I'm not sure how many of the folks who find this were around in the beginning. I have mentioned Erik Panyko here before, but only in passing. I haven't given him the time he has deserved. He was a part of this as it started: He picked the name with us. He drank by the pool with us and plotted and loved and practiced and worked. He belonged.
Eric passed last weekend. I'm confident he's at peace. It is those of us left here who are hurting, now.
I guess this thing has gone off the rails as far as telling the story of a band. I’m probably just telling the story of me. I didn’t mean to, but intentions don’t really mean what we think they do: they tend to not really be any salve at all.
When I was in my 20s I played in a band that never got famous, though we thought that if it had a lot of our problems would be gone. I never really recovered from not “making it”. I never really grew up or took on an adult life. Petulantly, I stopped playing much at all. I don’t write enough. I don’t think I can really call myself a writer or a musician anymore and, if I’m honest, I don’t know if I ever should have. It was self-important and not backed up with the sort of hard work that marks a musician or a writer.
But this is a pity party and I didn’t invite you to that.
Also, in my 20s I collected people. Mostly women I got to know while playing. Some were a little interested in me, either as a mess or an option or a project. I would sometimes drink too much and call them and dump. Other times I would go out and have them watch me get drunk. It wasn’t very grown up, but I can see better now that I was pretty depressed. In a clinical sense, not an existential one. I mean, that, too, but chemically there is something wrong with me.
And I can’t say that changed. I got married and found that hard and often disappointing. I never really got over the failure of not making the entire world love me. The natural conclusion would have to be that I am unlovable. I don’t think that’s true, anymore. I’m plenty lovable. I just don’t know how to talk to people anymore and when I do I don’t have any sense of how to receive that love. I think the greatest failure of my life hasn’t been any of that stuff up above: not marriage or the band that never got where I wanted it to. Not work failings or parenting failures: My biggest regret is not getting back up.
My biggest regret is sitting here at 5 in the morning writing this like some guy who peaked in high school. Next weekend I have my 30 year anniversary and I’ll wonder who peaked then and I’ll know in the back of my head that I peaked, too. It was ten years later, but I did. I don’t think I’m gonna laugh at those people anymore.
Tonight I went to Pat’s and we all talked about who we used to be. We told those old stories again and I didn’t know what to say. As much as I pretend I always want to be moving forward and I don’t care where I’ve been, I still find myself exalted in the handful of wins and devastated by the final failure. I still wonder what I didn’t have and I still don’t really try at much of anything because I’m still stuck in the failure.
In my 20s I played in a band that never got famous. In my 40s I sat still being the guy who, in his 20s played in a band that never got famous.
I’m sad tonight. I guess I don’t have anyone in my phone to call and dump on. I have this. I’m afraid to say these things and I’m afraid not to. I want to be connect again and I want to want things.
Maybe if I say it I might get braver. Inch by inch. I’m not gonna want to be famous anymore. I don’t think that even sounds good anymore. But I know I should want something. I’m not a Buddhist, I’m a coward. I haven’t eliminated suffering by killing desire: I have simply numbed myself by not risking myself.
I’ll check in as I figure this out. I woke up at 2:30 and I couldn’t get back to sleep. All I keep thinking this morning is that I’m lost. I’m so in free fall.
I thought it would be more dramatic; more epic. It’s not, you know? It’s a Sunday. I’ve been living here for 20 years, almost. I’ve been lost for a long time. Realizing this, noticing it? Well, I though there might be a soundtrack. Turns out it’s just another night. The rain is heavy tonight. I’m just gonna say this and then get in the shower and go to work. I hope this was heard as I intended. I’m struggling, but I’m trying very hard to be done suffering. I let myself have tonight, this suffering. Now back to a struggle. It’s a better promise.
Something big. I wrote two sets of songs that were inter related: Cycles that told a story. One followed love from birth to death and then into the afterlife. It failed, but I loved it. The other describes my loneliness in terms that I only understood in my late 20s: It was as grandiose as I was and the little lump in my heart was a planet. I wasn't sure why its mass wasn't attracting anything and , simultaneously, terrified it might.
Last night I sat up with RD and we talked about love. How it's not what you think. How it's work and it needs your care every damned day.
And I though about what I have of love: I have piles of regrets, bad decisions and things I don't know how to say. There's joy and sex and memory: and at the end of the day you wonder if the failure of long term relationships is the loss of our willingness to go through those piles of good and bad.
And I feel broken about it. Because if I think about a love starting all I think about is that same love dying. I live in a ouroboros of the beginning looking like my expectation of the end and I hope this isn't what getting old is.
Because getting old has always been about gaining altitude, too. Getting above your own life and seeing more. I love that height; I love the view.
For all the joy in that, there's heart break.
And I wonder - is every heart broken? Is that what makes us what we are? Is that what makes us lovable?
I used to think about writing a book. I have drafts and ideas and research. In the end, the beginning looks like my expected failure in the end -
Telling some of these stories I sometimes forget why we started doing this and why I kept at it for a lot longer than I should have:
I love to write. I was a horribly lonely kid and playing music in front of strangers was the first (and sometimes only) time I felt heard. If I'm going to be as naked as I keep trying to be - It's still one of the only times I feel like a person.
Yeah, I know that's a big statement. I don't really talk too much to anyone. I'd guess 80 to 85% of my life is lived in the lonely halls of my own head. It's not a quiet place and, perhaps because of the volume inside me, I don't venture outside of that place very often except in writing.
I probably haven't told you how much I appreciate you or love you. I probably haven't shared with you how my heart feels when a school gets shot up and children die horrible, senseless deaths. I probably haven't told you which days I was sick with regret or sadness or nostalgia. If I did it was told to you with a pencil and paper, whether you read it here or heard it in a love song. It was served cold: long after the fact. The only way I process or share anything with any real meaning and without second guessing myself is on paper which, under ideal light and watering conditions, turns into a song.
Though I don't write a lot anymore.
Oddly, I don't think it's that I have less to say. It's entirely possible I have a lot more to say, but an awful lot less drive to say it. The possibility exists that, the longer we stay alive, the more we become what we already have been.
By this I mean to say that the seclusion of my youth has been cast in me like iron in wax. I can live with that. I really, deeply feel like I need the world less than I ever have. It's freeing and a little scary: Scary like free fall or how a balloon full of helium might feel when the knot slips your wrist. I don't know if I should like it, but I think I do.
This is not what set me to writing. I mean, it's a fucked up thing to write a great deal about yourself in the service of explaining how little you need to talk about yourself anymore. What I hope to do is share a little more about some of the songs and the things I meant to say. If there's a song you wanna know about, comment. I'll tell that story the best I know how to.
Sometimes in those odd, beige moments after the third drink but before the pass out, I wonder about addiction.
I don't think I am. I don't think I was. I know I don't understand it.
Let me say this as an adult with some distance between who I was and who I am and between young man and whatever the fuck I am today: We drank too much.
Some of us walked away from it, and some of us didn't. I don't understand the who or the why.
Here's the thing: I have engaged in certain apologetics in the past (notably on this page) about the sorts of people we were - the "good, clean fun" in spite of the chemical abuses - but as a now 47 year old man I would be remiss if I didn't confront the fucking elephant I have always lived with:
We had drinking problems. I had drinking problems.
I have a wagon load of shame attached to decisions I made under the influence from the age of 19 to my early 30s. I'm not going to itemize, but if you have found these words and we were close: I know I hurt you and I know some of that was because of my drinking. Some of it was immaturity and some of it was ego and assholery, too. I'm not trying to be that guy who blames my past on alcohol like it was the only factor or as if there was no agency in my decision to consume the amount I did. Some of the hurt I left behind was because I was a dick. I was short sighted and callous and callow. I own that. That shit is between me and my therapist and I'm so damned sorry if this finds you now: too far gone, too poorly summarized, too incomplete in acknowledgement or reparation, too little, too fucking late. I did a lot I'm deeply, profoundly ashamed of. I still lose sleep over the ways I treated people in my pain and arrogance.
I'm avoiding where I mean to to go with this. I had drinking problems and if I looked around the stage and sound board and after parties, I wasn't alone in that. I remember having an informal rider that we got 5 cases of beer to show up for some gigs, and between a 4 guy band and a sound guy we never left a can. Later, as a five piece, we worked without a rider, but once played an almost empty bar in a little town and drank every Coors Light they had in stock. There were frat parties we played for the beer. There was a bass players legs sticking out of an empty, ten foot wide beer pit at 3 in the morning: swimming through ice to try to find one more. There were the delays recording World's End Café because I couldn't stay sober enough to get there or do the job when I was there, or get myself home. I drunkenly hit Jay at the end of a show and put my foot through his guitar. I showed a lot of humans that I cared about parts of me they didn't need to see.
I said I wasn't going to do the accounting on this and I meant it. The above is token rather than exhaustive: these were anecdotes but our (my) drinking was daily.
Fast forward an I don't drink much. I know one of us, one of the dearest and one I love so much, doesn't drink at all and there are chips and years marked. I'm so proud of him. I love him all the more for that. At least one other I suspect has made at least as many crappy decisions as I have due to drink, and maybe for a lot longer than I did. I've let others go: I don't keep up and I don't knw how they drink, now, but I know - for me - I don't drink much and it isn't hard. I can have a drink on a Sunday night and go to bed. I can order a cocktail when I'm out and I can have a beer with dinner. A lot of the drinks I pour are still half full in the morning or end up with the last half inch going down the sink before I go to bed.
I have no excuse for not having a bad relationship with alcohol anymore. I should be in recovery. I should have that story to tell, but I don't seem to. I don't seem to struggle with starting or stopping. Most of the time, even when I'm out or people come over I don't much want a drink. Rarely during the day. Never if I want to do something after. I don't really drink beer anymore, it's not agreeable with my diabetes. I still enjoy a whiskey when I play out, but it's rare to have a second and I can't remember the last time I ordered a third. Sometimes, at Jake's or Ron's house I'll have a whiskey while we practice.
I do not understand what switch just clicked into the off position for me, nor do I understand why it didn't do that for other people I loved. If you're looking for an answer the rest of this is the best I can offer: Hint, it isn't a silver bullet.
I watched a video the other day about why we go numb in our relationships. Why we go cold.
It's short and worth the time. It seems to think that we have untreated trauma, pain we don't resolve. Going cold seems better to us than facing these things. It's far more manageable than dealing with life head-on. That makes a lot of sense and I think it has a lot to do with why I drank so fucking much when I was a younger man. Numbness is sugar: We know it's no damned good for us, but it's fast, easy calories and it solves the problem for the moment.
For most of my life I have walked around with the W.H. Auden Quote in my head "Needing, above all, silence and warmth/We produce brutal cold and noise".
For me, the reckoning is in how we know a thing. Knowing things in a complete, empathic, deep and understanding way creates in us a debt. To actually understand what it means to be someone else as completely as we can understand it, requires that we change who we are and adjust. Knowing that climate change is man-made and causing our own slow extinction would mean that we have to give up some of our conveniences. Knowing that aspects of our behavior and attitudes causes trouble, pain, and difficulty for another asks us to stop that behavior. I suspect that, a lot of the time, we chose to be ignorant because we don't want to change what we are and who we are.
Something in me changed. I can't claim it like I'm a super great guy who had an epiphany and made difficult changes. Likely, I traded some of my shitty coping mechanisms for different ones. What I know about me is that I don't want to be numb so badly as I once did.
What I seem to have a better grip on is that every little subtraction I did to my own agency and my own culpability had a consequence. Every numb took me a little further away from the people I love. It still does. I don't do it with a bottle, but I still do it. And I keep trying to look at these things and open myself up to knowing them, because looking away kills us with a thousand cuts. All of my Brutal cold and noise, man, I'm so sorry for those of you who lived through me.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace and grant me some small share of whatever silence and warmth is available.
It’s sometime before 5 am this morning and I just woke up from some pandemic stress dreams. In one I was working in my old shop and everything was pretty boring and fun and normal until I realized that 2021 was worse for Coronavirus infections and death than when I stopped working. I woke up immediately and just felt that.
Then, much later in the sleeping, I had a really lovely dream where I was at a party and somehow a girl I dated a long time ago for a fairly short time was in the car and then back at the house party with me. I watched her getting hit on and we talked. I didn’t want to run off with her, but I wanted peace. I don’t much like the idea of closure, I don’t think it ever shows up for anyone in a meaningful way. I like letting go: which I have. I was surprised to see her in a dream. I don’t think of her anymore except to sometimes see her on facebook and think that she looks great and seems to be a wonderful mom.
What I wanted in this dream and what I seem to want in life is to let go of guilt from a breakup or a relationship. I want to be able to see the person and enjoy what I did about them in the beginning and to get to know who they became without any of the land mines of having once tried to love. I want my history to fit into my current life in a way that makes sense and doesn’t bear anger or an unmanageable amount of ambiguity.
That’s probably unlikely, too, we seem to carry a lot of our pasts around with us in some unresolved and mostly unpleasant ways. At least I do.
I regret songs I have written. The song “Julia” comes to mind for me, because I was trying so hard to be so scathing and wise and it’s just petty and preachy in hindsight. I learned later, I think, how to write a break-up song, but this is so embarrassingly first-person accusative. You can write first-person redemptive if you try. I think I know how to, now.
It was Julia in the dream and she deserves better. She deserves her name changed or my own culpability named.
I think I thought as a 20 year old that you could carve a person wholesale out of whatever forge of feelings I had. None of that song has anything to do with her, it had everything to do with me – and I’m just now honest enough to say that. I feel embarrassed that I didn’t hate this song until this dream. I created a person in my head (in a dream last night) to heal the thing inside me where I held a person I had entirely made up inside the amber of a song.
It was how I knew how to heal, then. I know better, now.
I wrote a lot of bad songs. I wrote a lot where I was just wrong.
I’ve been struggling to write these days and to finish what I start. The next few things I post here you can skip if you don’t much care about KT as a songwriter, because I feel like I have some reckoning to do. Maybe I need to get all of these old, dead songs in to houses I can live with before I go build new ones
It has occurred to me (while thinking about writing here) that this is an autobiography. That my story should be labelled as the story of a band that died years ago is a troubling concept. I am not the thing I did. And these stories I want to tell are ghosts. I don't want to be a ghost. And yet, in a way, I am. I'm not saying anything new in song. For almost 5 years I've had a lot of anxiety that makes returning phone calls pretty stressful and leaving the house out of the question at times. So I sit in these rooms with other ghosts and I render the people I used to know as ghosts, too. I neuter them. I remain in control of an uncontrollable mess of a life. This is not to say my life is a mess. It's actually fairly tame. This is to say that life is a mess. Once upon a time I loved a mess. Joe and I created them for giggles: One morning - it must have been a Saturday - we started drinking early. Early is a subjective thing, but before noon was typically pretty young in the day to get started for us. Chad was with us. We started at the Brown Pub in Hinckley - which is unfortunate because I kinda hate the Brown Pub. That's not this story, though. I guess we met for an early lunch and shot the shit and drank whatever the local drink was (Miller Lite) and maybe caught a pretty decent buzz. I don't think we were planning on making a day of it. I had plans that night with my friend Carrie. We had a Saturday off and I wasn't gonna waste it. I know what they say about plans and how making them is making God laugh, but I'm here to say: Not making a plan might be twice as dangerous. We had no plans and a few beers in our bellies. So there we are - Chad and Joe and Me and we're heading back to Sandwich and probably some other bar. Along Granart Rd. there was a farm and Joe decided he wanted to take some pictures of a guy who was out on the road with a burn pile. Chad would have none of this fuckery. He stayed in the car. Chad had long been the wisest of us. But Joe and I headed out and told the man at the burn pile that we were photographers for Life Magazine and were taking some pictures of Midwestern life and how we were struck by the whole Americana of him and his burn pile. In our defense, it was some pretty striking Americana. The guy completely agrees and we take this shitty camera Joe has and is passing as a professional camera and wander around taking some pictures. Some posed. Some trying to look more natural. Some sort of arty, from the ground, the sun rendering everything silhouette. We all felt a little beautiful. And maybe a little drunk. So this guy says that the real story was up at the farm house. He wants to show us his chicken coop and his miniature horses. The hell with Chad, he can wait. We headed up to the house with him. We went to the chicken coop. He told us which one was his favorite. They all looked pretty much the same to us. Then we saw the miniature horses. He told us about the one with one eye. Apparently the other eye just "fell out" when he was born. Crazy. I wish I was kidding, but I swear to you this is not just the Miller Lite saying this: At some point a vintage (convertible!) Eldorado Cadillac with (I swear) steer horns where the hood ornament used to live pulled in the dirt drive and some cowboy and his dog climbed out. I remind you - this is Northern Illinois. I wish I could remember his name and I bet Joe would. Nameless man was friendly as all hell after our fictional profession and employer were relayed. I believe he asked if we wanted to get a few shots of his dog who was a trained killer. "What? You don't believe it? Watch this . . . Sit, boy . . . now stay . . ." And then he screamed "JUMP 'EM UP!!! JUMP 'EM UP!!" And the dog growled and attacked . . . the owner. We sure didn't know what was what, but we agreed that of course Life Magazine would want pictures of that and I spotted for lighting or whatever it was I was saying my job was and Joe snagged a few more pictures. At some point and it must have been an hour or better we remembered Chad and excused ourselves back to Joe's Jeep. The Jeep is a whole other story. We got back in and had to tell Chad the whole story. Chad musta been sick of sitting and so we headed back for a little wine at the Winckler's. I recall I had made plans with my friend Carrie that evening. We were supposed to go to her friend Lisa's housewarming or something at a lovely upper apartment on the North Side of Chicago. I don't think Carrie had invited Joe and Chad, but I felt fairly empowered so I did. After wine we had to pick up Carrie. Back to Aurora. We get to Carrie's house and her parents were having some sort of dinner party. Seems like it was casual, just like another couple over for dinner. Her dad offered drinks and it would have been ungrateful - if not rude - to decline. So whiskey was had. And we loaded up the Jeep to make the hour and a half into the city and then up to Logan's Square. This was a crucial hour or so. I don't know that it would have sobered us up much, but it did kinda reset the pacing of the evening. We most likely needed some reset. The drive was a gas. Laughing and shit. Everything you'd hope out of a drunken car ride in to a major metropolitan center. If it makes you feel better we can say Carrie drove. She may have. I can’t remember. We arrived in the Big City and aimed ourselves at the newly gentrified North Side Neighborhood. We found Lisa’s place and found a party in process. It was lovely, fine folks and progressive beer. We could have partaken in fine and erudite conversation had we been so inclined, such was the nature of the party. Artists and up-and coming artists and social justice workers and everything I might just appreciate would I to arrive today. What a swell party it was. We didn’t partake in such lofty discourse. Joe and I decried the nature of living in a city and extolled the benefits of living “smack dab in a cornfield.” We offended, and entertained and were generally the belles of the ball. Folks listened to us and laughed. We made friends and gently insulted them, but somehow charmed them. Chad looked a little green. I was on my way. At some point, Joe and I decided that we were just not fancy enough to continue to get loaded on whatever brown ale was provided in this place. We asked if there was a liquor store in the neighborhood. No one seemed to know, but Joe and I believed that human nature demanded a liquor store to be prominently placed in any locale from small town to big city, so we set out in search of cheap, watery, light beer. And we did find their delicacy. We had to wander through some frightening parts of the bario in order to find it, but we did. We were generous folk, too. We bought three cases. And we made new friends back at the party. Seems there were some other connoisseurs of watery beer and we shared. And a good time was had, though at this point things get fuzzy for me. I’m not sure what time of the evening this would have been, but we had to have been over ten hours into some committed drinking at this point. I recall Chad sitting next to Carrie on a couch and I asked a question. He answered by hurrying out onto the second floor porch and getting rid of some of his beer. I recall needing a nap and taking the hostess’ bed. I recall her joining me at some point. I assure you I was in no condition to threaten a boyfriend, but I do recall said boyfriend finding us spooning and I lightly recall a row surrounding that. I recall waking up at some point in the morning and finding Joe sitting on the keg and passing the tapper back and forth to some latecomer. They were the only two standing and Joe had just hit stride. They split the last of the keg, the Miller Lite a memory. I am certain Carrie drove home because Joe lapsed in to a coma. The kicker? Joe's camera didn't have any film in it all day.