There are shelves and shelves of books along the bedroom, the hallway, the living room and almost as much bunched together in cardboard boxes, piled high with thousands upon thousands of unread pages, the mountains of thoughts that went into constructing these ideas and stories maybe never be climbed as the tomes sit unread. At some point, in some strange dimension, they call out to feel affirmed, wanting eyes and brains to soak them up, all in order to continue living. The thought of immortality, transcribed into the printed word. Along the wall of the bedroom, stands a six foot shelf packed with past and future memories, long-playing records, most of which have been listened to multiple times, etched in the mind of the listener as much as a childhood Christmas is branded into one’s consciousness. Collections breed dust, a finger tracing along covers and spines, marking time with bits of dirt, dried skin and sunlight, and as I wipe the memory on a blue pant leg, itself a document of age with faded denim declaring that these pants are older than half the people alive in the world, a thought bubble up, “why do I have this shit?”
Years ago when our world consisted of trading news and record reviews off of Xeroxed copies and crappy blurry black and white impressions of even crappier photos, Tuesday mornings were reason for weekly celebrations as boxes of new records arrived, bearing new and old sounds to fill all the cracks in our lives, the door to the record store would open inwards and right there in the path to enter the store was where a small batch of seven inch singles stacked against one another. There would be a fight to thumb through them between customers, as people would jockey for new releases to lift them, even for only two or four minutes tops, out of the inner squalor of their lives.
It was during these halcyon times where my roots set in, as the sound of needle to black (or white, red or clear, if you were lucky enough) vinyl was a mini-vacation from life, and the community that was built around small round plastic cylinders impacted me almost as much as the sound of the music itself. there were those who were audiophiles, the ones who needed to have first editions, or colored wax, who may purchase two copies of a record, one to play and the other to sit on the shelf, untouched by human hands and ears. Stillborn. There were others, like myself, whose sole purpose was to be transported by the sound, and if we were lucky enough to get a rare record or pressing then it was just the icing on top of the melody, so to speak. Most of us did manage to get first pressings as procuring these hidden treasures was a weekly if not daily affair, but in the end that was not the goal. Some were blessed enough to this sort of listening for a living, a mini-miracle in our lives that allowed to LISTEN TO MUSIC ALL FUCKING DAY, AND GET PAID FOR IT!!! Holy-fucking shit, even.
The hallway is stacked with books, boxes of CD’s (I recently unpacked nearly 30 boxes of CD’s and alphabetized them) and tubs of children’s clothes. The house I live in is old, built in the 1870’s, it’s tall and thin, as if it were an adolescent boy–all elbows and creaking voice but the voice comes from the old wooden floors, the thin walls that shudder when the wind smacks into it in the middle of the night. The Ohio cold winters give no respect to age, even old blue houses just a long-jump from High Street. As such, the house has little closet space, the ceilings are tall and there are plenty of window, which is one reason why it is a beautiful place to live, as the sun and shadows of the day make the various shades of light dance through the house. Sparking bits of action against the bone-white walls while I hold a cup of coffee, there is no need for television in a house like this. The house was purchased from friends, Jake had tore down the original garage, probably built in the 1940’s with his bare hands, carrying the burnished and battered wood into a trailer to be hauled away. He built a two-car garage with a studio on top where Moviola would craft timeless indie-rock sounds with the aid of Rolling Rock and gallons of wine, I was privy to some of these recordings as I made Moviola practice the starting point of my weekly Wednesday night adventures for a number of years. The outside of the house resembled the face of an old man, cracks, creases and the peeling paint showed the experience of a weather past, the house look stark, withered and lonely. Jake had moved out and wanted to sell it, with his help, we redid the floors and fixed painted the frayed exterior (which now resembles an old woman’s face, shrouded in pale blue make-up). There were no soft feet hitting the floor at that time, just my wife and I and when our daughter was born there was still plenty of space in the house. Soon, our son was born and I packed up half my music and 3/4 of the books that sat quietly in the little boy’s room. I had two yard sales, selling roughly 1,000 LP’s and ended up taking five boxes of books to the used book store place that gives a person less than Spotify does for a stream. And yet, space was still a commodity.
Children collect things, not out of any sense of greed but because of interest, every moment is a discovery a chance to step into another portal of the world, be it a comic book, the scribbling of bold markers on typewriter paper, blackened sparkled stones or a handful of acorns handed to a father on a walk through the park. These things stack up, in one corner of our house there sits several brown grocery bags, stuffed with homemade maps, sketches of houses, animals and super-heroes, homework assignments and glued school projects made out of wooden tongue depressors, plastic rhinestones and cut out magazine photos, the only thing missing are uncooked macaroni. There are several years of these, even the parents don’t want the arduous task of sorting them out, they sit in the corner collecting more dust and becoming forgotten memories.
My son has a collection of stuffed animals, although there is only one he uses to sleep with, a tiny 6″ bean-baggy bear that he calls “teddy” the rest are nestled together in several wooden storage bins on his shelves. The animals lay atop one another in the ultimate cuddle-fest but the boy never picks them up. At various points throughout the year we ask him to go through them and pick out some to donate, and suddenly the young child’s attachment to these multi-colored, plush animals grows with such ferocious intensity he will toss himself upon the floor, writhing in frustration that he can’t explain. His body grows rigid, feet flexed and his face contorted, “noooo, I need that one! it’s my favorite!!!” He says this for every single one, even the shitty anti-freeze colored Care-Bear that his sister got from a friend eight years ago. Soon, the boy wins, it isn’t worth it and truth be told, the line of records, books and other artifacts that I collect do not provide him with an example of less is best.
Several years ago, I went through boxes and boxes of old fanzines, photos, old flyers for concerts I promoted, leftover unsold homemade tickets for said concerts, poetry and paintings I had collected over the years. The vast majority of these stemmed from the early to mid-nineties, I had quit promoting shows by the late nineties, when my alcoholism and depression had grown to such a “I don’t even care about live music” stature that going to shows was a drag, and once I put a drink in me I didn’t want to stop—even to make it to the show. This is a ritual that has been performed again and again, mostly when moving but also, coincidently with life events such as the birth of our children, the moving of children’s rooms and, at other times when the weight of ownership gets too deep and the urgency to purge takes over. The garage is stacked high with boxes of these things, they are in no order, just piled on one another–haphazardly with nary a concern for order. Zines with long-forgotten names such as “Spank”, “Wiglet” and “Feminist Baseball” are getting friendly with flyers whose existence are a testament to events that actually happened, although with the vapor of time, alcohol and the slippage of the mind, it is difficult to trace the events that I hold in my hands to what transpired. They are in essence, just smoke in my mind as my hands collect the thin dust of age. These things happened, I can see it as I hold a flyer from 1993, “The Ex w/ Tom Cora, V-3 and Guided By Voices.” I remember painting flyers on newspapers, I did this for a while, unfolding the newspaper, painting the black rectangle and using white paint to announce the show. I would paint several of these, they were bold and easy to do, I usually added a small drawing of my dog drinking and smoking a cigarette at the bar or other times, a baseball cap, something, anything to keep it simple and noticeable.
There was one evening when I went to an afterhours party and there on the wall was a framed flyer I had done of a Sebadoh show, with Gaunt opening up, it was a simple flyer, with a wiener dog over the black frame. I was shocked, I sat there drunkenly and stared at the flyer, and one of the women who lived there asked me why I was staring at it and I told her that I had made it. An odd feeling, later that night, her roommate with whom I had a crushing crush on, asked me to stay the night, conflicted I went home as I was living with my wife. My alcoholism had not yet pushed me to the breaking point of crossing lines. Small things alter our lives forever. Inevitably when I hold that old flyer of Sebadoh in my hands, the yellow paper even more yellowed and crisp around the edges, the thoughts of Lou Barlow and company slaying a packed Staches house are not what cross my mind but of the missed opportunity of sleeping with that beautiful woman.
The objects hold memories, some false, some faded and others that have shriveled and withered away as if they were the last brown leaves on a towering oak tree in the middle of February, cracked and frayed, not yet knowing that the time to burst loose for the moorings of its brittle stem passed months ago. Bruno can remember small tall-tales I told him at bedtime from three years ago, as I wrap my hands around his soft body he grins and buries his head into my neck, “daddy, can you tell finish that story about the boat and the daddy and the little boy fishing when the bad guys were after them?” Thoughts go in rewind, “what the fuck story is he talking about?” I think, “hey, I don’t know what story you are thinking of buddy,” I whisper in his ear. “You were telling it in bed one time, remember that little boy had the plans that the bad guy was going to take over the world? And then they fooled the bad guys by fishing, and the little boy caught a Red Snapper. Remember, Daddy?” This was a story I had made up some years ago to get him to sleep, it sprang back, “oh yes, the one with Mr. Terminus who was fooling everybody. That one?” “Yeah, that one. Can you finish it?”
In my own life, I recall very little of my childhood, it falls between the cracks of my mind, rolling in the ether of my mind like coins dropped on the ground—they are there but not, what is real and what isn’t? I don’t know, at times I believe they are true but then I pull a metaphorical sheet over the memory, did the babysitter really do that? Did I really paint a picture with my grandfather? The memories that I’m certain of are there, most are funny and some are painful, mostly the ones with separation from my parents—my dad especially, like a carving in my psyche. I can touch them, almost glide my fingers through the burnished memory of sitting in the backseat of my mother’s car as my father looked through the window, tears streaming down his cheeks as we drove away. And again later, when I was ten, how he glided down the aisle of the Piedmont propeller airplane to give me a final hug as I was flying back to Virginia. Fast forward to my early twenties, when after a long argument, I asked him to leave my apartment after not seeing him for nearly a year, he bounded back up the metal fire-escape and we hugged each other tight, tight enough to force more tears out of our hardened eyes. We would try harder, for maybe the ten minutes after he drove his white Volkswagen Golf away from my house, I’m guessing that’s the last hug I ever got from my old man.
When I was seven or eight my brother and I were at a gathering of Venezuelans held at a party hall somewhere in Columbus, it was loud and I can recall vividly talking with a Vietnam veteran who showed us the bullet that was still suck in his knee, he let me put my hands on top of the knee, and move my finger over the bump made the bullet, like a roly-poly bug of violence. Later that night there was dancing, swells of Latin-Americans gyrating and twirling, in the middle was a thin-tiny elderly man who was leading the throng of party-goers, shimming and swaying his hips, a smile as large as a Volkswagen Beetle stuck on his face. Wide-eyed we soaked it in, stealing sips of beer and daring ourselves to venture into other hallways and empty rooms, I can recall the sweat dripping down my back. Later that night my brother and I sat in the hallway, exhausted, our backs to the wall when suddenly the double doors from the dance-hall burst open. The elderly man staggered, put both hands on his knees, wobbled some more and started running towards us. He was at least twenty-feet away and then suddenly as he ran he vomited with such force that his dentures rocketed from his mouth and slid down the hallway. As if in slow motion, the fake teeth skidded past me, just a few feet from my lap, in a small flood of pink puke until they came to as stop between my brother and me. I eyed those teeth for a good ten minutes while the grandfather was escorted to the rest room until a long dark haired woman came with a brown napkin and picked up the poor man’s teeth.
Some people say that “the mirror doesn’t lie”, which is bullshit because one of the gyms I run in has one of those mirrors in front to the treadmill that makes a person look thinner a trick to make everybody running that our bodies are transforming in front of us, with the flicking of sweat as the MP3 player pulsates, the illusion is obvious but it’s easier to believe in the dream than the reality of the treadmill. There are lines of people stationing themselves atop curved metal machines, complete with book holders, flashing lights and with flat screen televisions perched above them to help distract the fact that each person is pretending that their body is that of a child. On the televisions are images to help propel the sweat from our bodies- sports shows, talk-news and action movies, all an effort to pre-occupy ourselves and to help inspire the declining athlete in all of us. On my headphones is a wealth of music, all slipping into my ears, transporting me back into my bedroom in high school with the pulsating clamor of the Jesus Lizard shaking through my legs, my balding sweaty head bobbing up and down. No longer a forty-six year old, perhaps I am twenty-five again, as David Yow gets hoisted above the crowd, his jeans more burnished than mine we hold him high and in a flash, as he leans into us, back arching towards dusty ceiling panels, this small gathering of music fanatics has won. We are one, spilling beer and yelling at each other, in unison as the din of guitar, bass, drum and yowl (yow–l) cover us as if we were all playing under a parachute in second grade, pulling our knees in tight, giggling as the fabric billowed above us. We are all grinning now. Suddenly the song switches, my head snaps up, neck waving side to side, I could be riding my bi-cycle with feet stretched straight out as I glide down Sunnyside Drive, seeing how far this yellow bike with coast or I could be standing next to the corner of a black, tarnished stage, singing at the top of my lungs for a sweetheart that only lives in between the notes I hear, “they seem to assume possession, change your expectation….you changed in…” and when the song ends everybody pulls a little into themselves and nod as if we all felt the universe giggle. When on the treadmill, I push the song backwards, to get as many giggles as I can. It’s always been easier to listen to a song than to listen to you, or anybody else.
When the last bubble of Natural Light popped up and then out of my glass, all those years ago it took quite a while to let wobbly feet find themselves, as I started drinking in earnest around the age of 15 or sixteen, stopped for a moment for my mind to catch its breath when I was 22 and didn’t let up until that last speck of a beer bubble shattered the ceiling I had been living under. Some six months of after-care, at least 300 12-step meetings and therapy found me in a bookstore, holding a gift certificate sent by my sister for my thirty-fourth birthday, I was counting time it was all many can do after trying to regain control of mind, body and the spiritual aspect of ourselves. Time meant a cushion from the last drop of turmoil that entered my bloodstream and for me that meant another day farther away from wanting to no longer breath as all the breaths I had taken before, fueled by risky behavior, loathsomeness and alcohol had finally ended up suffocating me. I pulled out a yellow book, “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” and after reading two pages, the realization that I perhaps there was something I was that I never knew I was. And that finally breathing was enough.
I once had a very nice girl-friend who said I always reminded her of this song, because she always smiled when she heard it, can’t get sweeter than that.
My very nice ex-wife once cried when listening to this because she said it reminded her of our lives together:
I have a wonderful phone video of my kids dancing their skinny little asses to this:
I have a very fond memory of Ron House singing this with Yo La Tengo at an in-store at Used Kids probably 1992 or so:
Recent memory of driving through New Jersey singing this at the top of my lungs:
Jenny Mae used to sing this all the time, like daily for about a year:
played constantly with my wife in summer of 1999 while we were in Italy/Germany/Netherlands
my daughter was born as we listened to Jacques Brel: