Episode 61 is a conversation with Randy Larsen, this is the second time Randy has been on the podcast.You may know him from his bands Cable and Empty Flowers. On this pretty free form episode we have a conversation about various subjects including the ending of Cable, a new musical project he’s involved in now as well as a bunch of different bands we go back and forth about. This was a lot of fun and I love talking to Randy about music, especially in a loose format like this.
Episode 57 is a candid conversation with my friend Keith Bennett. This is Keith’s second appearance on the podcast, the first episode (# 14) was an origin story about how he got into music, his bands, most notably The Wrecking Crew & Panzerbastard. Recorded in early April 2020 during the Coronoavirus pandemic this episode starts off pretty dark and then I throw some records at him, the second DYS album, Celtic Frost – Cold Lake, and other divisive albums from our world we talk a bit about those types of records as well as when el established bands would change singers. I had a great time talking to Keith, his love and passion for this music is deep and real and I’m glad I got to take us there for an hour.
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
In August of 1985 the mighty Corrosion of Conformity played in Cambridge, Massachusetts at The Christ Church along with Post Mortem, PTL Klub, Executioner and The Offenders who were the buzz of the hardcore scene at the time. C.O.C had been around previous to this gig. I saw them a year before with Battalion of Saints and the Outpatients at the Paradise with the four piece line up, and also as a four piece with D.OA and The Freeze even before that at the Northeastern YMCA which held a few great shows for a little while (ummm, Void, Agnostic Front, Murphy’s Law, Kilslug and Siege on one bill? Good times!) They always put on one of the most intense shows you could see around this time. Just a loud thundering wall of sound coming out of three guys. At this particular show I remember there were a number of fights, something happened with the PA at one point forcing the band to perform an instrumental version of “Loss for Words”.
Also of note were openers Executioner, one of Boston’s more underground metal bands at the time. The reason a lot of these shows were happening (metal bands and hardcore bands playing together) was a result of guitar player Marc Johnson who was booking a lot of these shows. Executioner in true Spinal Tap fashion emerged on stage as smoke machines went off which then set off the fire alarms, almost shutting the show down. Marc and Executioner really did play a huge role in the history of hardcore and metal in Boston and any discussion about “the scene” without mentioning him or his band would indicate “you weren’t there”. They certainly weren’t the best band around but their presence was huge to kids like me. Also their song Victims of Evil was pretty awesome.
I was doing a fanzine at the time called One Step Forward. I was interviewing some great bands, and even as an awkward quiet 15 year old I never felt like I couldn’t approach an artist for an interview. At one point I was introduced to Brian Walsby or became pen pals with him, I don’t remember. He may or may not have helped set up the interview but obviously at this point, I can’t remember. Also of note in the van with us was a young lady named Lisa Carver who later went by the name “Lisa Suckdog”. Her and I were pen pals and she came down to Cambridge from New Hampshire to see the show and sat in for part of the interview near the end. Her questions are, ummm, exactly as they were printed in my zine…I was 15 years old during this interview so some of the questions are obviously kind of bland.
In subsequent visits to Boston, even as late as the Blind era, Corrosion of Conformity always put on an intense show and Reed Mullin always took the time to say hello, remembered my name and was a generally great guy. They are apparently touring with this lineup soon and hopefully I’ll make it out to one of them. For more info on those new shows, check out their website
The blurry pictures here are from the show. Once I get a scanner set up I will scan the pages from the actual fanzine.
An interview with Reed Mullin (drums) and some comments by Brian Walsby
OSF: Okay first off, where do you think you fit in: metal or hardcore?
Reed: Metal or hardcore? Definitely hardcore, don’t you think?
Brian: I think you’re definitely hardcore
OSF: Well, some people call you “metal”
Reed: Well look, I can’t even do a drum solo…Woody can’t play “Eruption”. I consider us more a hardcore band than anything else, lyrically and musically I think – (bassist/vocalist Mike Dean opens van door) Get out of here Mike Dean!
Reed: Get out of here
Reed: Lyrically, definitely. I don’t think we have anything in common at all to do with heavy metal lyrics. We’re influenced I guess by Black Sabbath, Black Flag and Bad Brains.
Mike: I hate heavy metal
Reed: You don’t hate heavy metal, you’re just saying that to irritate people
OSF: When did COC form?
Reed: June 1982 in Woody’s basement. We just practiced a little, played parties and so on. When we started none of knew how to play so we did GBH covers and stuff like that
OSF: How would you compare this new record (Animosity) to the first record (Eye for an Eye)?
Reed: I like the first one a lot. I liked the songs, but I hated the production, the production was just really bad. It was really disappointing, and our old singer’s vocals were really bad on it. The new one, the production on side one of is a lot better
OSF: Who produced it?
Reed: The guys from Metal Blade…well we produced it, but it was engineered by them. It was recorded in a better studio. Side two was done at the same place we did “Eye for an Eye”
OSF: What do you think of Satanic lyrics?
Reed: I think they’re cool just because they open people’s minds. They irritate Christians I guess. As long as you don’t take it too seriously it’s pretty funny. I don’t know, that Satanic stuff has been so overplayed it’s cliche
OSF: Do you think you sound better as a three-piece?
Reed: Things move a lot faster because me and Mike Dean sing. All our old singers were really slow in learning lyrics. As far as live stuff, I think we’re lacking a bit. But our old singe he was a real nice guy, he just couldn’t sing. I think I like the three piece better
OSF: What do you do when no playing in the band?
Reed: I work for my dad as a secretary, and I set up all the shows in Raleigh. That’s about it, my job is nine to five.
OSF: How old are all of you?
Reed: I’m 19, our guitarist Woody just turned 20 and Mike is 20 or 21, I’m not sure.
OSF: What are you listening to for music?
Reed: Right now my favorite bands are Descendents, Honor Role, Bad Brains and Rudimentary Peni, that’s what I’m listening to most. I like millions of different things; I like Slayer, Exodus and Venom, and some reggae.
OSF: Who’s idea was it to cover “Green Manilishi”?
Reed: Well Woody was in a heavy metal band, heavy metal cover band before he was in COC and he used to do it so we thought it would be funny if we just tried it. We did it and thought it was funny so we kept doing it.
OSF: What happened last time you were supposed to play here?
Reed: Well we were ready to go, I mean everything was packed up and ready to go, and then our car wouldn’t start, and it was our alternator. We got a new alternator at the last minute and while we were putting that if we poked a hole in the radiator.
Lisa: How did you get together?
Reed: Me and Woody went to school together for a while, and Mike Dean moved up from a southern city and we just started practicing in Woody’s basement
OSF: Do you guys like Elvis?
Reed: Which one?
OSF: Well I saw Elvis Presley stickers all over the van…
Reed: Elvis Presley was pretty cool I guess. All of these stickers are from Toxic Shock. They moved their store into a head shop and they had all of these stickers left over so we just took them
(some guy is is trying to look into the tinted windows of the van)
Brian: What the hell is this guy doing?
Lisa: Do you guys have advice for beginning bands?
Brian: Go metal, that’s where the bucks are!
Lisa: Do you get along with Boston Bands?
Reed: Which ones?
Lisa: Minor Threat
All: Minor Threat???
OSF: SSD, DYS…
Reed: I think all the Boston bands are great
Lisa: Do you have day jobs?
Reed: Woody works as a jeweler and I work as a secretary and Mike Dean works for me
Brian: It should be said that both Reed and Woody work for their own families
Reed: Brian Walsby mooches
Brian: I just mooch off of Reed
Reed: Brian Walsby’s a moocher
Brian: Hey Reed can I have some money, I’ll pay you back
Reed: I wanna go see The Offenders
OSF: Any last comments
Reed: Have a good day
OSF: Have a day
When I think of where I started in hardcore I think back to junior high school in Swampscott. Two different events, one of them has to do with me buying weed off of one of the three known punk rockers in the town at that time (1982). The other time would be in my class when we had a substitute teacher named Mrs Quint. I had heard about her. She was supposedly this really nice woman, and she was. On the desk when we arrived for class she had a couple of stapled together booklets that said “Suburban Punk” on them. I picked one up and leafed through it. She told me it was her son’s “fanzine” I was curious enough to read some of it and then kind of forget about it. Around the same time my great aunt told me of her nephew Al who was in a band called SS Decontrol. She had a copy of the first record. It looked poorly put together and silly to me. I was used to Iron Maiden album covers. Fast forward to the following spring when I needed to buy weed. One of my burnout friends directed me to this kid Peter who was “kind of weird, a punk rocker” Peter and I became good friends, he played me a number of hardcore records, namely the compilations “Not So Quiet On the Western Front” put out by Maximum Rock and Roll and the Flex Your Head compilation put out by Dischord. We would spend days in Peter’s basement bedroom in Swampscott listening to Minor Threat, MDC, Misfits, SSD, Crass, Rudimentary Peni and just about anything else that fell under the hardcore or punk rock umbrella. Peter told me there was a show coming up at a club called the Channel. The bands were Channel 3 and Kraut, and his friend Al Quint would drive us in along with Al’s friend and Suburban Punk photographer Paul. Al was friendly and had an encyclopedic knowledge of punk rock music. He had his nose broken that day in the pit. This was the beginning of a friendship that is still here thirty-two years later.
Although Al and I aren’t as close as we were, we spent a good amount of time in the late 80’s in our band Shattered Silence. The first lineup I played bass and he sang, I eventually traded places with Al and took over the microphone, mostly during my time as a (non-racist, duh!) skinhead. We even did a brief set at Al’s wedding to his long time amazing wife Ellen. Al and I also worked together at a used record shop called Rockit Records, often commuting in together. At a certain point in the early 90’s I stopped going to hardcore shows; I missed the whole “early 90’s” thing that is apparently “a thing” Although I continued listening to hardcore music I didn’t really think of myself as part of that scene anymore. I certainly wasn’t one of those folks we heard about in all of those songs who “turned their back on the scene” but I just lost interest.
In the last few years as social media has taken over everything I met a group of people on a private message board from different eras of the hardcore scene. Most of the discussion generally has nothing to do with the hardcore scene, hardcore music and more with making fun of people once they leave the private group. Some of the folks on here I knew in real life, and some I had never met. We had a couple of meet ups in person and then one particularly great one at a Seven Seconds show last August that I wrote about here. That night was great, great new friends with a common background against the back drop of one of the best hardcore bands from back in the day (at least for us). I felt like I did when I went to shows as a teenager, hanging out with similar people and seeing our favorite bands that you could easily approach and talk to. “Hey that’s Kevin Seconds just leaning on the van talking to Hank from Slapshot’s ‘wake up Hank we’re off the line!’ no big deal” It is kind of a big deal for people like me. I guess it would be the same as if your parents saw Paul Simon leaning against his Prius talking to Phil Donahue. The only difference is these popular faces in the hardcore scene aren’t on some pedestal or hidden back stage. Often you could call or write these people (Tony Erba from Fuck You Pay Me hilariously recalled on stage calling Al Quint whose phone number was in the credits of his zine) When I realized who my cousin was (Al from SSD) I got his number from my great aunt and would often call him to talk about “the scene”. This was after “Get it Away“ came out so the last thing he wanted to talk about was hardcore. He did give me a list of albums I should buy. In retrospect I realized he just told me to go buy all of the records on X-Claim! I’m pretty sure he talked about AC/DC and the band’s “new direction” And hey I do like some of “How We Rock” Al Quint sort of became one of these “legends” in the hardcore scene, not just in Boston. I mean there is literally a picture that exists of him singing with his arm around Ian MacKaye from a Minor Threat show. The closest I have to this is a picture of me in the crowd at a U2 era Seven Seconds show with an ill advised mustache…that and half of my face is on the original pressing of “Break Down the Walls”
Al had been contacting me off and on through the years to do a Shattered Silence reunion something I imagined nobody would ever care about. We never released anything official and I really just didn’t feel like playing hardcore music in my 30’s or 40’s. When he contacted me for this recent gig, for his 55th Birthday at first I was apprehensive and after some thought I decided why not? After a somewhat depressing few months in my personal life this could be a great outlet for me to get my head somewhere else. We recruited long time friend Ian to play guitar, I would play bass, Al would sing. Our original drummer could not do it for personal obligations so we recruited another friend of Ian’s, Jimmy to play drums. I couldn’t be happier than with this line up.
A number of messages between the four of us started happening, Al picked out some songs we would do (I immediately shot down my song “Aqua Net Crew” which was embarrassing to do when I was 17, at 45 I don’t know if I could sing the lines “I wish I looked like Robert Smith but I need something to color my hair with” with a straight face) Instead we went with our song about Oliver North. We would do a handful of Shattered Silence songs, and some covers (Might Makes Right by Negative FX/Slapshot, Always Restrictions by Discharge, Can’t Tell No One by Negative Approach)
Our first practice went great. I learned right off the bat Jimmy was an encyclopedia of old hardcore songs and could jump in to any of the brief jams on cover songs we fooled around with (Black Flag, SSD, Slapshot, etc.) Our second attempt at a practice only kind of happened because of a communication issue and it was just Al, Ian and myself. Playing hardcore without drums is kind of a useless exercise really. No worries, we’d pick it up a few days later with the whole band. A couple of snow day cancellations later and we were ready to meet up again. We all got to the practice spot in South Boston at the same time only to discover we didn’t have keys to get in. A week before the show. On the drive back we noticed the spot where the famous Channel club was, we decided to get out and take some photos and a hilarious video of Al and Ian “stage diving” into a snow bank. I passed on the snow bank stage dive because the camera adds about 40 pounds to me. We got two more practices in the week of the show and nailed everything. Everyone left the last night happy and confident.
The night of the show was great. I met up with friends for dinner beforehand, got to the hall and was not the least bit nervous. Outside of hardcore I had been playing guitar in bands and played many shows, this show would be different though. I felt like I wasn’t a boring 45-year old guy reliving his youth, it felt like an actual thing. Playing music in front of people, some originals nobody has ever heard for the most part and a few covers. People danced, sang along, celebrated Al and hardcore music, it was great. The three other bands were all amazing, Stranger, Fuck You Pay Me and Dropdead. The intensity with which all of the other bands played was amazing and if you didn’t feel it while watching you were probably wasted or dead.
(Photo by DJ Murray)
I can’t really get into writing about my experience on stage playing aside from saying it was cathartic and perfect and look forward to doing it a couple of more times. I drove home by myself slow and carefully on the snowy highway listening to John Coltrane to bring my head back down to earth with a different type of cacophony but still coming from the same place.
(photo by Liz Coffey)
I took one good long look at the rug of the hotel lobby, and realized I would be in for, at the very least, an interesting stay.
She broke my concentration
“Your room is around the back, 113. Enjoy your stay.”
“Thanks” I replied and walked out into the thick pea soup air.
August was a hot month for North Carolina. I had already withstood a week of this nasty hot weather, but today was extra brutal. I walked by the pool on the way to my room and noticed an old white-as-a-ghost man sitting by the pool. We both made eye contact, and then broke when a young boy jumped into the pool screaming something unintelligible.
The smell of a new motel room is always nice, like a new car. After the stale ashtray of my car’s interior, any new smell is always greeted with a pleasant sigh. One time, I was in Pittsburgh, or rather outside of Pittsburgh. My reservation should have been changed weeks before, but I didn’t, so I stayed in some small blue collar town with all kinds of factories and Ford trucks, and men with mustaches, and white people with nice SUV’s and black people with dirty sidewalks, and fast food restaurants filled with acne covered Puerto Rican boys. This was the epitome of traveling to me. The people who lived in these towns I passed through. The people that live and breathe the towns always make me feel unwelcome. “People watching” is a favorite way to pass time when I have time between travel days.
So I’m in this outskirt of Pittsburgh and I show up at this run down motel that is in between a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a McDonalds, and about nine hundred other generic signs burned into your brain. I get the key to my room. Before I even open the door, I am greeted with an odor that makes me practically gag. It’s the smell of a room that apparently had someone smoke maybe a carton of cigarettes (in a row) in a room with an air conditioner blasting (with a dirty filter). Not wanting to deal with this for more than five more minutes I did what any smart traveler would do, I fumigated the room with steam. This was a trick I learned…that day. “Improvisational fumigation” I turned the shower, as well as the sink on full blast and turned the heat all the way up on both of them. The steam started pouring out of the bathroom swiftly. First little puffs of steam here and there, until eventually I had the Iron Maiden stage set (during the pre Bruce Dickinson era, Killers [Paul D’ianno, vocals] tour of course. As later tours seemed to have specific themes, like the Egyptian/Graveyard mood on the Powerslave tour, or the Blade Runneresque Somewhere In Time tour. The room started to get unbearably hot, so I opened the door, with a good weeks worth of facial hair, and a cigarette dangling out of my mouth to discover a family loading into the room next to me. I made eye contact and said hello to the wife first, the young daughter, and then to the father, as what must have looked like a scene from a Fellini film took place behind me, and eventually around me. Smoke and steam can have a cool effect sometimes. If used in an original manner such as greeting a family from Connecticut in the midst of trying to fumigate your room from the smell of cigarette smoke (while yourself smoking), one feels like some sort of character. The smell did eventually go away, and I never saw the family again the rest of my stay.
I rested easy that night, as the stench was gone, and in a day or two, Pittsburgh would be a dim memory for me.
Back to North Carolina.
I get to my room and it smells wonderful.
“That new car smell!” I think to myself.
I throw the television on as usual, and go outside to get the rest of my stuff. A suitcase full of clothes, clean and dirty, a messenger bag filled with notebooks and journals filled with bad art, and worse memories, three CD cases filled with a total of 500 CD’s, and my trusty boom box. I can’t sleep in the dead silence, as my ears ring all the time and it keeps me awake, so I lull myself to sleep with anything from Miles Davis to Black Sabbath. Heavy metal is easy to go to sleep to actually. I set up the boom box and throw in the Duke Ellington trio CD (definitely one of the best things the Duke ever did in my humble opinion. With Charles Mingus and Max Roach rounding out the rhythm section, how can you get a better trio than that?) and immediately skipped to Caravan (track 8, which when one looks at the history of Track 8’s from tons of releases, you’ll see the attraction to this sacred home in album sequencing history, check it out: Bowie’s Man Who Sold the World: seven tracks before getting to the title track, Van Morrison gives us the beautiful When That Evening Sun Goes Down eight tracks in on Tupelo Honey, the Beach Boys Pet Sounds boasts (arguably) the greatest song they did in God Only Knows eight tracks in, my favorite track on the brilliant Stones Exile on Main Street, Sweet Black Angel is guess what, track eight. Even the Beatles knew what they were doing when they put the creepy Happiness is a Warm Gun 8 tracks in on the White Album. The Smashing Pumpkins Gish offers the listener Tristessa at number eight, T-Rex gives us Telegram Sam eight tracks into The Slider. This is obviously not an accident. Track 8 will be revered for years to come as the key spot to hook the listener and make a classic record just that, a classic record. One example of this not happening is on the seminal Replacements record Let it Be, where the weakest track on the record Seen Your Video is erroneously given the coveted track 8 spot. The albums best song actually opens the record as I Will Dare, or arguably opens “side two” with My Favorite Thing. There are good arguments for both songs. I Will dare boasts the best pop hook in the history of guitar playing this side of You Really Got Me, where My Favorite Thing presumably filled thousands of mix-tapes throughout the eighties. Both are great songs regardless.), one of my favorite songs of all time, made most famous by Dizzy Gillespie. I turned the volume down on the television set and started to fade off.
I dreamt of this big mountain I was driving on. It felt like I was driving for hours as my eyeballs felt like dry golf balls whatever that means. I was hot in the car as I drove down this huge mountain, and it surrounded me. There was mist and fog along the sides of the mountain that made it impossible to see how high up I was. My ears were filled with hot air. I felt all of this vividly in this dream. Perhaps it was the actual long hours I had been driving in reality, mixed with a steady diet of caffeine, nicotine, and THC I was living on for days that made me have such rich, alive dreams. So I’m on this thing driving not really knowing where I’m supposed to be going in the dream. Just following everyone else for the most part. Everyone is going just fast enough to make it uncomfortable, and unsafe. I feel like I am going to drive off the mountain. In the dream I am with someone else, they sit in the back seat, each time I look in the rear view mirror to see them they turn their head away so I can’t see their face. They sometimes obscure their face without turning their head confusing me even more, as I try to concentrate on gravity and speed at the same time. I picture the car driving off of the side of the mountain into the woods. Traveling at speeds well over one hundred miles an hour, this is a very real vision within a dream. I picture the car tumbling violently over jagged rocks and tree branches breaking, and the contents of my car being thrown around like balls in one of those bingo things. I picture myself landing though, and walking away from the car. Nobody is in the back seat. A bunch of broken picture frames and empty coffee cups litter the area in and around the car. I manage to get the crushed trunk open with the help of a piece of the bumper (?) and retrieve my most coveted possession, the boom box, and the CD’s. I start walking through the barren woods, knowing well I can’t climb back up the valley and make it to the highway above. I go through the CD’s and find Simon and Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and put it in the boom box and begin my descent into the woods.
I awaken to what sounds like someone hammering nails into a giant aluminum silo. I look out the window, and the father from the family is actually packing things into his car. I can’t figure out what he was doing to make such a racket, but I keep investigating. Pretty soon the mother, followed by the daughter come out of the room and start talking to the father. What looks like an argument turns into a kiss on the cheek from both women as they leave the parking lot and walk towards the gas station across the street.
The family is a foreign thing to me. I can’t really imagine what kind of things go with being a family person. Here I am traveling around the country in my car to amuse myself. I have a ton of money to just waste on nothing but rare blues records and cigarettes, and this guy probably has an agenda each day. “Today we need to leave the hotel room at seven in the morning so we can make our way to Hershey Park by noon. At ten o’clock this evening we will go to dinner at this restaurant I found in the travel book. This is what will go down. This is how my family will spend their vacation” Me, I’m showing up in these towns and cities and grabbing the yellow pages and looking for used record stores, book stores, and whatever else to look at along the way.
I close the drapes in the room and walk over to the boom box, The Ellington CD probably stopped playing 7 hours ago. I press the play button and crawl back into my seven thirty in the morning bed hoping to hit the town later in the day. Wondering how I fell asleep in North Carolina and woke up back in Pittsburgh.
(the first part of this can be found here: http://wp.me/p1zaMw-1f )
When the phone at my desk rang I immediately knew what was about to happen. I had just arrived at work via taxi after dropping my car off at a garage for a number of repairs that cost just under $1000. In the dead of winter, smack in the middle of January, there was still filthy grey snow and ice everywhere. I walked from the garage to a Dunkin Donuts, and then a convenience store. I found a card on a bulletin board for a taxi service, which ended up just being some local guy in his 60’s with a Lincoln Town Car. I told him I would call him back later in the day for a ride to the garage when my car was ready if I couldn’t get a ride over from someone at work.
I was working at Square Records for a little under eleven years. Unfortunately they had been laying people off for a few months. I felt pretty safe. There were two other “equals” in my office. One had been there much longer than I, the other a little shorter than I had been. A few weeks before someone “from upstairs” accidentally printed a document in the printer room listing the salaries of everyone in the company, (even the owners, president, etc). A co-worker and I both discovered it. We of course immediately decided we needed to look it over. The best way to go about this was to make our own copy. The person who printed it could be showing up in the printer room at any moment. One of us acted as a “lookout” while the other quickly made a copy of it and put it inside of a manila folder. I still have this document at home in a folder along with other stuff from there. If you ever want to feel like shit at your job, find out what all those people you don’t like above you make on their paychecks.
I walked into the HR woman’s office and she had a bunch of paperwork ready for me and told me they were letting go go of my job. I could tell she must have hated doing this job. I think that particular day five of us got laid off. I signed all the papers including ones that basically said I wouldn’t talk shit about the company. I think this was just during the period where they were paying out my severance. Now it’s probably okay to talk shit about that sweatshop of a warehouse that released albums by some pretty amazing artists but also some really bad music as well. that’s for another time though.
I don’t really remember the reasons why I was laid off, all I can say as boy was I excited. I had hated the job for quite some time and I had just been told to go home, forever. They would still continue to pay me for four months and keep me on the 100 % full health and dental plan. Since my car was still in the shop and I had only been at work for a few minutes I had nowhere to go aside from back to the garage. My car wouldn’t be ready until way later though. The company offered me $25 to catch a cab back to the garage and then one of my co-workers offered me a ride. The ride was a bittersweet drive. I had seen this woman every weekday for years and now would probably not see her for some time. She was one of my favorite co-workers.
I got back to the garage and told the guy fixing my car I just lost my job but to “keep working on it” I then called my family, and texted a few friends and my girlfriend. Not knowing some of the turns my life would take over the next few years I was filled with excitement. Also, I was scared. Arriving home I hugged both cats and sat on the couch wondering what to do. I think I made a bunch of chicken cutlets. Or got high. Probably both.
That night I went to sleep and for the first time in who knows how long, and didn’t turn my alarm on. There was something liberating about that. I of course woke up early the next morning anyway. My first though? “Fuck, I have about twenty-five minutes left to make McDonalds breakfast!” This was a mantra I would become very familiar with for a long time. The Mc Donalds breakfast had become a ritual for a while until one day walking in I saw a rather large man in his 50‘s walking out. I went in and bought a newspaper and waited in a brief line. When I got my food a few minutes later I went and sat at the window. Outside was an ambulance and a small group of about four or five people gathered around. Seems like my buddy from the way in dropped on the ground. I quickly ate my two egg and meat sandwiches, hash browns and coffee and left. I made it to my car without having a heart attack. It was a good day indeed.
When you get laid off it’s almost like having someone break up with you. They’re not really pissed at you, they just don’t think you should see each other anymore. I guess this would make a severance package a period of make up sex that abruptly ends a few months later. I spent a few months confused not knowing what to do at first. Knowing I could collect unemployment at some point, knowing I had a place to live and a patient girlfriend that was working a good job was comforting. I decided looking for a new job would be maybe the fifteenth priority. My top priorities would be buying things from the internet to a point where a package was arriving everyday. I memorized the sound of that mailman’s truck pulling up in front of our house. Peeking out the window until he drove away and making my way outside to grab my presents. It was like Christmas every single day, just without the having to spend your money on other people.
I was making relatively good money so once I started collecting I would be getting a good amount of money every week as long as I checked in every Sunday. I supplemented my income with the sale of various collectable items I had acquired through the years working around music. Music collectors have deep pockets, and it’s always been a way for me to make extra money for as long as I can remember. The first week I started selling on eBay I put a Slayer 12” single I bought in 1987 for probably $4.00. A guy in Canada bought it for $450.00 FOUR-HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS. Yeah, I know right?
Music would end up helping pay a lot of bills. Not music I was playing, music I was selling. Whether it was promotional items I held onto for years or expensive Misfits albums (I had doubles of some so it was okay), I was always able to make some sort of money. At the same time I was burnt out from that business. Selling things I wasn’t supposed to and that kind of thing seemed ridiculous to me, and still does. It’s not my fault some asshole thinks buying a rare CD by the Cult for $60.00 is a good idea. Of course I eventually ran out of stuff to sell and grew tired of hunting down cheap stuff to turn over for more money so I slowed down. Thankfully, the government was in a generous mood as I was somehow able to collect for well over two years.
For the longest time, well for one-thousand and thirty-five days, I had no idea what going back to work would be like, What being responsible was like anymore. Without really knowing it I was entering a mid-life crisis. It was kind of fun though.
(to be continued)