I was bleeding all over the kitchen waiting for her to fix my busted head. I was accident prone and it got on her nerves after a while, especially when I was learning how to ride my bike and accidentally ran over her while she was talking to the next door neighbor who was always pasted on vodka. It wasn’t all fun and games then. Mom hided the crap out of me as I recall. The only time she ever hit me, or showed any kind of emotion other than tedium towards me really. Dad’s a different story, though Dad’s usually are, aren’t they?
I think you have to be crazy to be a parent.
Step Dad actually. My real Dad died when I was 3 or 4. Not sure. I can’t remember anything about him so it doesn’t matter. Nobody ever told me and I never asked. Mom re-married after a while. She was happy she didn’t have to get an annulment from the church ’cause Dad was dead. The church was always easier to navigate when you were dead.
My step-dad was ok for the most part. At least when he wasn’t drinking, which meant he was ok when he was asleep. He had a son from his first wife (not sure if she died or not….nor would he have given a shit…agnostic bastard that he was). Way older than me my step brother was. I remember him being a total Who freak. You know….the band. Had pictures of their guitar player all over his bedroom walls. Guitar player had a huge fucking nose and always seemed to be jumping in the air, like some twit who got the shit beat out of him in gym class too many times and was desperate to make up for it all. There was a picture of him with blood all over his hands and face too. A cover for Rolling Stone magazine. I thought my step-brother was crazy. But then again I was way too busy listening to whatever shit was on the radio to pursue my diagnosis much.
Anyway….my step brother had this friend who went to see the Who and ended up dying. Got crushed trying to get in. Eleven people died at a show in Cincinnati. He had tickets for like 2 nights later in Philly, and my Mom didn’t think he should go. She thought the band were a bunch of Satanists and kids dying was some sort of ritualistic thing at their shows. My step brother’s name was Paul….and he talked her into letting him go, not that he was gonna listen to her anyway ’cause she wasn’t his real Mom. Anyway, he made it home alive, although he smelled like Bob fucking Marley for like a week afterwards (The only place that used to smell like that was the CYC during the wrestling matches). I used to sneak into his room and look through all his records. He used to lock himself in there and cry all the time and listen to “Quadrophenia” and “Who By Numbers”. Mad bastard.
He was crying ’cause this girl in Cincinnati was somebody he was gonna marry, apparently. I forget where he met her…college or something….but they’d been carrying on for a while. He’s the one who told them how fucking great the Who was so he feels like it’s all his fault…which in a way it was. If it wasn’t for him she wouldn’t have been there.
When I got older I remembered all this stuff. It was the first time I realized that people took the shit they were hearing on the radio seriously. You could fall in love with rock and roll and fucking die over it. To tell you the truth that really creeped me out for a long time. It didn’t seem like much fun cramming headphones on and crying behind a locked bedroom door. Of course later I realized this was totally normal….like jerking off. Once rock got into your head it stayed there, and if you tried to run away it tracked your ass down and did it to you all over again. Rock that mattered I mean. The kind that made people wince. It’s still around if you look hard enough. Bring a lunch though.
Paul moved out. Actually went to Cincinnati to live….looking for whatever it was he thought was there in the first place. He’s still there now, just some anonymous guy in some ranch house in some shitty suburb somewhere, making not a whit of difference to anybody or anyone. Exactly what he thought rock and roll was gonna save him from. I still love him though. He is blood. Well, sort of blood. I think he’d help me if I asked. Not that I ever would.
I grew up. Well, sort of. I had other stuff to attend to. In 8th grade my buddy Mark told me all about this blow-job he’d supposedly gotten the night before. Nobody really believed him but he seemed to have all the details so you bet your ass we listened. The girl’s name was Annette. Funny how you remember things like that. You always wonder where girls like Annette are these days. When you’re giving blow-jobs at 13, life has to come at you pretty fast I would think. These are the survivors. You just knew she wasn’t gonna get her ass trampled by some mob at a shit rock concert. She was my first love and I never even met her. Not sure any ever since have been any better.
You’re always looking for that same feeling you had listening to the blow-job story. That sense that there were things to look forward to, even if you weren’t the star of the football team. I mean….Mark was a fucking waste of epic proportions. And he’d reached it. Nirvana. Teenage wasteland indeed.
Well, so much for that. Pills were easier than finding Annette and her ilk. It was all so frighteningly simple really. What you didn’t have you could steal from your own medicine cabinet. And what you couldn’t steal you could buy with money you stole from purses and wallets. My step-father was actually a huge enabler ’cause he’d get smashed and then start handing out fucking 20s to anybody with a sob story. I had a million of ’em. One time I told him I was gonna take up golf. That kept me in pills for about 3 months. There was something about sleep that I adored….but it always eluded me. The day I discovered sleeping pills and Yuengling was the day I started dreaming big. I could leave the hallways behind. Nobody was calling me a faggot or busting my head open for wearing the wrong clothes in my dreams. I did what I wanted when I wanted to do it. I felt like that guy with the big nose hanging on my brother’s wall.
But you can’t sleep all the time. Be a better world if you could. Met this girl named Mary…..and everybody wondered what she saw in me. Including me. A total knock-out. Hindsight makes chicks better looking but still. Trust me on this. She hung around just long enough to fuck me up for the rest of my life. Nice of her. We had some good times along the way though. She taught me lots of things I wasn’t supposed to know about, apparently. We’d go see bands together. She seemed to know all the guys in all the bands, and we’d get in for free through the loading docks. I was too stupid then to realize she was shagging all but the gay ones. At the time I just thought it was cool. Everybody knew my name, and I could go home and play guitar with a tennis racket in front of the mirror and not look like a complete git…. ’cause I knew all the moves. Ain’t no bigger star than me in front of my bedroom mirror.
Then one day she just pissed off and left. Not even a note. Had one of her friends tell me. I looked all over for her but never found out anything. Where she went. Who she went with. Deep down I knew why of course. She was….you know, dating me. That’s the way you think when you’re young and pimply. And the drugs ain’t cutting it anymore. I hear she turned lesbian, but that would be too good to be true, so it probably isn’t.
Still, she damn near killed me. It was like having your skin burned off.
And so what then? As soon as I feel like the most oppressed person on earth, this plump little quiet girl in biology class who never quite looked the way others needed her to look or talked the way others needed her to talk decided she’d had enough bullshit and tied a belt to the hook on her door in her bedroom and hangs herself. The girls who made her do it were front and center and the funeral mass, giggling. It was a big deal for about 3 days…mostly ’cause it could have been anybody. There were lots more of her than there were of them….which is the real tragedy. We could have won on numbers.
I care lots more about it now than I did then. I guess that’s part of growing up.
So yea….so what? I didn’t set out to become a damn junkie, but I got so good at it I figured what the hell. Sleep wasn’t the refuge it used to be. In fact I started staying up 3 and 4 nights running, trying to avoid it. When I closed my eyes I was afraid of what I’d see. That’s fucked up when you think about it. If you ever did.
Dad mach II caught on eventually. He wasn’t buying the golf thing anymore, especially when I got down to 120 pounds and my eyes started to recede. The poor bugger tried everything, including kicking the shit out of me on something like a schedule. Nothing worked, and eventually he splurged on some Grand Marnier when he survived one more lay-off at the paper factory, drank it all, and threw all my shit on the front lawn. My mom didn’t try to stop him. She looked really old all of a sudden. I hate when that happens. It made me feel really bad. Mostly because I just noticed.
The thing about dealing with drugs is that even though everybody around you is pretty much a major league asshole who’ll cut you for a few dollars…..they always have room on their floors for you as long as you’re truly skint and do your puking in the toilet and not on the rug. I’d get hassled sometimes, but nowhere near as much as I did in high school. There’s a song called “God Loves a Drunk”. Always liked that. Generosity is a strange thing, whether it comes from the sky or the ground. Never met a junkie who wasn’t a drunk too, so I figured the song title just sang better. Some of my best friends were fucked up all the time. Who am I to judge? They saved my ass while at the same time destroying themselves. No mean feat. More of them are dead now.
I kept thinking it could be worse. I mean….nobody was trampling me to death so they could be in the front row for the first few bars of “Substitute”.
But still it was pretty bad….especially when I decided I had to go home and realized I’d forgotten where the house was. I always heard rumors that my real Dad has some memory issues. Early dementia or some shit like that. I started to think about him lots. Stuff that was old reminded me of him. Yellowed newspapers. Grass that was knee-high. Trains.
Fucking trains. When I was a kid I used to love them. Putting pennies on the tracks and all that. When I heard them now they scared me. Reminded me of those guys in their wife-beaters who’d kinda hover behind the screen door, getting more and more pissed off ’cause they didn’t have anyplace to go. I thought maybe my real Dad was one of them, and it make me feel awful. The trains around here never go anywhere. They just go back and forth. Fill up. Empty. Then do it again. Ain’t that kinda like dementia?
The only thing I could rely on was music. Rock and roll mostly. But putting labels on things doesn’t always work. I mean, Woody Guthrie was as kick ass a rock and roller as Elvis. You ever listen to those songs? Shit….Woody invented punk rock. It’s not my fault that I’m the only one who realizes it. I heard Joe Strummer for the first time and I thought Woody had come back to life with a ducktail.
I seen this picture of Woody one time. I had this ratty old green flannel shirt….and damn if he wasn’t wearing the same one. The picture was black and white….but still. I knew. Don’t ruin it on me, you doubting bastards. It was green. You could see it between the black and white. The Green Flannel.
Original punks. That’s us.
Someday I’m gonna trade that tennis racket in for a guitar. That mirror in for a full house. I’m gonna be in a band, and Mary is gonna come out of the shadows to teach me more stuff I shouldn’t know. Well that’s if I don’t die first. The drugs. You’ve forgotten about the bloody drugs haven’t you?
Expensive little things they are. Booze is way cheaper, and it’s legal. Well, it will be when I turn 21. I’m 18 now. I don’t feel 18. I feel a lot older. I wonder if anybody notices?
I’ve been sleeping rough since I gave up the junk (easy really…like the flu for a week, only more intense). I don’t like the cold, and I hate the summer. That doesn’t leave me much. The fall is so pretty when the sun comes out though. That’s my favorite part.
I got crows feet around the eyes…and I ran out of holes in my belt. I’m used to nicking stuff I need, but did you ever try stealing a belt? I’m good but not that good.
Maybe this all means something. Maybe it’s all true. Maybe if I knew what I was getting into, I could have taken a different road. I don’t know. It’s a late day for regrets.
How about me…saying that at my age? What a fucking poof!
Maybe I’m getting what my Dad had. Maybe I’ve had it all along.
Maybe there’s a cure? Maybe it’s in the grooves. Maybe it’s buried in the guitars and the bass and the drums?
Maybe I’m just in danger of not being a kid anymore. It sucks feeling this way. Growing up is like rock and roll that doesn’t make you wince.