Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Things No One Knows #2

There was a time when we played a lot of chess.

We drank an awful lot, but we weren't really about chasing girls. I would imagine a few came along and such, but for the level of debauch we espoused it was a surprisingly wholesome affair. There were parties and after bars, but mostly with friends. There was some skinny dipping and all, but really it wasn't like that.

When I look back on all of it I think we really liked making music and being a community. We went to NYC once and brought our own crowd. Actually Jersey. It was sort of an armpit, but fun. Fun as fuck, actually because we had a ton of friends and laughs and too much to drink and I honestly think we weren't trying to fuck everyone.

I'm ashamed of plenty of the things I've done, but I'm proud of that.

I'm not saying there wasn't any sex, I'm saying it wasn't what got us up in the morning. I think all of us with our guitars and our drums and shit have big gaping holes in us somewhere. I imagine that's probably more true than not whether you play an instrument or do social work or teach kids to read.

We have holes in us. Every one I've ever met. We all have these seemingly bottomless maws and we want to somehow displace all of that emptiness with somethingness. Anythingness, really. Other people. Drugs. Drinks. Screwing to tell us we're wantable or lovable. A case of beer a night four nights a week for ten years to shut up the voices in our heads that keep us empty.

Sure. We did some of that. But a lot of the time we just hung out and told stories and laughed with each other and the folks we met.

I hope we haven't forgotten how to do that because those times - just being, just laughing, just sharing company - are some of the few times when I wasn't so goddam lonely.

I'm not sure I remember. I sometimes think I'm still all appetite and I'm clueless how to fill myself.

Take me back.

I'm not fittin to dwell on shit, but a lot of the places we played so many years ago are gone. Many closed, more have been bulldozed.

I'm not about to get as nostalgic as I tend toward, but the Heartland Cafe was a huge part of Chicago and the cultural center of Roger's Park for more than 40 years. I knew they closed at the end of 2018, but I just got word they were razed and something new will take the place of the old building.

And so it goes.

Here's a little of the history. Me and the Cafe met a few times when they took a chance on Five Year Jacket. I really liked the place and I recall two things about the first gig we did there:

1. One of the finest compliments I ever received. 

2. This absolute poem of a girl I that took me about 10 beers and the entire evening to talk to. At the end of the night all I could manage was to walk by and say "Excuse me. It took me all night to tell you that you're beautiful. I have to go, now."

These two things are not related. Here's a history of the joint. 


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Things No One Knows #1

There were 2 Vans.

Both Ford Econolines. The first was a gray cargo van with no seats behind the cab. I loved that one best. It only stranded us twice that I know of. Inside the van I had put up 3 inch masking tape and written on it

"I tell you I would rather be a swineherd, understood by the swine, than a poet misunderstood by men." 

It's Kierkegaard quote. It's pretentious. It's how I still feel most of the time.

The second Van was a lovely white thing with netting and three rows of seats and the Triton engine in it. I never bonded with it.

The Van deserves several more posts.

Chad, an introduction.

I just read the tribute Bob Mould wrote on Grant Hart's passing a few years back and I guess I got to thinking about my own weird relationship with the drummer I shared a van with for a dozen or so years. I don't talk to Chad anymore. I'm not angry and I doubt he is. Maybe, I guess. We sure disagreed about plenty. It just never comes up. I'm not sure where he lives, though his family that was often my family are off of the family plot that was the home base for Five Year Jacket and to the mowing company that kept a bunch of us employed when no one else would.  Chad started that with his brother in High School, too.

I don't think Chad started 5YJ, but I don't know that I can say he didn't. It was Pat and Chad and I in a room. So If I started it or if Pat started it, Chad did, too. I always think of it as being Pat. He and I played together and then he got Chad involved, but really, none of it existed until we three actually played together.

And I can't romanticize that. I can't make some quote like you'd read in a music biography about how it was magical or anything like that. I'd played with less than 7 drummers at that point. I was 17 years old. I'd written a half a dozen songs and been in a few high school bands. There was barely hair on my nuts and I just didn't know a damn thing.  What the fuck did I know about Magic?

So I can't claim magic.  I'm pretty sure we weren't even all that good at first. We screwed around for a bit then I went to Minnesota for a year and then Pat did the year after. We tried. We gigged a little. We recorded a sort of an EP in a guy's garage. We sat by the pool. We drank some cheap beer. We played pool. We weren't a band like we became, but we became friends.

Man. Right about now I'm seriously jealous of Bob Mould's brevity. The other thing is that I seem to keep walking a whole fucking lot but somehow moving farther and farther away from what I'm trying to say.

What I mean to say I should say simply:

I have probably spent more time with Chad than anyone in the world besides my wife and kids. For over ten years we drove around, played music and hung out together. We worked together and ate together and drank a lot together.  For very short stints we lived together. He didn't always tell me he was pissed at me, but I always knew. He may have told me 4 or 5 times that he cared for me or was proud of me or liked what I brought to his life. I doubt I told him ever.

Once I broke up with a girl and Woodsy came to me and said he would like to date her. I said I was fine with that. I was fine with it, but Chad saw that as a challenge to loyalty. He was done with Woodsy. I think that meant love to Chad. I understood that then, but it's fuzzier now for me. Woodsy married that girl. They're still married. My step-daughter plays their daughter in Volleyball a few times a season.

Chad was the only full time member of 5YJ. Pat and I held down restaurant jobs. Jay was a Teacher. Still is. I have no idea what Todd did all day. At the time Matt and RD worked with Vern mowing while RD started a real estate business.

Chad was a drummer.

There has been resentments over that, but all I care to say is that when I made the fiduciary discovery that you can borrow money to buy a car but not to fix one and ended up broke and ca-rless over a simple repair I just couldn't afford to fix . . . Chad just handed me the money to buy a truck. Once when Matt played a gig in incredible pain from a toothache Chad handed him a handful of cash and told him to get it fixed. He made sure the Van was gassed, the gigs were booked, accommodations were made, gear was fixed, amps were bought. He carried the risk and when things were tight he financed it. I'm not mad. I could not have made it work. I don't think anyone else would have been able to care so much.

In movies there's always the character who serves as conscience and the heart of the story. Chad wasn't that. To be honest - we didn't have that. There was no angel on anyone's shoulder.

But Chad was the glue.

He was calm. He was adult. He represented us professionally and I'm fairly certain that with perhaps the sort of slight oversights & missteps that can be expected in any job he represented us competently and with dignity. I always received my K-1 and he always insured we showed a loss. Chad did everything we didn't want to do so that we could show up and just be musicians. And we hated him for it.

No good deed goes unpunished.

But, while we may not have had a conscience, Chad would stop me and tell me I was fucking up when no one else would. I'd pick songs and he'd push back. When I was an asshole he told me. When I was dating everyone who let me he was the one who let me know I wasn't treating them well. He has a moral center. It was rigid and rugged. We resented him for that, too. Yes, sometimes he was wrong, sometimes that compass was off, but that's true for everyone, yes? And the problem is that if you speak up you put a target on yourself.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I can't possibly approach what Chad is to me. The miles in the van; hours on a fishing boat; days in the pool; the time between shows just talking; planning; practicing; partying. It's a lot more time than most people ever get with a platonic friend and we had 14 years together. Very few friendships ever get tested by so much time.

After all that time all I can say is that I'm grateful and I love him.  No love the length of ours can live without caveat: It's super tempting - probably for both of us - to do a full accounting and carefully number all of the debits. I think we do that as a proof. To show that we have looked at each other and really seen the other. Chad and I have seen each other happy and heartbroken, irrationally angry, desperate, triumphant, drunk, crabby, funny, hung-over, freshly in love and gutted by life. We've seen each other win and we've seen each other fuck everything up. We know the shitty things we've said, sometimes to each other. We know the careless ways we've loved and the thoughtless things we've done to other people. We've watched each other carefully build something we knew would fail and we've watched each other throw it down the shitter.

No matter what I've seen and no matter what we've said: I love you, Chad.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Interlude. Opus 73

When I try to consider all of this as a linear sort of a narrative or a story I invariably fall on my face with it. Or on my sword. Or my ass. It's impossible to know.

I mean, I told the story. Two guys meet and hang out. They start a band. They part ways and a whole lot of people come and go. That's the narrative from my Point Of View, which is a sucky, shitty point of view. I have long looked at this as a thing "Me and Pat did" and that ignores all of the things that came after Pat. Pat left right around the midpoint to 3/4 point of the story and if I'm honest some of my favorite things about 5YJ came after that split. Hell, it sort of ignores Pat all together and it certainly short changes all of the ownership from all of the other actors on that stage.

So I don't want this to be a story. Because I don't think I owned the times or the tunes any more than anyone else that came through. I always thought did, but I don't anymore.

A lot of the time lately I'm struggling with my voice. Not the actual singing one - although almost 30 years of smoking hasn't really done that any favors - but what to say and how. I got to talking to my friend Andrea last night about writing as a "grown-up". It's as different thing. At first it's the time, thing, you have kids and jobs and it's harder to find time to sit and write, but for me that was a bullshit excuse. It was two things that made me die inside:

1. There's no urgency on my part to perform or to find an audience. It's freeing. I told Andrea that I think there are a million songs in being an adult, in the thousand little political things that occur in a marriage. The small wars, the fight for self. The desire to see the other person in a clear, objective way and apply the same criteria to them that you do for yourself. Love is the absolute longest fall. And I think I could write about it in a really free way, I can see things with more experienced eyes and I can bring a backstory, a lot of therapy and bigger context. The stakes are actually bigger than silly boy meets girl and boy loses girl stories. There are so many songs to be written, but I don't write them. Who's gonna hear? Who's gonna connect. And if they did who's gonna let me know they connected because . . .

2. I think with age comes a fear of excavation. Part of the truce of marriage is knowing that there are parts of your spouse you don't have access to and being really okay with it. It's not forbidden, per se, it's just not anything you get to have. At 22 you think that love is a complete revelation and by 42 you realize it's also a mutual respect of boundaries. I don't want to know everything, and that includes about myself. I've largely lost my stomach for crying about myself. Last week I put on a song I loved from probably the messiest time in my life and discovered it could still make me weep with the ferocity and intensity it did 20 years ago.

 But I don't think I can do that everyday.

And even if I could, there's no story in it. It's just me working out my own shit. It's just Fear and Trembling. It relates back to the first point in an incestuous, spiralling Ouroboros of "Who would give a shit about that?" Even if I quit the job and left the family to be a fucking 'artist' I can't convince myself anymore that there's a drop of nobility in public self-evisceration. There's no story in it. I don't hear a single.

So maybe the story here isn't about me or about "Me and Pat" and it's not about some voyage to get to where we stand now - a lot sadder and a little wiser. Maybe every true story is a much more complex thing, a salad made out of sometimes adversarial points of view. That's messy and it doesn't put a bow on things very well.

But fuck your expectations. I hate the goddam bildungsroman.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Update, June 2018.

Man, It's been almost a year since I said anything here, though it's not from a lack of things to say.  Y'are what it is you focus on and these days I'm not able to focus on such endeavors as telling y'all me stories.

I have a couple of kids, now. A job and a family. I play music when I can and when it finds me.  I don't write songs like I used to. By this I mean to say that I write songs, but I throw out a lot of them. It's not the compulsion it once was. I think I have probably more to say that the shit head kid I was at 25 did, but I have less of the need to say it.  It's a fairly strange place to be.

Maybe all y'all are the same? When I'm driving or in the can I have a lot of ideas. I think it has something to do with those being some of the only times I'm really alone. I really do think that making stuff requires some reflection, some time alone. I don't get as much of that as I used to and it's a damn good trade. I lose some isolation and time being alone but I gain a family and a lot of love.

It seems fucked up but somehow true that to talk about love you have to be brokering it all the time. Chasing it and losing it and then thinking about both of those acts. If I never write a song I need to get on stage and scream again it might be the best thing that ever happens to me.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

So much depends upon an orange lighter.

In 1991 Camel cigarettes still advertised. You could smoke in bars and if you went to clubs in Chicago there were girls paid by the company handing out cigarettes. Camel branded everything. They had a cartoon camel. It was still okay to smoke.

It's not, anymore, and probably never was - though I still do. I had a few zippos at the time. I still do. It's a better option than disposable plastic lighters. I may be a nasty smoker, but I'm somewhat sane and responsible about the world and all. I had one in particular.

I dated a woman when I was 21 who was a couple of years older than me. Not by a lot, but enough. I had something of a motif going with women older than I was. The theme was that I would date them and at the same time resent them for being more experienced or well travelled than I was. In my younger days I had a lot of sicknesses that I'm too tired to maintain anymore. Let's call this young lady Liz. Liz was 25 or so and had brutalized me by having dated before she met me and by having enjoyed a life without me. I wrecked it. That relationship,I mean. Wrecked it. Cheated. Fucked up. Didn't keep a promise or show respect.  Even though I've always been convinced my wife would have loved Liz. She was a pretty great person, had amazing taste in music, was funny, cute, Sharp, confident. She drew a straight, simple line through life and if I had been able to do the same or follow that line my life would be super different now. Not better, but different. I really did love her, though I had no idea how to at the time.

In those dark days before she knew I existed she once went to Mardi Gras with a guy she was dating. At some point on an evening I can now imagine would have been a pretty fantastic the guy she was with stole a lighter. I wasn't hurt by that. I wasn't even hurt that she kept it. It was a fabulous, worn, orange, Camel zippo. The lighter was brass, but painted a neon orange, so where the paint had worn through the bras showed on the edges and corners and suff. Somehting about it was beautiful. The only piece of the story I remember is that this guy had lifted it from an old hooker in NOLA. I lifted it from her when she left me.

Those were simpler times and I once forgot it on the bar of a Hooters in Downer's Grove. When it was there the next day I decided it was imbued with more than some sort of abstract, undefinable mojo, but also decanted luck from object to bearer. It was a variety of contact magic I never believed in but practiced, nonetheless. When Matt had a first terrible break up he was bouncing between Florida and Illinois and I gave him the lighter because I thought he needed it more than me. He gave it back when I got sick. I gave it back when his second break up got ugly. I hope he still has it.

There's no narrative in this. This isn't a story. But in my head the lighter was something more than a totem or familiar and it has more than passive contact magic. It has something to do with Five Year Jacket and I don't know what what.

Still, it belongs on this page.