Saturday, November 19, 2011


By the age of 19 I realized something had happened inside my brain.  Emma had split town with another guy.  My parents had moved 60 miles south to a suburb I was not at all comfortable visiting.  All of my favorite bands had either broken up or sold out.  My remaining friends had sold out to one Man or another. My hatred of the world became internalized, manifesting as a hatred of myself.  I was no longer the ornery-go-lucky smart-ass punk flipping off little kids and scaring old ladies.

I became withdrawn.  I kept my hatred inside, fermenting, with no air lock to alleviate the pressure. 

I joined a band. 

Fronting a band provided some release for the anger and self-loathing that was parasitically gnawing at my insides.  Rehearsals, and especially the all-too-infrequent gigs would leave me mentally and physically drained, providing just enough release/relief and enthusiasm to get up the next afternoon and force myself to face another day.

I had the neighborhood witch-doctors push ink up under my skin in the shapes and shadows of birds of prey and human skulls.  Far from turning me into the instant bad ass most people assumed I was going for, it instead proved to me and me alone that I was never going to be normal.  It wasn’t all going to work out in the end.  I wasn’t going to ride off into the sunset with the girl just before the credits rolled.

Yet I made it.  I kept getting up in the morning.  I had a girl that actually loved me for a short period of time. I kept belting out songs of love, lust, life, death, and the always ever-present self-loathing.  I learned to put on a smile when people asked me how things were going.  I kept on faking it without ever making it.

There were times when the emotional parasites I was hosting in my head were kept in check.  There were times when I was genuinely happy.

But something always came along, something always comes along, to feed those feelings and they start to ferment again.  I do my best to put on a happy face when I am forced to be in public.  And above all I am making every attempt to take that self-loathing and once again focus it where it belongs.

Fuck The World

Suck My Dick

Kiss My Ass

Fuck Off And Die

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Angels And Assholes

This is how I remember it:
Billy cornered me in the hall one day early into my 10th grade year. Probably late September 1983 (give or take a few months).  He said there was a chick he wanted me to meet.  Being the social recluse that I was (and still am), and he being the slut that he was, I dismissed it as a new conquest of his, and proceeded to my “office”.  I had commandeered the audio booth in the school’s television studio, stashing some of my favorite records there, and using it as a retreat from the pressures of high school life. By my second year of high school I was already spending 1/3 of my school day in the studio so it was not uncommon for me to be found in the audio booth.
Billy tracked me down in the lunchroom where I was wolfing down a mystery-meat cheeseburger and my customary 2 chocolate milks.  He told me to hurry up, as he really wanted me to meet this chick.  I told him to hold on; there would be plenty of time for me to meet his new girlfriend.  Billy straightened himself up and said that this chick wasn’t his new girlfriend, but a freshman he had befriended who wanted to meet me!  Dumbfounded, I choked down the rest of my burger, sent it on its way to my guts with a last gulp of chocolate milk and asked Billy what he was waiting for.
Outside in the courtyard between the twin buildings that was North Community High School two New Wave girls were talking to each other between drags on their Marlboro Light 100’s.  Typical of the day they were wearing thrift store dresses from the 60’s, white ankle socks and white faux Ray Ban sunglasses.  Not quite the Madonna wanna-be look, which wouldn’t hit for another year, but still not your average Top 40 teenagers.  I immediately recognized them as belonging to “us” as opposed to “them”, while at the same time instantly knowing one of these girls was the one whom Billy had been dispatched to introduce me to.  As we approached the girls they turned towards us and both stamped out their cigarettes.  The shorter and slightly chubbier girl ran to Billy and gave him a big hug, the taller and thinner one stood her ground.  When the embracing was finished Billy introduced me to Laurie, the taller and skinnier one, and to Angie, the shorter and slightly chubbier, and in my opinion cuter girl.  Upon our formal introduction Laurie lackadaisically shook my hand.  Angie giggled and shook my hand, then pulled me in for a hug.  Angie seemed impressed with the Suburbs t-shirt I was wearing, saying that “Music For Boys” was a really good song.  I concurred while Laurie rolled her eyes in an attempt to seem cool, aloof, and unimpressed.  Angie ignored Billy and Laurie, never averting her eyes from me.  Nor mine from her.  In the few minutes we had before the bell would tell us to make our way to our next classes Angie and I made plans to meet after school at the bus stop.  With another hug the bell rang and Billy and I were off.  Looking over my shoulder as I made my way out of the courtyard I kept an eye on Angie, my new cute New Wave friend.  She was looking at me as well, and I passed her a wink of the eye before closing the door behind me. 
As we slowly trudged our way back into the hallowed halls of learning Billy elbowed me and said that he had met Laurie and Angie a few days earlier while out smoking. Angie had seen me in the halls and had asked about me.  Billy talked me up as a best friend was supposed to, and was given the task of introducing me to her.  Mission accomplished, Billy left me to attend my civics class while he went to the radio station to prepare the next hour’s newscast.  Civics class was the 5th period of a 6 period day, and soon enough I was waiting out by the buses for my new friend.  Not to be disappointed, Angie rolled up a few minutes later with a scrap of paper in her hand.  She thrust it towards me and said that it was her phone number.  Without any time to respond Angie hopped on her bus right as the driver of my bus was yelling at me to get on or get left behind.  The ride home was spent with my Toshiba KTS-2 Personal Cassette Player cranked up blasting “Wild Planet” by The B-52’s and staring out the window.
As soon as I got home I turned on the TV to watch something educational, like Scooby-Doo, cracked open my homework and had it done by the time the bad guy was accusing Fred and Velma and co. of being “meddling kids”.  As I was stuffing my backpack with my completed schoolwork I grabbed the scrap of paper Angie had given me and decided to call the number that was scrawled on there.  A girl answered before the first ring had time to finish.  I asked for Angie and was answered with a giggle and a warning to call sooner next time.  We then spent the next hour and a half comparing favorite bands, gossiping about our friends, and generally acting like the teenagers we were.  When my dad got home from work I excused myself with the promise that I would call her back after supper.  I hung up the phone, but not before giving Angie my number and the invitation to call any time.
At about 7:00 the phone rang.  My dad, who had answered the call, shouted up to me “some girl is on the phone for you”.  Knowing of only one girl who would be calling me I jumped up from the floor of my room where I had been reading the current issue of Trouser Press and sprang to the extension in my parent’s bedroom.  Angie and I talked for another hour until my mom told me to hang up, as she needed to make some calls.  Hearing my mom through the phone, Angie said she’d call me later, and hung up.  I returned to my room, my records, and my issue of Trouser Press, giddy over the fact that such a cute and cool girl seemed to be into me.  About 9:30 the phone rang and I was once again summoned to take the call. Angie was on the line again and we chatted away another hour before I excused myself to go to bed.  Sleep came quickly as I nodded off to the sounds of DEVO’s “Freedom Of Choice”, at the time my favorite album.
The next morning, a Friday, I met Billy at the appointed corner where the school bus picked us up.  He asked about the previous night and I told him of the three separate phone calls Angie and I had shared.  He said that was a good sign and not to blow it.  I asked him what he meant by that; he said that this Angie chick really liked me, and that she could very possibly become my first girlfriend.  Having blown my chance with Mary I was bound and determined to not let this new chick get away.  The whole bus ride that morning was spent with Billy giving me instructions in the art of woo.  I eagerly devoured all of his advice and had screwed up enough courage to officially ask Angie out.  Angie was waiting for me in the smoking courtyard, and I nervously approached her, knowing that I was about to commit a grievous offense in the interest of my libido.  Vainly trying to swallow the grapefruit-sized lump in my throat I told her that I had a couple of free passes to a sneak preview movie that Saturday, and nervously asked her if she’d like to go with me.  Angie squealed, gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and said an emphatic “yes”.  We made some small talk until it finally dawned on her to ask what the movie was.  I told her I knew nothing about it, my mom had gotten tickets to this sneak preview from her job.  The movie was called Gremlins and was supposed to be released later that year.  We were going to go to the media screening along with all the critics and reporters.  Hell, it could have been a Hollywood debacle on the scale of Ishtar and Angie would have still been ecstatic.  The bell rang signifying it was time for us to split up, and we each made our way to class; she to her dance class and me to the TV studio.
Billy caught me on the way to class and asked if I had done the deed.  I told him I had asked Angie out, and she had agreed, but since we barely knew each other we hadn’t actually “done the deed” in the high school sense of the word.  Billy slapped me in the back of the head and told me that’s not what he meant, and that he was proud of me for asking my first girl out.
I made my way to my office in the TV studio and threw on the copy of Fairport Convention’s “Liege And Leif” album that the resident hippy, Paul, had loaned me.  He gave it to me after he had heard me playing Boiled In Lead’s first album and said it was crap, Fairport were much better.  After hearing “Crazy Man Michael” I was in agreement, although Paul did finally admit BiL was a pretty good take on English folk-rock.  Eric and Erik came in to extend their salutations for the day and before either could start in on anything I told them I had a date for that weekend.  They both congratulated me and told me not to fuck it up.  In hindsight it seemed everyone had little confidence in me and my ability to woo the opposite sex.  I guess after letting Mary get away from me they weren’t so far off the mark.  I was bound and determined not to let this one get away. 
The rest of the school day was as typical as any other, aside from meeting Angie in the halls between every class.  Our lunch periods were staggered so we were unable to dine together, but there was a 15-minute overlap where we could hang out, and there was the time after school while we were supposed to be boarding our respective school buses. And again we spent the majority of the night on the phone with each other to the point of both of our parents yelling at us to get off the line.  This time we had a reason to be talking so much, we had a date the next afternoon and plans had to be solidified.  With a schedule worked out and a high in my heart I finally hung the receiver up and retired to my room.  Kraftwerk’s album Computerworld made the nights’ homework easier to contend with and shortly after the books were closed I was fast asleep with dreams of my first date swimming through my nighttime thoughts.
I arose early the next morning in anticipation of the big date.  My mom was going to drive us to the mall where the as-yet-unreleased cinematic epic “Gremlins” was showing.  As it was an early afternoon show Angie and I had planned on my mom and I picking her up at her house, go to the movie, then Angie’s mom would come and get us when it was over. 
As we pulled up in front of Angie’s house my mom gave me the look that seemed to say “remember everything we’ve taught you” while at the same time conveying the message “I can’t believe my little baby is going on his first date”.  I sprang from the car and literally hopped to Angie’s front door and rang the bell.  Before the chime had time to finish ringing the door was wrestled open and there stood Angie, looking really cute and New Wave.  I was resplendent in my black-and-red checkerboard Jeans West shirt and black parachute pants.  I’m sure there was never a cuter couple that had ever trod the planet.  I introduced Angie to my mom and pleasantries were exchanged, the two of us giddy and giggling in the back seat.  We finally made it to the theater and bode my mother adieu.
I can’t tell you anything about the movie, but I’m sure everyone reading this has seen it and knows the plot twists and can read into this paragraph whatever you choose to read into it.
When the cinematic masterpiece concluded Angie dropped a quarter into the pay phone and dialed her number.  A few scant words into the receiver later and we were assured Mom’s Taxi would be there in about 20 minutes.  It was just enough time to wander around the mall once, and for Angie to ask me to hang out with her the rest of the afternoon.  I heartily agreed and was secretly glad I wasn’t the one who had to initiate the offer.  Sure enough roughly 20 minutes later Angie’s mom picked us up from the mall and introductions were made.  I seemed to have passed the test just as Angie had done with my mother.  With that pressure released Angie’s mom asked where we wanted to be dropped off.  Angie said we should go to one of her friends’ houses (for the life of me I can’t remember this friend’s name) and hang out there.  I agreed, not having the faintest clue as to what or who Angie was talking about, but just happy to be hanging out with her.
We were dropped off at said friends’ house and knocked on the door just as Angie’s mom was driving off.  A chubby girl with bleached hair and the ubiquitous 60’s thrift-store dress answered and welcomed us in.  There was another girl there, Jenny, dressed in similar attire, along with Laurie whom I had already met.  Angie introduced me to her friends and then told the girls that I had already witnessed Duran Duran in concert.  Duran Duran had just broken internationally and were the dream of many a teenage girl (and I assume some teenage boys as well) at this point and it was quite a feather in my hat to have seen them the previous summer when they played with Blondie and Elvis Costello.  My brain was picked for minute details as to what Simon was like, what John Taylor wore, how Nick Rhodes stood while he played his one-finger synthesizer lines.  I told them all I remembered and in the process seemed to win the approval of all concerned, even the stoic and cool Laurie. 
Angie stood up and asked if anyone wanted a Coke, and the entire group answered affirmatively as Angie walked towards the kitchen.  When she got through the door she poked her head around the corner and beckoned me to help her dispense the beverages.  When I got to the semi-privacy offered by the kitchen Angie grabbed me and whispered sternly “When are you going to kiss me?”  Stunned but cool I replied, “I guess right now” as I went in for the kill.  We stood there for what seemed like hours, lips locked and tongues dancing around and on top of each other.  I finally had to come up for air, took a big gulp of oxygen and said, “That was fun, let’s do it again!”  The scene was immediately repeated until Laurie poked her head in and asked what were we doing and where were the Cokes that were promised.  When she saw what Angie and I were up to she giggled, grabbed the drinks herself and returned to the other two girls in the living room.  As Angie and I were going at it for the third time there came a chorus of “ooooooohhhhhhhh ” from the other room.  Angie and I decided we had better rejoin the party and sheepishly strolled back in to the living room.
For the rest of the school year Angie and I were inseparable.  We were one of “the” couples at our fair little school, no doubt helped by the fact that we were one of, if not the only, New Wave couple in the entire student body.  We arranged our schedules so that beginning with the new trimester we were able to have lunch together.  Since Angie was in the dance class I volunteered at every opportunity to provide videotaping of the class’ performances and recitals.  I introduced her to the staff at Harpo’s (I mean Northern Lights.  Harpo’s changed their name but old habits are hard to break and I kept calling it Harpo’s for at least a year after the switch) and the other places I was frequenting.  Billy and I took Angie and Laurie (Billy and Laurie “dated” for a few months in there but alas it didn’t work out) to the Saturday night dance parties that we were still attending, but after realizing that our time could be better spent making out in hidden-away places Angie and I stopped going.
For some reason my folks were out of town. It’s funny, but in hindsight it seems like parents were always leaving town for the weekend in the early 80’s.  Maybe our parents were sneaking away to coke-fueled orgies. More likely they just wanted to get the Hell away from us snotty kids.  Anyway, I was left alone on a Friday night. Who knows where my parents were? All I knew was that Billy and I had plans to hop a bus over to Angie’s after a quick stop at The Electric Fetus record store.  Billy came over and we immediately got thrown out of the house by my brother who, in the absence of any parental supervision, decided to have a party.  He didn’t want us “New Wave fags” blowing his scene and told me not to come back until really late. And by really late he meant by his schedule, not mine. “Great,” I said to Billy. “I can’t come back until like 2 am or something.”  Billy said not to worry; that once we got to Angie’s we’d forget about the time.  So we grabbed my boombox and a garbage bag as the skies were starting to look pretty ominous by this time. 
We shuffled off to catch the No. 18 bus with a tape of Classix Nouveaux blaring out of the portable neighbor-annoyer.  Sure enough, as soon as we stepped onto the bus the skies opened and it started pouring rain.  Billy suggested that we head straight to Angie’s, but I was adamant that we go to the Fetus first as I wanted to buy a pair of Chinese ballet shoes they had there.  Of course there was no bus shelter on the corner where we had to transfer. We looked like the most bedraggled kids ever when we finally caught the connecting bus that would drop us in front of the record store.  With said footwear purchased (Billy admitted that they looked cool and that it was a wise investment in my ever-expanding New Wave wardrobe) we went back out to catch another bus. The rain had stopped just long enough for our bus to show up, and once again the thunder clapped and the lightning struck and the rain poured while we took the 20 minute bus trip to Angie’s. 
We finally made it to Angie’s place once again drenched to the bone.  Angie’s mom took pity on us and handed Billy and I each a towel and offered to throw our clothes in the dryer if we wanted.  We declined when Angie suggested that the four of us (Laurie was there too, as I think by this time she and Billy had attempted dating each other) grab her cassette of A Flock Of Seagulls second album and we go out and play in the rain.  Since we were already wet Billy and I had no problem with that plan and soon enough we were all out in the rain acting like a bunch of teenage kids without a care in the world.  We were walking around listening to The Flock on my boombox when a car drove by, slowed down, and then backed up.  One of the dirtbags in the car stuck his head out the window and started yelling at us calling us “fucking punk fags” and screaming that he and his friends were gonna kick our sorry asses.  Sadly this was not an atypical scenario and collectively Angie, Laurie, Billy and I shouted that they should all fuck off and go blow each other to the Journey tape they were blasting out of their rusted out Chevy.  And then we legged it like there was no tomorrow. We tore through several yards, exciting certain family dogs that had been left out in the rain (no doubt by parents who were away for the weekend), and leaving huge rooster tails of spray in our wake as we ran for our lives back to Angie’s house.
When we returned Angie’s mom had four fresh towels for us. As she doled them out she asked what we had done out in the rain. “Nothing, mom, just out walking around and listening to music” was Angie’s reply.  We hung out in Angie’s basement where her mom had a dance studio and a really nice stereo.  At about 1 in the morning Angie’s mom said that Billy and I needed to leave. When she heard that we were bus bound Angie’s mom insisted on driving us home.  By this time the rain had stopped, but Angie’s mom was worried about 2 16 year olds out in the middle of the night dressed as we were.  We all piled into her car and Billy gave directions back to his place.  We dropped him off first, and we stayed until we saw that he was safely in his house.  I then told Angie’s mom how to get to my house and we drove the 4 blocks in no time.  When we got there I thanked Angie’s mom for the ride and got out of the car. Angie followed me and whispered that I needed to go to the back door and avoid the front.  As soon as we got out of sight of her mom Angie grabbed me and started furiously making out with me in the back yard. I could still hear party noise coming from inside my house and was in no hurry to go inside.  Eventually a car horn started bleating and Angie said that was her cue to break it off for the night and go home.  We had one last long kiss goodnight and she departed. I went in the house where a bunch of dirtbags were drinking and blasting Journey on my dad’s stereo.  I marched the gauntlet and up to my room.  Typically there was a young couple making out on my bed and the guy yelled at me to “leave them the fuck alone”. I told him to get the fuck out of my fucking bed or I was gonna call the fucking cops.  They left, I put on my giant headphones to drown out the Foreigner that was now playing down in the living room, and eventually fell asleep.  I don’t remember the ramifications of my brother having a party, if my folks ever knew or if he got in trouble at all.
On a July day Angie called me up and told me to go over to Jenny’s dad’s house, which happened to be only a few blocks away.  She said she and the girls were bored and they wanted to give me a haircut.  Tired of the Gary Numan record I was listening to I agreed and hopped on my Sears 10-Speed and pedaled the 6 blocks to the budding hairdressers.  Now, at this time my hair wasn’t necessarily long, just barely over the tops of my ears and to the nape of my neck in back, barring the braided rat-tail I had been growing for the previous 8 months.  What those girls did to my hair, though, was both glorious and unspeakably horrible at the same time.  Each girl chose a side to work on without letting the others see what she was doing.  My only stipulation was that the rat-tail be left untouched, other than that I was open for anything.  After about half an hour each girl said they were finished and a mirror was brought out.  The right side of my head had been scalped down to about 1/16th of an inch and the hair on top of my head combed down over it.  The left side of my head was cut into 5 shingles, ultimately resembling the steppe irrigation system I was learning about in my social studies class.  The back of my head was just raped into something resembling a cropped shag.  The rat-tail was still perfectly intact so I had no complaints about the rest of my head.  Of course my mom threw an absolute shit fit when she saw it.  My dad, always of the practical mind, just told me to wear my grey fedora while I was in the house.
Despite all the heavy make-out sessions we were having I never did more than kiss Angie.  Once I copped a feel of some side-boob and thought it was a huge deal.  Maybe I was intimidated, maybe I was having fun just swapping spit, but I never thought of taking it any further.  I would soon live to rue that timidity.
Billy’s family was out of town for some reason.  I think his mom split town for the weekend and left the kids to fend for themselves, and as any teenaged kid would do they all partied it up at their friends’ houses.  I was hanging out at Billy’s and we decided to call the girls up and have them stop by.  An hour later, after spinning a few Romeo Void and Tom Tom Club records the girls showed up.  Since the house was empty Billy and Laurie quickly retired to his bedroom leaving Angie and I on our own in the living room.  In the blink of an eye we were at it, tongues furiously fighting with one another for space in the opposing mouth.  I finally copped a full feel of 15-year-old breast, albeit through a bra, a dress, and a sweater, but still, a full-on grope.  It was then that I started to get a little jumpy, thinking I was hearing members of Billy’s family scraping keys in the lock of the front door, I was hearing non-existent cars pull up in front of the house, all kinds of things that were spoiling what should have been the crowning moment of my budding life as a 10th grade Lothario.  Angie couldn’t understand why I was so jumpy and did her best to calm me down.  We went back to some heavy necking and fondling and soon all was right with the world once again.  A few minutes later Angie got caught up in the way things were progressing and started to work the button on my parachute pants.  She got my belt undone and opened up my trousers and plunged her hand into the deep.  I stiffened up (not like that, ya perv!) immediately thinking I was again hearing the various members of Billy’s family returning from their various journeys.
I have no idea what Billy and Laurie were doing behind his closed doors and I never asked.  All I know is that Angie screamed, called me an asshole and ran out the door, and Billy, hearing this in the other room, made a mad dash to the living room to ask me what happened.  I quickly told him that Angie had her hand down my pants and was holding on for dear life when she asked, “What do I do now?”  My response, twisted by the thought of Billy’s family members returning coupled with the fact that his mom’s couch was not necessarily the most romantic place to begin a new stage of my life, was “If you don’t know what to do maybe we shouldn’t be doing this right now.”  With that Angie jumped up and ran outside leaving a trail of obscenities in her wake.  Billy called me a fucking god damned moron and went running out after Angie.  Laurie just stood there looking at me like I was the biggest piece of shit in the unflushed toilet.  To tell the truth I probably was.  I sure felt like it in that moment.
Twenty minutes later Billy and Angie returned.  The tension in the air then was palpable, hanging there as thick as fog.  After about half an hour of small talk the girls left and Billy proceeded to read me the riot act in every language known to man and a few that I think he made up on the spot.  He chided me for blowing my first chance at getting laid.  He yelled at me for blowing his chances of getting laid that night.  He belittled me for fucking up on such a grand scale.  And then, like best friends do, he offered to buy me a Mountain Dew Big Gulp from the 7-11 down the street.
The next day Angie called and suggested that she and Laurie and Billy and I all swap partners, Laurie and I would date and Billy and Angie would date.  I think that lasted a full 20 minutes before all parties involved realized that was a really, really bad idea.  I don’t remember any details except that we all agreed it was never going to work out.
After that Angie and I officially broke up, but still remained best friends for the next year.  I roped her in to act as the Ed Gein Fan Club’s first drummer.  In hindsight that was another really smooth move on my part, as Emma Rotgut was not only the EGFC’s bass player but also my new girlfriend.  Having an ex and a current in the same band didn’t seem like an issue to my 16 year old brain, thinking that the power of rock and roll could, would overcome such petty little things like jealousy and resentment.
Man, was I was wrong.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Beginning Was The End

This is how I remember it:

In junior high I was one of “the weird kids”.  All of my “peers” were into Journey and Foreigner, while I was much more into DEVO and the B-52’s and Blondie.  The other kids, male and female, were wearing the 1981 equivalent to Dockers and popping the collars on their pink or green pastel Polo shirts in order to attract the opposite sex.  I was wearing a gray felt Fedora and 60’s suit coats, so needless to say I didn’t really fit in.  To make it worse, kids who had formerly been my friends decided to follow the herd in their exploration of the subtle intricacies of the Top 40, immediately setting themselves up as one of “them” instead of one of “us”.  Unfortunately “we” were severely outnumbered by at least a hundred to one.  There were initially 3 of “us” who stood out from the crowd and did our own thing.  At least we were the ones who chose to do our own thing.  Obviously there were those kids who were really out there and doing their own thing without realizing it.  The kids that wore mis-matched shoes or who were still eating their boogars in 8th grade.

Early winter, 1982.  I had just turned 14, and was a social recluse. The end of my junior high school career was in sight.  Off in the distance, just above the horizon line enough where if I squinted I could make it out. By this time I had already been called every name in the book; fag, punk, freak, asshole, dork… I let it all slide. (Keep in mind that “fag” had no bearing on a person's sexual orientation.  It was meant as an insult akin to loser, freak.  Very similar to how the term douche bag is being used in this post 9/11 world.)
I didn't care what "they" thought of me. I didn't care what anyone thought of me.  I lived for New Wave music, record stores, and hanging out at the downtown Minneapolis library reading up on things like Nazis, The Golden Age Of Radio, and other such topics of interest to a kid with a pizza face and no social skills.

  My parents didn't understand me. My brother would thump me any chance he got, because that's what he was told to do to "little punk rock faggots" like me.  I had my Gary Numan and Kraftwerk records and a good pair of gigantic cans to drown out “their” world and shoot those beautiful analog oscillator sounds straight into my brain, bypassing the thought process and settling directly in the pleasure cortex.
With the arrival of spring and the ever-nearing end of 8th grade the gods of rock made me an offer I could not refuse.  The day was approaching when we were to register for our freshman year of high school.  A representative from North Community High School, "the Black school" on the complete opposite side of the city, came to our class and gave a spiel about the wonders of the KBEM Radio Broadcasting magnet program on offer.  Salvation in a recruitment speech.  Hell, I sat around and listened to records all day anyway, why not make a career out of it? I probably would have joined the army if they had promised me the chance to make a career out of listening to my favorite records.  I signed on the dotted line and told all of my "peers" to kiss my ass, I wasn't gonna go to the shit hole neighborhood high school with all of them, I was breaking away and leaving them and their pathetic, pot-smoking white trash Top 40 following asses in the dirt. I jumped with both feet pointed North and a middle finger as the last thing any one of them ever saw of me.
A few weeks before the actual registration my old man took the day off of work and we toured the radio station, then located in a dilapidated city building on the edge of downtown Minneapolis.  It was in the basement, there was rat shit in the corners and a busted pop machine under a blinking sign.  "On Air" it anemically attempted to flash.  I was transfixed, like a puppy with a Snausage balanced on its nose.  My dad was none too impressed but he could see the enthusiasm in my eyes and agreed to let me enroll.  Two weeks later he took another day off and accompanied me to the open registration at North High.  A few hours of boring orientation was followed by my John Hancock on my registration form.  As we walked out I was convinced that I made the right decision and that a glorious future of getting paid to play records lay ahead.
Two weeks before I was finished with Junior High my dad pointed out a tiny, 3-line blurb in the Minneapolis Star.  It said that KBEM was to start a late-night New Wave, Punk, and Reggae show later that month.  My mom asked if that was the station I was going to be DJing on, and she just smiled quizzically when I affirmed her query.  The show, "Ready Steady Go" was to broadcast on Friday nights from midnight to 6am and was to begin in three weeks.  It was the longest three weeks of my life and in my mind I had already planned out the entire playlist.  When my dad said that we would be back from our family vacation to Hollywood just in time for me to catch the debut show I knew the gods were truly smiling up at me.
My family took a two-week long vacation and flew into LAX.  From there we rented a car and drove the length of the state.  The San Diego zoo was rather under whelming much to the chagrin of my mom who was really looking forward to visiting it.  Disneyland was OK; Knotts Berry Farm was more fun.  My dad took us to a restaurant he knew of from one of his many business trips out there.  It was called The 98th Aero Squadron and the d├ęcor was set up to mimic a World War One aerodrome.  My mom and brother didn’t care about it at all, but I was transfixed.  However, the strongest memory of that trip was that of driving down Sunset Boulevard.  When I noticed that we were only a few blocks from the DEVO Fan club Headquarters I told my dad to keep driving.  I had memorized the address from the numerous times I had ordered t-shirts and other memorabilia from the inner sleeves of “Freedom Of Choice” and “New Traditionalists”.  Because I was only 14 and the world’s biggest DEVO fan my mind had allowed me to believe that there was a huge storefront packed with Energy Domes, Plastic Pomps, and 3D glasses.  When we finally passed the address I was crushed.  It was an apartment building.  After that revelation I started to focus on my return home and the debut of Ready Stead Go on the radio station I was soon to be commanding.
Finally Friday night came with the promise of a world of new music, new bands to discover and explore. I turned down the invitation to a party some friends were throwing, and instead camped out next to my dad's stereo with a stack of blank tapes ready to tune in to Ready Stead Go.  I can't tell you what they played specifically; all I remember is the feeling of glorious euphoria, knowing that there were other "punk rock fags" out there, and that they were seeing fit to fill the airwaves with our music.  That first night I made it until about 2:30 before falling asleep on the floor of the living room, C-120 cassette still rolling in the tape deck.
Ready Steady Go was sponsored by Harpo's/Hot Licks, one of the only record stores in the Twin Cities area to carry all the imports.  And Hot Licks was only 2 blocks from the library, although on the seediest street in the entire downtown area.  On my next visit to the library I took a break from reading up on the history of ventriloquism or some other such deep subject and hoofed it over to Hot Licks.  Never mind that the block it was on was more than sketchy, the bums and hookers were no scarier than the dirt bags I was forced to go to school with.  The record store was as close to a heaven that a 14 year old non-believer could believe in.  It was Nirvana.  It was Shangri La.  It soon became my home, the staff my new family.
And still I lived for Friday nights.  Taping over old cassettes of Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, and BTO, rearranging the magnetic oxide into the shapes of Gang Of Four, X, The Stranglers, Scritti Politti, Joy Division/New Order, Bill Nelson, Toyah… I had bought a Toshiba Walkman with the money I bamboozled out of my family for my Lutheran confirmation, and I was never without fresh sounds for my ear holes.
My freshman year of high school was the 1982-1983 school year.  I had agreed to be bussed to a school on the complete opposite side of the city in an attempt to reinvent myself.  I was still one of “the weird kids” but at least I was a weird kid without a history.  Even if I had been a collar-popping preppie I would have stood out in the predominantly black confines of North Community High School.  The population of the school never bothered me at all, as I had been shunned and made fun of by people of every race.  Cool people came in all colors; assholes came in all colors as well.

The big difference in high school, aside from the racial ratio, was the fact that there were a few more of “us” than at my previous school.  While “we” all didn’t necessarily congregate and fraternize with each other there still seemed to be a slight sense of safety in numbers. I was no longer out of place in my Suburbs t-shirt and yellow wrap-around sunglasses or my special-order green Converse High Tops.  Don’t get me wrong, there were far more of “them” as well. Just the size of the student body deemed that.  While my junior high had about 700 students, North High had about 1200.  So now there were about 12 of “us”, New Wavers, Punk Rockers, musically aware social misfits. I still got shit for wearing my Blondie “Tracks Across America” jersey, but not nearly as much as I had back at my old school.  Besides, these kids never knew me as the Alice Cooper fan, they didn’t know of my complete collection of Bachman-Turner Overdrive albums or my collection of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” radio records.  To these people I was just another punk rock asshole with stupid clothes and bad records.

Since the school was on the opposite side of town the bus ride was just under an hour each way.  That was fine in the winter, but when the weather was nice I would conviently “miss” the school bus and have to catch a city bus home.  Fortunately the public transportation forced me to transfer downtown, mere blocks from the record store I had started frequenting the previous summer. So at least twice a week I would kill an hour or so between school and home at Northern Lights (the store had changed its name from Harpos/Hot Licks to Northern Lights, aka “No Life”, a few months prior), looking at the new imports from England, skimming through the British magazines like New Musical Express and Sounds, and flip through the only American magazine worth its New Wave credentials; Trouser Press.  As I got deeper and deeper into the emerging musical underground my friends became more and more distant and out of the loop.  Perhaps it was me who was getting further and further into the loop and they were still just treading the waters waiting for the New Wave to pass. Very quickly I became the one other people looked to for information about what was going on in the UK music scene, and who the hip underground American bands were.  I was the one that was making comp tapes and recording full albums for the enlightenment of my colleagues (sorry RIAA, but this kind of thing has been going on long before the advent of the internet and downloading).

By the beginning of the second trimester of my freshman year I had a core of about 4 friends who I would sit with at lunch and during the various acts the principal would bring in to edutain us.  None of the other guys were one of “us” but they were misfits in their own right and I didn’t mind hanging with them.  The one thing we had in common was an appreciation for DEVO, although I was the most hardcore spudboy of the bunch.  Then again, I don’t think there was a more ardent or dedicated DEVO fan in the city at that time.  I had quickly and successfully removed myself from the popular cliques running the halls of the school and pretty much kept to myself.  On Friday nights I would rather sit alone listening to Ready Steady Go on the radio or listen to my records than to be out partying with the straights.  Most of my friends had started chemically altering their states of consciousness, and as I have made abundantly clear in other musings I was not one to partake of such activities.  So instead of going to the all ages shows at First Avenue or some preppie’s party I would lose myself in my growing vinyl collection and stacks of imported music magazines. 

One of the first people I met at North that was one of “us” was a girl named KT.  The second week of class KT told me about some sober guys she knew had started throwing a weekly New Wave Dance Party. It was held at a park building every Saturday night. The park was a 15-minute bus ride and 5-minute walk from where Billy and I caught the 18 bus.  That first Saturday Billy and I got to the park building a little early.  No one was there and the building was locked.  We killed some time at a record store a block away, and when the novelty of that wore off we went to the local cornet market and got some Mountain Dew.  Slowly wandering back to the park, we spied some guys unloading gear out of a van and into the park building.  Correctly assuming these were the hosts/DJs for the night Billy offered our assistance in unloading the van.  Our help was appreciated and rewarded with free admission to the dance.  We helped set up the P.A. and Billy even got to spin some records while the other guys were making sure all the connections were correct and the sound system was functioning properly. For the rest of the summer Billy and I would spend our subsequent Saturday afternoons down at Hot Licks, going back to his house to listen to our recent purchases as well as the tapes of Ready Steady Go from the night before in preparation for the dance that night.  I was 14, a social misfit from birth, and between Hot Licks and these dances I had finally found the places where I felt I fit in, where other people didn't throw things at me or hurl insults from their speeding cars.  A place where people were actually impressed with my Klaus Nomi and Flying Lizards pins on my black polyester suit coat. 

It was around this time that my mom instituted curfews on my brother and me.  He was already showing signs of becoming a hell raiser, so my mom laid down the law and said he had to be home by 10pm on weeknights and midnight on weekends.  I saw no problem in those rules, as I was always home way before that.  Harpo’s closed at 7, so what else was there to do?  I wasn’t much of a movie buff, so after the record stores closed for the day I just went home and enjoyed my purchases.  My brother protested to no avail, curfew was set at 10 and midnight.  As we got up to leave my mom told me to sit back down.  She had a different curfew for me.  At least two weeknights I was required to stay out of the house until at least 9pm, but had to be in by 11pm at the latest.  Friday and Saturday nights I was not to come home until 11 at the earliest and midnight at the latest.  I was perplexed.  This wasn’t so much a curfew as an exile.  My mother dutifully informed me that at 14 I was supposed to be out making friends, be out “doing stuff” and getting in trouble!  She didn’t think it normal for a kid my age to sequester himself in his room and avoid contact with the outside world.  I don’t think she ever understood to what degree I felt like an outsider, at odds with everyone else my own age.  I didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, hadn’t even kissed a girl yet let alone shack up and play bedroom bingo with them.  Luckily my Saturday nights were taken care of with the AA dances at the park, so that was one weekend night covered.  Friday nights found me hanging out at the neighborhood 99¢ movie theater where I would pay my dollar for the 7pm showing of whatever was playing, and then sit through two showings of it.  It kept me out of the house, and if the second screening went long I could always leave, as I already knew how it ended.  On the weeknights I would just hang out at Billy’s house, sitting in his room listening to records and reading magazines.  I spent a lot of time alone, just walking around the neighborhood listening to tapes of Ready Steady Go on my walkman. So much for my mom’s grand scheme to socially acclimate me to the real world!

This feeling of isolation, of being separated from the rest of the people my age; my supposed “peers”, has been something that has dogged me my entire life.  Even when I have been close with people; friends, girlfriends, casual acquaintances, I have never felt like I belong, like I am on the same wavelength as anyone else.  My love of music has never diminished, and I am still the person most people come to when they want to know the answer to some minute and esoteric musical bit of trivia. Sometimes I revel in that feeling, not as a feeling of superiority or cockiness, but as a reminder that I am me and I am who I am.  A lot of the time I just wish that I was “normal” and could relate to others on their level, not having the shred of a clue what “their level” may be.  I have no interest in sports or politics and have less than a working knowledge of both. I avoid watching the nightly news, and when I pick up a newspaper it’s probably to read the comics, or to see if there is any kind of musical news in the entertainment section.  I can’t talk about the latest television craze or who is up for what Oscar for whatever the trendy movie is currently the talk of the town.  Regardless of how I am feeling about it at any given moment in time, I am constantly aware that I am different, and that my brain has been wired differently than anyone else I have known.  When I think back and allow myself to believe it was OK to be that way as a kid, as a teenager, as a middle-aged man something is just wrong.  The only thing I can do now, aside from my menial day job, is to reflect on what my life on the fringes of normalcy has been like, the lessons I have learned, and the lifetime of stories I have collected (so far), and to relate them to you in an attempt to explain myself, justify my time on this planet, and to hopefully entertain anyone who may stumble across my meanderings.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

21st Century Frank Stockton

I’ve arrived at the same crossroads that Robert Johnson met that guy in a fifty-dollar suit who sold him the snake oil that made his fingers drip honey.

The East/West road is lined with shade trees, sunlight pinpricking its way to the hard-packed earthen trail.  Dogs and cats and squirrels and smiling children with big, brown, wondering eyes line the side of the road to greet me.  In both directions the scent of honeysuckle and fresh apples lure me with their fragrant fingers, the promise of prosperity and contentment.

 The North/South road is filled with the scraggled remnants of overgrown brush, twisted, gnarled knuckles of long-dead trees jutting out of the canvas of rotting leaves and wilted flowers.  Tiny dust-devils dance in and out of the over-exposed tree roots, and the foul stench of decaying offal contrasts drastically with the perfume of the other road.

Yet there is something comforting when I turn my head to the north, or let my eyes run slowly up and down the southern trail.  A familial, knowing yen, yearn, for what lay just over the southern horizon.

Turning to face the western skyline, silhouetted by the golden rays of life-giving sun, my heart sinks with the trepidations of the unknown.  It looks promising, inviting, enveloping, but what price will it cost?  Is there a snake oil salesman waiting up around the bend, at the next fork in the road?

I know the toll of the North/South route; I’ve tracked it all my life.  I know what lies in either direction.  Safe from the salesmen, but open to all sorts of abuses that the good mother of all nature has seen fit to throw in the middle of my path, causing me to fumble, stumble, and cry like a newborn babe, eyes blinded by the light and stainless steel and smell of antiseptic wash.