Episode 51 is a short episode where I talk about an upcoming project happening with the Boston Hardcore aspects of this podcast, my introduction to hardcore music in Boston in the early 80’s and I start off on a sad note and talk about the death of Reed Mullin who I learned died a couple hours before I recorded this.
Episode 50 is a great conversation with Glen Stilphen. Glen plays bass in the band Northern Skulls, and got his start playing bass for Gang Green as a teenager during their Another Wasted Night era along with his brother Chuck. We talk quite a bit about his time in that band as well as the time that lead up to that and what he’s been up to since. His new band Northern Skulls are great and I’m glad we talked a bit about their formation and song writing process. Glen is a great story teller, funny and down to earth guy that was a great guest.
Episode 49 is a dive into guitar players, and not the same ones you always hear talked about. We talk about the more unheralded guitar players from Jim Babjak of The Smithereens to Geordie Walker from Killing Joke. There are a few more well known names on here but we wanted to shine a light on less-household names. As with other episodes I’ve recorded with Brian and Guy this one was a lot of fun and the passion the two of them have for everything they talk about here is always front and center.
Imagine the year is 1975, it’s spring but still a little chilly out so you put your denim jacket on. You’re going to walk down to the local record store and see what’s new. You’re fourteen years old and its 1975, you have no real concept of record release dates, you just know what you like. You love hard rock, when your older brother goes out with his friends for the night you sneak into his room and borrow his records. Kiss, ZZ top, Blue Oyster Cult, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, whatever looks cool. You walk into the record store, and immediately see a bunch of new records on display: AC/DC High Voltage, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, Alice Cooper – Welcome to My Nightmare, and ooh is who is this Olivia Newton John woman? And then sticking out like a sore thumb is this bright blue album with a giant owl on the cover, Rush – Fly By Night. Your brother had another Rush album that also stood out like a sore thumb with it’s big proclamation in pink letters “RUSH” That album was good, it was new and loud sounding, the singer had an insanely high voice and there was something different about them you couldn’t put your finger on yet and well this new one has to be good. The song titles on this one get weird right away on side one with some multi part song called “By-Tor & the Snow Dog” You, err, rush home to play this new album, and you’re greeted to a completely empty house, it’s a Saturday afternoon in April and you have the new Rush album that came out a couple months ago.
You drop the needle on the record and are immediately punched in the face, and then pummeled over and over by the arrangement of this song, particular the drumming. You don’t remember drumming like this on the other record. Again, it’s 1975 and you are fourteen. You have no concept of lineup changes especially when it comes to the drummer. You check the other Rush album and low and behold it is a new drummer, Neil Peart and strange, he also wrote most of the lyrics on this new one. This album becomes your favorite record of the year, you play it all summer. It’s catchy, it’s weird, the lyrics seem real mature and you don’t one hundred percent get them yet but there seems to be more interesting stuff happening than most of the rock albums you listen to. This is the album that makes you a lifelong Rush fan, you make other friends who love the band, go see them live whenever they come to town. It’s nice to meet you fourteen year-old Rush fan.
Fast forward to September of 1982. I am starting junior high school in Swampscott, Massachusetts. A nice upper middle-class suburb on the ocean north of Boston. My parents have been divorced for two years now, I am twelve years old and have been a “weird kid” for a few years now. My older brother and I had good record collections mostly because we got more of a head start having a dad in the music business. Rush was on my radar, my brother had Exit Stage Left. They sounded dark and other worldly to me.
We had moved to Swampscott in the summer and I would be going to the junior high school there in September. I had no friends there yet but had a skateboard and long hair and found other kids with skateboards and long hair. Once the fall hit we all had Levi’s Denim jackets. There was always that one weird kid that was a little poor that had a Wrangler denim jacket though and he was like the next level outcast. In the winter we switched to those Levis corduroy jackets with the fuzz inside. I fell in with a good group of fellow burnouts (that’s literally what kids like us were labeled in 1982), some of who I am still good friends with today. At this time I was simultaneously discovering heavy metal like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest (I had seen Ozzy in April at the Boston Garden after Randy Rhoads died with Bernie Torme filling in on guitar) and Rush who all of these new friends were into. Hardcore music would show up about a year later. I was nervous to start at a new school and even though I had a good circle of friend I got picked on. My first month there an eight-grader tied my sweatshirt sleeves to the door handles of the theater in the school. I was in the sweatshirt at the time. A lot of crap like that went down. On a side note a year later I would have a substitute teacher named Mrs Quint who was the nicest woman ever and showed off a “fanzine” her son Al published called Suburban Punk. Al would take me to my first hardcore show in 1983. So that was a whole other world of outcasts I would experience. It’s where I felt most at home. Rush fans, metal fans, punk rockers. At the time nobody in any of those groups would admit it but we were all the same.
Rush released the album Signals on September 9th, 1982 and it changed my life. The opening song, Subdivisions immediately spoke to my isolated self in a way nothing else had before it. The lines “Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth but the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth” Not only made me want to leave and explore other parts of where I lived like the city, but also in school and the people I associated with. I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. The clean cut American kid, Alex Keaton, the football player, etc. Nothing about that was charming to me. Walking around in the woods with my friends, or playing Dungeons and Dragons was more my speed and seemed more interesting and fun than following a straight path. This record became my soundtrack for that entire first year at Swampscott Junior High, I turned thirteen in November of that year so it was a perfect record for a new teenager to hear. This record is often referred to as their big “synth” record (along with the next couple) which never even crosses my point at this point. It’s Rush in 1982, that’s all it sounds like. The progression makes sense when you think of what was happening in music at the time with bands like The Police and maybe even Talking Heads and think of side two of Moving Pictures. This was the record that led me on my journey, just like the imaginary kid discovering Fly By Night. Signals was the one that did it for me. Rush became my best friends for many years. The later years I still bought every record but they didn’t have the same feeling as the earlier ones did.
Fast forward to present time. In the early 2000’s my friend Jonah invited me to a party at his apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was there I met a guy named Brian, we talked about music and shared a love for Rush so of course immediately hit it off. We became friends on social media after that but never saw each other in person until I started my podcast. I was doing mostly one on one conversations with people so I decided to branch out and do some episodes with Brian and his lifelong friend Guy where we sit around and talk about a specific band or subject. It was later discovered either from Jonah or Brian that Jonah had wanted to get Brian and I together as he knew we’d hit it off and become friends. The first time I hung with Brian and Guy I met them at Brian’s place at 1:00 pm and left at 2:30 am because we basically talked music for twelve hours. I interviewed them as a pair, and we agreed to get together again and record some subject specific episodes and that’s what we did. The next time we got together we had no real plan and at the last minute we all wrote down a list of our favorite Rush songs and hit record. It was natural and a conversation we would have had even had we not hit record as we had already talked for many hours about Rush. I had found two guys with a similar love and passion for this band and how important they were. We are all around the same age and experienced the band around the same time in life, so it has been great having two friends to share all of this with the last year or so. Here is a link to the episode of the podcast if you want to hear it
The first thing I did today when I heard Neil Peart died was text Brian and Guy, and then a little later my friend and former decade long bandmate Breaux. Breaux and I saw at least two Rush shows together and they are also his favorite band of all time. I had an hour left of work and pretty much did nothing. I was in shock. My eyes welled up. I left the office a few minutes early and immediately played Afterimage, the song, on the Signals follow up Grace Under Pressure (which is just a gorgeous sounding 80s record) is about the loss of Robbie Whalen, an engineer on the Rush albums Permanent Waves, Exit Stage Left, Moving Pictures, and Signals. He was killed in a car accident outside the Rush studios one night. The video for this song is intense and you can see the anguish on Neil’s face and the emotional exhaustion he is filled with at the end of the video. I dare you to watch this and not feel that. This is how I felt today and this evening while writing this.
Neil was a friend of mine, or at least it felt like that. I almost had a chance to meet Neil when I was working for Rounder Records and we were invited back stage for a meet and greet with Geddy and Alex who I did meet. One of my co-workers had met with Neil and a few other employees earlier before I arrived. Neil was notorious for keeping his distance from fans (“I can’t pretend the stranger is the long awaited friend”) but a couple of people being brought over to him to say hello was okay. Personally, I’m glad I did not meet Neil Peart. It would have done nothing for him and what could I possibly say to him? What if he told me to buzz off? Instead I got a brief hand shake with Alex and Geddy and asked Geddy about his fantasy baseball team and that was of course a pretty surreal moment I’ll never forget, I touched the hand that plays that bass line in Analog Kid, or that crazy bridge section in Freewll. Fuck. Neil had a tough life later on losing both his wife and daughter in a short period of time. Reading his books after those incidents made it certain there was no reason for me to ever meet him. He was larger than life to my fellow friends who are fans and I. I liked Neil just where he was.
I saw a few of my denim clad friends from the early 80’s posting about Neil on social media today and it made me happy to think back that I experienced this band together with those guys when we did, and now have friends the same age as those guys to share the band with. Rush was never one of those bands I wanted to keep to myself like maybe some of the punk bands I got into later on. Rush is now universal, although for the first maybe twenty years of me liking the band they were considered a band nerds listened to, not so anymore. I don’t think I saw any tired snarky “Wow a lot of you are Rush fans all of a sudden” comments today because really, there are a lot of fans. Diehard and casual, who cares, everyone is allowed to love this music. I imagine the kid who discovered Fly By Night in 1975 is also feeling it today and e-mailing his friends about it (he’s using e-mail mainly because he’s old and still uses e-mail to communicate with people)
There have been two other major music deaths that have inspired me to write words down, Chris Cornell and Jeff Hanneman, both of those artists were huge parts of my life for a long time and still are. Rush was and is just a more important band for me. Rush had pretty much retired from touring after their last tour which I was completely fine with. The fact that it’s now impossible for that to happen is a sad reality to face, but with all of the music still here to listen to and all of the shared experiences with friends new and old I think I’ll be okay.
Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon
How we talked and drank into the misty dawn
I hear the voices
We ran by the water on the wet summer lawn
I see the footprints
I feel the way you would
I feel the way you would
Tried to believe but you know it’s no good
This is something that just can’t be understood
The shouts of joy, skiing fast through the woods
I hear the echoes
I learned your love for life
I feel the way that you would
I feel your presence
I feel the way you would
This just can’t be understood
Episode 47 is a conversation with my friend Jeff Morris, Jeff was a founding member of The Bruisers. We talk about his time in that band as well as how a couple of upcoming reunion shows came to be. Jeff grew up north of Boston and talks about getting into music at an early age, his first time at a hardcore show and everything else that happened in between. Like all of my guests, Jeff’s story takes a similar path (Although I don’t think Kiss was mentioned once!) and he is a great story teller so his memories and thoughts on music are all worth hearing. This was a great episode to record and it was great catching up with an old friend.
The first thing you notice about Union Station in Tampa, FL on a Friday afternoon in late July is how miserable everyone looks. People are slumped back in chairs to the point where they appear to be sitting in bean bag chairs, children are glued to whatever handheld device their parents are letting them look at for fifteen minutes at a time, elderly people have their green visors pulled down practically over their noses, and then there’s me, I imagine I look miserable. It’s also extremely hot outside, everyone is huddled inside and, as it is in this part of the country, existing just a little bit slower. The air feels slow. The station is old, built in 1912. There are six tracks divided by three platforms, but I believe only one track is working, so a relatively small station. It was closed down in the 80’s and reopened in the late 90’s where it’s served a basic purpose since. There’s nothing fancy about it, it’s renovated and looks like any old train station. So that’s the first thing YOU notice.
The first thing I notice: I open the green wooden door, it’s one of those double doors but the one on the right doesn’t move. What’s the point of that anyway? I’d like my own choice of what door to open. Fuck the system. So, coming in from the glare of outside into a poorly air-conditioned building is one large open area filled with maybe one hundred and twenty people. Immediately at one o’clock in my vision I make eye contact with a skinny white fellow. He’s bald (shaved), maybe early 40’s, wearing a long sleeve green shirt that appears to be one of those green army jackets guys like Travis Bickle wear, upon closer inspection, it’s a shirt. He has a paper bag in one hand that’s about a foot long by four inches. “What’s he got in there?” I immediately think. A full dead fish? A box of Russell Stovers chocolates? A video tape but one of those early ones from Paramount Studios that came in a white bubbly case? A melodica? I never find out. On the glass empty counter he’s leaning against is a back pack that is so filled that if he put it over the front of himself and put an overcoat on he would look like Orson Wells. You’ve seen people with these backpacks out in the world. Usually on the subway or a bus, and they’re just out for that day. How many things do you need to have with you to exist over an entire day? I usually do pretty good with my wallet and phone. I keep a sweatshirt in the car in case a chill decides to show up. Maybe he’s a magician and he’s going to treat us all to that endless bandana trick that will go on for forty-five minutes. This entire thought process takes about four seconds in real time and I immediately tell myself I am going to have to keep an eye on this guy. He definitely has a “just getting my shit together right now” vibe about him. He’s a little shifty and if I had to describe who he looked like the closest familiar person would maybe be Maynard Keenan from the band Tool.
It’s a little crowded inside here, not enough to cause anxiety or anything like that. I apparently decide to change that and go outside and sit on a cement bench around the corner. I have three quarters of a joint with me that I take out and light. It’s about 99 degrees out, with the wind chill factor, about 99 degrees. After I decide I’ve had enough I put the rest of it back in the little tube and throw it in a trash barrel nearby. I have a small vape pen with me and if I feel the need to use that on the trip I will figure out where the best place to do that will be. I’m certainly not going to try it on the actual train and get thrown off (this is me saying this a month after this trip and I’m lying).
My journey is supposed to begin at about 5:30 pm, the train will arrive in Washington DC on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PM where I then will have a seven-hour layover. Union Station in DC as you (may) know, is in the middle of everything so you can easily become a tourist and find seven hours of things to do. I had a bag with me that held a number of different charging cables and cords, a thin MacBook Air, an Amazon tablet, one 230-page book (softcover), one t-shirt, the usual toiletries and four albums I bought in Sarasota, FL. This bag is just heavy enough to be an annoyance around my shoulders but manageable. When I travel, especially by rail, I always keep this type of an “everything I need” bag with me. If I feel like I am going to fall asleep it’s between my legs on the floor with the straps wrapped around my legs. I barely sleep on vacation, especially if it’s a new place. Why waste your time with your eyes closed? Even if it is an endless stream of loading docks, silos, and small two-minute long towns that blur by. You’ll never remember a single one, but I like to at least see everything. The train ends up being about ninety minutes late, which is fine for me. I have now found a seat on a bench inside and I’m enjoying watching people come and go. I’ve always argued that although sometime it’s interesting to have your own soundtrack in earphones while you watch people go about their business, listening to the sounds of people is enough to keep me interested. Sure most conversations you catch are boring “Oh my cousin lives there”, “Wow so then you’re going to Wheaton College, that’s great”, etc. but I feel like I’m there. I don’t want to feel removed from anywhere unfamiliar. I never want to feel that, that’s the whole point of travel, even, quick mundane travel.
The train eventually boards, this trip will be relatively short, I am traveling coach. I would never be able to sleep on a train for more than an hour or two here and there, so getting a sleeper car is something I wouldn’t utilize. I get my own seat, on the left side of the car, put my big bag between my legs on the floor and am able to slide it under my seat, on the aisle seat I put a small grocery bag with some snacks, a magazine, etc. I call this a “soft reserve” If someone is coming down the aisle looking for a seat and see this little pile they might think someone is sitting there, or that I’m an asshole. The car is about half full so there’s no reason to sit next to a stranger. You know, unless you yourself are the asshole. I also have the luxury of resting mean guy face, so nobody is going to sit next to me. Well not until we hit Jacksonville, but hey this train hasn’t even left yet.
Sitting in my row, across the aisle is a young man, maybe 20 years old. Sideways baseball hat, laptop covered in stickers for shit I never understand, which I imagine is most likely snowboarding gear or something like that. We make eye contact and he gives me a nod for some reason. Outside to my left there are people hugging their loved ones, shaking hands and saying their goodbyes. I see an attractive young woman in her 20’s, she is dressed like a hippie. Sundress, and then just a bunch of necklaces and shit hanging off her elaborately braided hair as the hippies do. She is hugging a young man in his 20’s with a manbun, tattoos all over his body including his face, he’s got no baggage. They break apart and I watch her walk past my window and then out of view, sobbing hysterically. I’m jumping ahead but later that evening I see him cozied up with a new young lady in the next car.
The train eventually starts to move, and the first big stop will be Orlando, FL. Maybe fifteen minutes into the journey they announce over the PA that there is no smoking in any of the bathrooms and you will be ejected from the train if you are caught. Another fifteen minutes goes by and they make the same announcement, this time reiterating the fact that you really can’t be doing this. They also mention for the bigger stops where the train will have a longer ten-minute stop, you may get out of the train to smoke. When we hit Orlando I get out of the train and stand in an area where I use a vape pen with THC oil in it. I’m pretty sure marijuana is illegal in Florida, but I honestly don’t even worry about it a tiny bit. Living in Massachusetts and spending time in California where it is legal it seems ridiculous to me that this would even be an issue with anyone. Who walks up but my Travis Bickle buddy from the Tampa station. He doesn’t say anything to me but makes eye contact with me and then just kind of stands near me. I plan on doing this at every stop, not because I want to fall asleep but it will relax me enough to enjoy my surroundings with little stress. I immediately worry this guy is going to join me at every stop.
I get back on the train and notice the young man with the sideways baseball hat and his belongings are now gone. An hour or so goes by and he doesn’t show up. I see him in the café car when I get up to buy a cup of coffee. I make small talk with the woman sitting in front of me, an African-American woman with her eleven-year old son. They are traveling home to Baltimore, she is worried as she may miss her shuttle in DC to Baltimore since the train is running a couple of hours late. I hold back bragging that I am happy for the delay as it shaved a little time off of my seven-hour layover.
The next stop will be Jacksonville, FL. I step outside for a few minutes and get myself relaxed, it’s still really warm and the sun has now gone down. I notice Travis out of the corner of my eye just standing there doing nothing. I try to ignore him. I think too much about nothing sometimes. One thing about the train that I enjoy is the air conditioner is on so high it feels like we are outside…in Vermont…in November. This is okay to me but also, I literally have the clothes on my back with me, and one other t-shirt inside my bag. I’m wearing shorts, and my usual get up of two t-shirts and one button down black short sleeved Dickies shirt. I wear the same thing just about every waking moment of my life, and probably will continue to do so until I can’t. It’s easy and it’s one less thing to think about every morning. Some conductors will try to group travelers going to the same destination in the same cars. I imagine to make it easier to track people, so everyone going all the way to New York or Boston might all be in the same car. This train isn’t even close to being full so I imagine it’s harder to track people and how far they are going, etc. I also think there’s no real reason to do that on this undersold train.
I sit back down at my seat and decide I’m going to listen to a record called New Thing at Newport. It’s a record that was recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965 featuring sets by John Coltrane and Archie Shepp. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest live jazz records out there. It begins with a gentleman by the name of Father Norman James O’Connor giving an introduction to the set. He was a Catholic priest that was also a huge jazz fan (he also introduces Dave Brubeck and Duke Ellington on their respective Newport records) This Coltrane lineup is one of his many classic lineups with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on double bass and of Elvin Jones falling all over the drums. You know how when you put on Black Sabbath’s Paranoid on and War Pigs starts and you basically get immediately punched in the face? Or when Greg Ginn’s guitar opens the Damaged album and you want to throw your TV set through the window? That’s how the music hits when the band starts. If you’re into this kind of thing, you’re in for the ride immediately. When I say this record is one of the best live records I am exaggerating a little. I love the two Coltrane songs here (One Down, One Up and a fifteen-minute blown out My Favorite Things), the Shepp stuff is great but the Coltrane stuff is perfect. My plan is to put this thirty minutes or so of music on and watch the backs of buildings flash by me. I’m feeling good about this trip. On past extended train rides I’ve hung out in the café car and talked with all sorts of people. This trip feels more like a mission. I’m a patient person, but I also just don’t feel like interacting with anyone this time around.
So maybe two minutes into the first song of one of my favorite albums of all time I see a person out of the corner of my eye walking up and stand facing me. He is walking direct, he’s not looking up at the numbers of each seat like someone would do when directed to a specific seat. This is an important detail that justifies my immediate paranoia and dread. It’s Travis Bickle guy and he’s motioning at my “soft reserve” and me at the same time. I remove my earphones and say “what’s that?”
“Hey the conductor moved me to this seat”
I’m completely caught off guard and now immediately filled with confusion.
“This seat? Oh okay”
I move my stuff, he thanks me and sits down next to me. Most people I would immediately ask where they are going and maybe introduce myself. I put my earbud back in and stare out the window. The music is still playing but it’s now been snapped in half and opened. I don’t know where I was. I hate confrontation, especially from people I get a vibe from. He now has a flip phone out and is texting with it (like that, “hit a key three times to get a letter” style texting) Is he sending in the coordinates to the white power militia group he heads? “I found the man with the Agnostic Front lyrics tattooed on his forearm, blow the train up when we get to Savannah, he’ll be long asleep, he’s been hitting the weed vape at every stop now” After about ten minutes he gets up and leaves. I leave at one point to get something to eat in the café car and he is sitting by himself with a cup of coffee and his flip phone. He returns to the seat a few minutes later and I say
“Hey you know that kid over there left over two hours ago I bet you could sit there…this way we’ll both have more room too” He says “works for me” and now I’m pretty much never going to sleep on this train as I am convinced he is going to slit my throat in the middle of the night.
The woman in front of me I was talking with earlier in the night is having trouble getting the leg rest thing up and asks me to help. I am now kneeling in the aisle with my head essentially between this woman’s legs helping her lift the thing up, hoping her young son does not wake up. He doesn’t and I go back to my chair to watch the orange lights pass by my window. Neil Young Tonight’s The Night, Miles Davis – Dark Magus and Cocteau Twins – Treasure all get spins on this overnight journey. Perfect sounds to fade in and out of, waking up to different landscapes and colors. At some point I end up dozing off and eventually wake up in one of the Carolinas. I watch the grey sky slowly turn orange, eventually filling parts of the train with sunlight. Most people are awake when the sun comes up on the train. Every single person you see looks like absolute shit. Thankfully this train isn’t so full so the bathrooms have no lines and the café car is empty. I get myself coffee and a better than expected microwaved breakfast sandwich. We reach a bigger town in North Carolina and I see my creepy friend who really wasn’t that creepy leave the train and walk down the platform. That’s the last I see of him.
The remainder of the ride to Washington DC is uneventful, and long. A few more delays, as freight trains have the right of way, and now the good news is my seven-hour layover in DC is now a four and a half hour one. This seems much more manageable to me. The slow crawl into Union Station is showing me a side of DC I am not familiar with. I see the Washington Monument , the Jefferson Memorial and the Capitol Building in the distance, but all in quick bursts in between a bunch of ugly office and apartment buildings.
My original plan when this was going to be a seven-hour layover was to maybe grab some sort of public transportation or a ride sharing car and explore some of DC, maybe hit a museum or seven. I essentially would have an almost full workday of nothing to do. I even had a nice friend put a list of potential places together for me to check out. Me being me, I immediately feel bad she put the effort in and I didn’t even use the information. I would have though, and it was obviously appreciated. The plans were immediately crushed when I stepped outside of the train station. It was hotter than it was in Tampa when I left the night before, and way more humid. I could see the Capitol Building at the end of the street, but walking their seemed like a hell of a task. I took a picture or two and went back inside to search for dinner. I tend to have an extremely spotty track record when it comes to meals when I am traveling. Some trips I spend checking out small local holes in the wall people recommend, or places Guy Fieri visits. Say what you will about him, but some of the places he essentially gives free advertising to are pretty great. Even if he looks like he went to a stylist and said “Ummmm, give me ‘the date rape’ look” Other trips, if I’m feeling miserable or just needing to put something in my body I make extremely bad food choices. Today was no exception. Union Station is pretty much a shopping mall that trains come and go from. The basement level has a food court with a couple of curious places I’ve never heard of. Me though, I decide I am going to eat at Johnny Rockets (yeah, I know). If you’re not familiar with this establishment, it’s basically modeled after a 50’s diner, with burgers and fries, milk shakes etc. I think at some point if a certain song comes on the stereo the wait staff have to do this choreographed dance, at least they did in the 90’s when I had a friend who worked as a waitress at one. On a scale of 1-10 of chain restaurants I’d vote it a 4.5. There is one other customer in the restaurant, and she is sitting in a booth. I sit in the booth two away from her, facing her. I don’t know why I do this but I immediately hate that I did this and also am filled with anxiety about getting up and moving to the other side of the booth so I just stay put. This move was essentially the same move as the guy who uses the urinal right next to you when there are seven more open ones (Speaking of this, this is a real thing, “shy bladder”, I should know as I have it. Especially at work, where the men’s room has one urinal, and then three stalls to the right of it, he third being the luxury suite of the public restroom, the handicapped stall. If I walk in there and there is one person in there in a stall I will usually just turn around and walk out. Often times someone is walking in as I am walking in and I will walk up to the urinal and basically stand there with my thingy in my hand literally thinking in my head ‘they must hear that there’s nothing going on here’ – or as is most times, they will want to hold a conversation with me from the stall or the sink. If all of them men I work with knew how many conversations they’ve had with me while I’m just standing there with my hands on my dick that is doing absolutely nothing they might be horrified. I wonder if anyone has noticed me leaving the bathroom and then immediately walk back in six minutes later. I mean I could always say I have a bout of diarrhea) I order a burger and onion rings which are okay. I am only really in this restaurant for about twenty minutes.
Four hours to kill, I should go outside and get high on marijuana. It’s legal in DC. It’s now around 6:30 pm and my train leaves at 9:20 PM, to arrive back in Massachusetts at 8:30 am or so. I walk around looking for a store to go in or anything remotely interesting and find nothing. Instead of wasting money or eating more I grab a cup of coffee and sit on a bench among the other travelers. It’s a busy hot summer weekend day in the dead of summer. There is a large group of mostly teenagers and some adult chaperones all wearing the exact same t-shirt. They appear to be from some sort of Christian choir group on a field trip. They make a lot of noise and are running around acting like typical kids who are out of their normal situation. At one point in my life I would be annoyed with this but nowadays, it’s just kids being kids, I’m not really supposed to care about things like that. There’s better things to waste energy on.
Sometimes my ignorance gets me into trouble, sometimes it’s an innocent thing that doesn’t hold any significance to anything and sometimes it’s just me ignorantly stereotyping a person. A shorter, disheveled looking man is heading towards the seat to the left of me. He is wearing some sort of NASCAR shirt under a flannel shirt (remember the weather here), dirty jeans with holes in the knees, his light brown hair is lightly feathered under a faded baseball cap that I can’t read. He’s missing a tooth, not right in the front, but on the side. Despite his look and whole vibe I do note he has an attractive face, and upon closer look he has a tiny diamond stud in his left nostril. Dirty shaven with an emphasis on a mustache, but one of those light ones that guys named Dave who sold you weed in 1979 had. There’s another younger guy with him that sits down next to him. Between the two of them they have about five suitcases. I am sitting here with my bag on the floor between my legs, my coffee on the floor to the right of me and my phone is put away. I’m in people watching and listening mode. No music in my head, the soundtrack of a Saturday night in July in this busy train station in Washington DC has enough life in it to keep my eyes and ears darting around like a crack head. As soon as this man sits down we make eye contact and say hello, and he starts
“I’ve been battling with Amtrak customer service over there trying to get them to put us up. We missed out connecting train and now we have to wait until five-thirty tomorrow afternoon for the next one. That’s twenty-four hours away. I can’t stay in here, I have metal rods in my arm and we forgot my pain meds…”
He goes on and tells me he is a registered nurse, they are from South Carolina, he thinks his arms will start to hurt once night falls (he shows me scars on both forearms) and doesn’t want to resort to going outside and trying to buy drugs on the street, for fear that he could lose his nurses license. Not because that’s just a pretty fucked up thing to do. It’s still unclear how staying in a hotel would change that whole aspect of this situation, but I’m trying to at least listen. I have a few more hours to kill. Sometimes I enjoy talking to strangers, if I get a bad vibe or think they want something from me I’ll move on. I don’t get this from him. A tiny bit but the idea of money never comes up in any part of the conversation and that’s usually how scammers work. Maybe even something as small as mentioning the price of something they just had.
I now get a better look at the other guy with him, he’s much younger, maybe in his 20’s. Where the guy I’ve been talking with is a classic “Scrawny redneck” looking fellow, the younger guy who I assume is maybe his son or nephew is much bigger. His mouth just kind of hangs open and his wide eyes (one is crossed a little) are sort of just staring at nothing in particular. He seems like that guy in the group of friends you get to do crazy things like smash a TV set in front of a police station or light an alligator on fire. Those kinds of things.
I ask original guy where they are headed and receive a surprise I did not see coming.
“My husband here and I are heading to see his mom in Wisconsin, she is sick and he wants to spend time with her…” This is where I feel ignorant, or prejudiced. The fact that I was surprised to learn the relationship of these two men is ridiculous of me. Not that I am ever actively thinking of what the relationship of two random people is. Being blind to the idea that the only gay people are the ones I know who are musicians or writers, DJs, etc. There’s no social or economic background that changes anything, so silly of me.
I sit with these two for a few more minutes, and while they are nice people and harmless as far as I can tell, I just don’t feel like being part of anyone’s situation right now. I move on to go buy that inevitable bag of nuts that I literally will have for four months before I throw them in my garbage (Update: I ended up throwing them out just about three days ago, almost two months later) and a bottle of water. The wait for the train just about becomes unbearable when they finally board us.
This train is extremely empty, I have no worry that anyone will sit next to me (well until a man and his terrible son decide to sit directly in front of me and both immediately put their chairs all the way back and go to sleep – I make an audible “really?” and get up and move back one more row. Same guy as the pee next to you in the bathroom or the guy facing you in the terrible 4.5 rated hamburger and soda shop you’re in, this is him and his son. He’s teaching his son to be one of those people and I witnessed it. Have you noticed when you talk about bad driving practices with people you know 100 % of the time the person agrees with you. Are those bad people who do these kinds of things just out there having the same discussions with people “Can you believe it, I didn’t use my directional signal the other day and this guy beeped at me, what a jabroni!” These two also, before they sit have a hell of a time getting their luggage situated. All of the luggage is those hard plastic ones, they’re giant and at this point I just want to fall asleep. There is also a wife and daughter who sit two rows away from them – WTF? Right? – This family is European, maybe Swedish or German so I give them the benefit of the doubt and then I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt because what does that even mean?) and nobody does for the entire relatively short trip. I’m able to stretch out a little more. Unfortunately for everyone on this train they never turn the lights down low, so this overnight trip from Washington to Boston is basically in fluorescent light. I cure this by draping a Neurosis t-shirt over my head, occasionally a person walks by and is justifiably creeped out.
This hasn’t really been a long trip, or a very eventful one for that matter, but I am now a mixture of exhausted, wide awake and maybe stoned, I have no idea. Everything has a very surreal feel to it. This feeling has always been my favorite moment on train journeys. Sleep deprivation. With the right soundtrack and environment, it’s much cheaper and safer than tripping. As I sit there and peer under my makeshift hoodie outside the window and around the train, the final boss shows up. He’s short, like make fun of a person type short, but just in your head, has some sort of balding comb-over mullet Neil Diamond type hairdo. I imagine I am not the first person in the entire world that has seen this person and thought to themselves “That little fellow looks like an Oompa Loompa” He definitely looks a little shifty, he has one big bag with him that looks like it may weigh more than him. We arrive in New York City at 1:30 AM and the train is scheduled to sit here for about 45 minutes so I of course go out on the platform. We are underground now, so it’s just that heavy train station smell, it’s incredibly stuffy and hot but a relief as they have the air conditioning blasting inside. I decide to vape more marijuana, I have no idea if I even need to or should. This train is scheduled to arrive in Boston at 8:30 AM, there is then a train at 11:00 am that travels to Franklin, MA which is the town next to me. From there I will schedule a ride sharing company to drive me the six miles back to my house. I realize I can get off the train in Providence, RI at 7:45 am which is about a half hour from my house. I’ll get a ride from there, that makes more sense. That’s the best plan anyway. I don’t really want to sit in another train station and wait three hours to get on yet another train. That’s the plan, yeah. A normal person might just not get any higher at this point. Well not a normal person, but my best idea is to just stay awake the last seven hours of this journey. I’ve barely slept much anyway, what’s one other night?
The final boss approaches me as I stand there on the platform far beneath Madison Square Garden.
“Hate these long layovers, I wanna get home” he says
“How far you going?” I ask him
“Hartford, but I’m from Providence”
He has a generic Northeastern accent, part Long Island, part Boston, part Rhode Island. And then he gets into it
“They cleaned it up up there” he motions to above us
“Used to take this trip all the time, Back in the day you get an hour wait here you’d go up there and get with any woman up there”
“Yeah I remember there was a half hour layover and I went up there and met a woman in an alley and she sucked my dick for twenty bucks, right then and there”
“Oh wow, yeah?”
Is it cool? Not really, to have that done to me standing in a dirty alley with the added anxiety of missing the train if they don’t hurry up, that sounds like an experience where you’d have to pay me. I let my new friend that I’m going back inside and try to sleep. I watch him standing out there after I return to my seat, he’s swinging his arms back and forth waiting for someone to talk to, he’s not smoking or anything. This feeling of loneliness and melancholy sweeps over me, not just for him, but anyone I briefly paid attention to on this trip, and myself. When I think of people like this, myself included just going through life not really noticed by anyone. We have these stories we always want to tell someone no matter how absurd they may be, or how non-eventful they may be. Everyone has them and even when they are some sort of testosterone fueled “hey check it out just because I’m small I get blow jobs” trying to impress another dude story, it still holds some weight. How sad would it be if you went through life and never got to tell anyone a story?
I’m contemplating this kind of thing while I drift in and out of sleep which I am completely unaware of and finally come to and realize we have passed Providence Rhode Island and I will now be spending four hours in South Station on a Sunday morning in Boston. I could technically take a ride share from here but the idea of small talk for forty-five minutes in a stranger’s car at this mental state sounds like a nightmare. Instead I grab a coffee and find a table to sit at, I take my earbuds out and listen to the sounds of a Sunday morning in my home town. It’s nice to be home and hear the accents, and laughs and conversations. No need for me to pay much attention here. I’m from here and I know everyone’s story, the good ones, the bad ones and ones like this one where nothing happens but I felt like I wanted to tell it.
The first time I heard the song Flower by Soundgarden I shit my pants. I lost interest in hardcore and punk rock after I graduated high school. Nobody was doing anything new that interested me anyway (I’ve since gone back and discovered a lot of good stuff I missed in the 90’s but that’s words for another time) I had taken a break from “classic rock” and traditional metal like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc while spending a good chunk of my teenage years immersed in the hardcore scene. The first thing I thought of when I heard Flower was the intro to the song sounded like Led Zeppelin with Morrissey moaning along for a couple measures. And then it kicked in and it was all Led Zeppelin, or something. I couldn’t put my finger on what it sounded like. It was new and fresh and that was the moment I discovered this whole other world of music that started happening. Soundgarden were at the very top of this world, no question.
I can’t think of another band I have seen in so many different size venues in Boston and beyond, from The Rat, The Paradise (with VoiVod and Faith No More!), Avalon, Axis (with COC and Danzig!), Worcester Centrum with Guns n’ Roses, Hollywood Palladium with Monster Magnet, Great Woods in Mansfield, MA at Lollapalooza and probably a couple more I’m forgetting. They seemed to always be on tour in the 90’s, I never missed them. That first show at The Rat after Ultramega OK came out, Kim Thayil stood out to my brother and I. We thought he resembled Tommy Chong, and of course they then ended the show with a cover of Earache My Eye. As amazing as Cornell’s voice was, it didn’t hit me right away. The music and riffs were what I really dug. That changed when Louder Than Love was released and at the next show I saw, at Axis. They opened with Beyond the Wheel and Cornell’s voice was out of this world. That song is made for him. It’s one of those songs nobody should ever attempt to cover. If he was away from the microphone or when it went out his voice would still carry throughout the venue. And this band was fucking loud. They closed that night with one of my top three songs by them, the “doomy” I Awake. I shit my pants again. Every time I saw them after this show my eyes never wandered further away from Cornell. That voice, and even as a heterosexual male, let’s admit it, the guy was obviously pretty easy on the eyes. I never got to see Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden fast became my Led Zeppelin. A larger than life rock band that was loud, sexy, perfect in every sense.
Up to Louder than Love the lyrics on Soundgarden records didn’t connect with me that well, there was always a mix of humor and clever lines like Hands All Over’s environmental “you’re gonna kill your mother” line but nothing mind blowing. When Badmotorfinger came out that changed for me. The lyrics on that record connected to me, they were smart, sad, hopeful, funny, everything my 20 something Stussy hat sporting self needed. Mind Riot and Slaves and Bulldozers immediately come to mind as ones I wish I wrote.
I am at work and can’t really spend all morning writing about Chris Cornell and how big of a deal he was to me, but reading the number of posts from friends who also spent a good amount of their life loving this man’s music I felt like needed to get something out of myself. Every post and little tribute has been refreshing to see in a week of generally crappy things to read on the internet. It took me the entirety of their existence to figure out how and why I loved this man and his band so much. It was and still a long fruitful relationship that has aged well for me. All of their music (Okay, I never liked Spoonman, not to be that guy but) is still listenable, and the reissues they have been releasing have reawakened my interest in them. Thanks to a number of unreleased tracks on all of them you can see how Cornell put some of these songs together and why he was such a monster songwriter and top tier musician. Some of these bigger musicians dying the last few years (Bowie, Prince, etc) have been sad, but this one got my eyes watery this morning when I saw it on the TV in between stories about how sunny and warm it was going to be today and how surreal and sad the government is right now. Cornell was on a Lennon/Townsend/Jagger level for me. On a positive note I still have hours of timeless music to listen to escape to.
Woke up depressed
I left for work
You have a good day
It’s not your fault
I know it hurts
Remember, I love you, love you
Remember, I love you, love you
Woke up depressed
I left for work
You have a good day
It’s not my fault
I know it hurts
“So did we ever…you know?”
“Umm, no we never did that”
(Are we really having this conversation?)
“Well because you said you were good friends with your landlord and felt weird having sex in her building”
(I mean also because the first time you kissed me was three minutes after we finished a half-drunk game of Yahtzee. Well, you were half drunk. I was drinking Sprite. You had your hand in a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips that you had been snacking on throughout the night. If I know potato chips, they leave behind a lot of remnants in one’s mouth. So I still have vivid memories of that first kiss, where I was transferred some of the remnants of said sour cream and onion potato chips. The landlord thing was certainly part of why we never had sex, but I didn’t want to bring up the chips while you and your friend were coincidentally sharing a basket of tortilla chips)
“Oh okay, I wasn’t completely sure”
(How do you not remember who you’ve had sex with? Also, in retrospect, that’s kind of an insult! I can remember the women I’ve been with, fooled around with once, dated briefly or for years. A good chunk of those women, are connected to The Cure and my history with that band so it was no surprise a random girl I dated for a month almost a decade ago would pop back into my head the night of a Cure concert)
My friend Michelle sent me a message a few days before this show saying she may have an extra ticket and if so I can have it, and if I’ll drive. Deal. I tend to never get tickets when they go on sale at this point. There’s no real reason to, especially with all the buying options out there, and friends on social media going. If you can’t find a ticket to a concert the week of in 2016 you’re not trying. Also, I’m never dropping however much money people spend on beer and drinks at shows so I’m willing to pay a bit more for a ticket if I need to.
Michelle and I got to the venue early and grabbed dinner nearby. We’ve been friends for a few years online, met once in person while I was working the door at a bar six months ago but never hung out so it was nice to be able to drive and chat and sit down to dinner and chat instead of meeting up at a show and not having time to talk. She is similarly minded as me I think, and is hilarious in person as she is online. It’s good to have friends like this.
There was a woman sitting to my right alone who at one point ordered two drinks. At one point I look up and approaching the table is a girl I recognize immediately as the sour cream and potato chip girl. I have no idea what her name is at this point. I struggle with the guilt of this lapse in memory later as I judge her for forgetting if she had sex with a particular person. When I realize forgetting someone you played Yahtzee with isn’t that big of a deal I move on. Emotionally. We exchange pleasantries, she even says her name for some reason, probably sensing my lapse. I introduce her to Michelle
“This is my FRIEND Michelle”
When it’s time to leave Michelle is well ahead of me and pretty much outside when she stops me and asks
“So did we ever…you know?”
We get to the venue and of course run into Yahtzee woman and her friend again who are sitting in THE SAME SECTION AS US. That’s the last interaction we have with them.
Just as that is happening the band is suddenly on the stage and you can hear some sort of noodling around on stage for a few minutes. I think it’s maybe some sort of pre-recorded thing playing and then realize they are opening with “Open” from 1992’s Wish. I posted about them hopefully opening with this on Facebook earlier in the day so that was exciting. I mean not really but it was a tiny personal victory I celebrated inside my head alone in a venue surrounded by thousands of people.
They followed Open with five songs from what may be my favorite Cure album, The Head on the Door. It was the first record I heard by them, it’s short and has catchy pop songs and just enough darkness to at least place it in the top five essential albums in their catalog. When I first heard the record I was heavily immersed in the hardcore scene, especially what was happening there with all of the new more metal sounding bands like Corrosion of Conformity and D.R.I. The Cure was a quirky thing for me at the time. I wasn’t married to hardcore and metal, I grew up loving The Beatles and later on Squeeze and Joe Jackson and The Clash so the Cure was kind of natural for me. I think this era of the Cure is right before they would get the badge of being that band you put on a mix tape for the girl at the book store, or the band you were a sad sap for listening to. That wouldn’t start happening until the next record, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.
This was also around the time I was dating my high school girlfriend I was with for about two years. After getting burned by my first girlfriend in junior high I was a slightly paranoid boyfriend. I was one of those dudes. It was early in life and I’m not even remotely like that at this point, but yeah I could get jealous.
My brother got tickets to see them at the Orpheum in October of 1985. October 25th to be exact. My girlfriend mentioned a party her and her friend were going to the same night as the show. The party they were going to was being hosted by a boy her and her friends thought was cute. I can still remember him. He was that weird quiet misfit kid. Like the one in that movie American Beauty who films the grocery bag. I was bummed she would be going to this party so I tried getting out of going to the show but couldn’t. And of course nothing happened aside from me being able to be that obnoxious guy that says things like “Oh, cool, yeah I saw them in 1985” Hanging out with that high school girlfriend years later she did admit that her and the weird quiet misfit kid had sex after she and I broke up which was a horrible thing to tell a person.
Back here in 2016 they follow the dark and brooding Sinking with three songs in a row from Disintegration (Pictures of You, Closedown [like on the album] and Fascination Street) and then on to Hot Hot Hot !!! from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (God I’m sick of typing that out over and over. Wish they played more from Wish, or Faith) was a soundtrack of a whole crush I had on a girl who turned out to be my cousin. I swear I can explain. She was a cousin as her aunt married my mother’s cousin. This would have been around a year after Pretty in Pink came out (February, 1986) The Cure album with too many words in it came out in May of 1987. Me and, I’ll call her Elizabeth became friends when my uncle introduced me to her at a family event. When I found out she wasn’t related by blood it was over. She became Molly Ringwald. Had red hair, wore those hats, may have even had “The Rave-Ups” written on her book cover (doubtful) for all I know. We spent many nights driving around Swampscott and Nahant, Ma parking and listening to that album. I was a scared baby with this kind of thing so I never made any kind of move at all. Neither did she and we just remained friends.
A couple of years later we would go to a Cure show together, it was the Disintegration tour, well “The Prayer Tour” I had seen them a couple of more times and was going to both nights. She went with me one night and I went with another friend or maybe my brother another night. The night we went at one point in the show I was yawning and my eyes got all watery. I consciously thought that if she looks at me she’s going to think I’m crying. And low and behold the next day she told one of her friends about it and they told two friends, and so on and so on…I get told by a friend “Hey dude Elizabeth said you were crying at that Cure show”
I hope I didn’t reply “Boys don’t cry”
The band bounced around their immense catalog of music throughout the remainder of their thirty-one song set. Once you get rid of any kind of disappointment you may have if they don’t play a particular song, seeing The Cure is always an amazing treat live.
I was hesitant seeing them in a hockey arena as the last place I saw them was in a nice old theater in Los Angeles (performing their first three albums and a host of other rarities) and it was probably the best time I’ve ever seen them. I was by myself at that show, thousands of miles away from seeing anyone I know, far away from Molly Ringwald and Yahtzee girl. This show here in 2016 was just as important, and if it ends up being the last time I see them it at least has an amusing bookend to it running into that girl, and spending the time with a good friend, meeting a few new people and seeing other friends.
Also, because of how we were sitting (me on the inside, and Michelle on the seat closer to the aisle, with me facing the stage and her essentially behind me) she didn’t see me get a little misty in the eyes during Just Like Heaven.