Killing Yourself To Live
It really doesn’t take much to rescue one’s self from melancholic exile.
It’s a self-imposed exile, really. I’ve withdrawn, I’ll hand it to you. The reasons are complicated, and personal, and the kind of thing I’m not going to give away for free. They’re well-intentioned. Chopping wood, carrying water — that sorta’ thing.
Yesterday wasn’t terribly fun, but it did pick up. I got a haircut from my rocknroll stylist Andrew at New York Hair. I walk in, bed-headed from an AC-fueled afternoon power nap (all that laundry was exhausting), and he greets me at the front door. Led Zeppelin is on the stereo. The place is hoppin’. Andrew is pushing fifty. He has hair like mine, but grayer and thinner. His ears are pierced. He wears heavy jewelry. He speaks with a thick Queens accent. I love him to death.
Even if I want to, I can’t be melancholy (noun: Sadness or depression of the spirits; gloom). Andrew’s schooling me on Procal Harum, Taj Majal, Derek & The Dominos. He’s telling me stories about meeting Ringo (“Ringo Starr?” I ask. “No,” Andrew says, “Ringo Schwartz.”), and hangin’ out with Mick. He’s done acid at Altamont, shrooms at The Garden. It’s a first-person tour through “Hammer of the Gods” in the eyes of an Upper West Side mensch. What’s not to love?
I walk out well shorn and energized. I decide to check out the shoe store, see what’s going on in men’s shoes these days. Truth be told, I love shoes. And jackets. Given my druthers, and unlimited resources, I’d have lots of both. I’m thinking maybe I’ll find a nice, summery suede number. No dice. So I step into Barnes & Noble. I’m in the market for the new Klosterman book, so what the heck.
There’s a stunning blonde with killer cheekbones at the magazine rack. I circle a minute, peering sideways through my dark sunglasses while trying not to run into anyone. A handsome, dark-haired, European looking guy steps up to her and she smiles. I regain my task orientation. I pick up Klosterman’s book, “Killing Yourself To Live” — the last copy on the shelf — and browse a bit more. I pick up Douglas Coupland’s “Generation X.” I haven’t read it in fifteen years. I figure maybe it’s time to revisit. The woman at the checkout is, bafflingly, immune to my charms. She sends me on my way with barely any eye contact.
Back home on the couch, I tear into Klosterman’s book. I know his writing from Spin and Esquire, but mostly I know him from a certain ex. She worshipped him, which created some resistence in me. So it’s with some surprise that I find myself feeling like I’ve found a long-lost brother. He writes like me, only better (more pop culture references, and way funnier). He thinks like me (only more absurd and way funnier). He runs, for Christ’s sake, for the same reasons I do (“Running keeps me alive. Physically, I almost never enjoy the process of exercise, but I feel mentally tougher when I finish. More importantly, running lets me eat anything I want, and it allows me to drink every day.”). And he’s in love with three women at once (I’m not, but I can empathize). He quotes Jeff Tweedy on the regular to boot.
Chuck Klosterman, where have you been all my life?
The book is a Kerouacian tale of love and death in which our hero, Klosterman, loads himself and 600 compact discs into a rented Ford Taurus and visit places where rock icons have died: Mud Island, Memphis (Jeff Buckley), Clear Lake, Iowa (Buddy Holly), and Minneapolis, Minnesota (Bob Stinson). But Klosterman rambles eloquently, and hilariously, on everything that pops into his dyslexic mind and heart. He may as well be blogging. Only he’s not. He’s taking a road trip, and writing a novel, and getting paid handsomely for it. Good for him. I love it.
Before I know it, I’m in a pretty good mood. And I have an idea. Something I’ve read puts the phrase “caught the sadness” in my head. I start thinking of melancholy like it’s a virus, something you get from kissing someone, or sharing a straw. And I think, “I’m gonna’ go upstairs and write a song.”
I wrestle with my minimal outlet real estate, trading my modem and desk lamp for my drum machine and amp. I seek out a beat, something simple but propellant. I let my hands slide along the guitar until I find something worth playing. It’s nothing. It’s two barre chords: E and D. But they sound amazing. So I record ’em over and over for three minutes. Then I arpeggiate an open E over both. It takes the song somewhere else completely. Then I put down two big, fat bass hooks. Now I’m cookin’. Now I’m excited. I sing a few lines of “yeahs” and “ooohs” in harmony. I’m onto something. A song is coming together. I feel alive. I feel awake. I feel happy.
I pace on the deck listening to my infant song. It’s strident. It’s defiant. I wants to drive fast, and live hard. It wants to survive. And so It finds it’s own words.
I’ve been down and I’ve been sad
I’ve been kicked around and left for dead
I’ve been dumb and I’ve lost my head
But I brought myself right back again
Before I know it, it’s 9:30, and I haven’t eaten dinner. I’ve recorded twenty-four tracks. “Falling Backwards” is not rocket science, but it does rock. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I will release it on an album (it goes on the posthumous outtakes release with “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” “I Bleed,” “Difference,” and all the others too something to release). And I can’t imagine a scenario in which this song didn’t come to be. I feel like I filled up on all this terrible bile, then let it pour out into something positive. Neither could have existed with out the other, and so it’s all worth it. It’s all ok. It just is.