Damn these movies and music. The false heroes of actors and the “fuck you” ethics of punk rock have warped me past the point of any safe return. I foolishly set goals that are only probable in comic book pages, three-chord-backed screams or frame grain cinema. It was fun to call it DIY growing up. It was fun to call it entertainment, a hobby, or something to kill time. But now I’m calling it what it is.
I’m not schizophrenic; I just know the world is out to get me. So I’m trading in sleep for worry and heart break. It’s also more time spent with my eyes open. I’ve come to realize one thing and one thing only:
Broken down cars and busted homes. Who cares about mansions and Mercedes when there’s overgrown houses inexplicably empty for the ground to reclaim? The woods of Newcastle are so intoxicating. Late night legends of three boys that go missing. The late night legends said they cheated moonshiners and the story ends there, no bodies necessary, no graves ever found. Three decades later their ’51 Chevy shows up buried under the old Highway 79.
And that’s only a bit part of one story.
Hey did someone try to convince you that life is a movie? 120 minutes of antagonists and protagonists, a nail-biting problem and the courage to solve it? Do you want to be the well-dressed gentleman at the end of the bar swirling a rocks glass, every word witty and every word… important? You’ve read this far so you’re now down to 119 minutes. Tick tock, tick tock.
Me personally, I’ll need longer than two hours to burn this world down.
So I’m not that gentleman at the end of the bar either. But hey, if you are, rocks glass in hand, raise it high…
Raise your glass for forgotten punk bands. Punk rock never quit its day job or didn’t have one to begin with. Bands didn’t want contracts, or dressing rooms, or roadies. Many refused to even play on a stage. We could play “where are they now” forever but as long as someone remembers then it all mattered. Life Sentence. The Headless Marines. Caustic Outlook. Birmingham punks paid the $5 door to pack out abandoned television towers atop Red Mountain, condemned rental halls in Ensley, hallowed out downtown garages and other places far less accommodating. Three-chord-backed screams taught the ones of us listening a very important lesson.
The glory of the rock star has faded away.
An eight-page rider sent city to city in preparations for my arrival. Red m&ms, teenage girls, and beer lists. Standing on a 20-foot stage reciting some clever anecdote that will sinkline into a top 10 hit song. Lean over the moat of security guards, point at a girl in the front row wearing a shirt with my name on it, and scream, “this song’s for you, darling!”
Well this song is for Moody Alabama, a little girl lost in Corpus Christi, Texas. She compensated for her missing right arm with unbridled hatred, and justified her hate in loneliness. She wore swastikas on her clothes and seig heiled Hitler, pretending to be white power, but I could see right through it. She fought and picked fights with anyone paying attention until her dad picked her up from the show; a beat up four-door on spare tires, alcohol breath, and jaded over eyes. She told me she’d stayed in Moody for a year and hated it as much as Corpus Christi. It’s easy to hate someone wearing swastikas, but not when it’s a fifteen-year old girl. When you're lost it doesn’t matter which crummy city you call home. You may never be found. (This song’s for you, darling)
The days of the movie star are over.
Reality brutality is far more addictive. Directors struggle to recreate the most fascinating people in history, replacing actuals with script readers and cardboard cutout scenery. Put on your tuxedo and pack into the Kodak Theatre. Hold the gold over your head. Thank your mom and the academy.
Thank God, and
Thank a mother in Liberty, Missouri, outside my window at 7am, digging through the trash of the low-rent apartments I was housed in. I woke up in 2001 working for a law firm in the midst of a multi-million dollar trial, battling over a drug gone wrong. I’d been put in charge of driving the plaintiff’s expert witness from the courtroom to his $350-a-night hotel room. I’d also been put in charge of driving back and fourth to Kinkos all night on cheap coffee and FM radio. I heard her voice, too loud in the freezing winds of the west, her excitement when she’d found a jacket, buried in generic cereal boxes and emptied ashtrays, for her two-year-old daughter. I watched her put the jacket on the small girl, zip it up and walk away. I remember my legs not working for the hour I balled up on the floor, sleep deprived and bawling, as I constructed a mental blue print of this world on fire.
I bit blood from my lip that night as I drove the expert witness back to Kansas City, letting him talk too loud of private planes and celebrity clients. I could only stay quiet, plotting the flames. His empty stories reminded me to remember the three-chord-backed screams learned in an Ensley rental hall…
The superhero is a piece of paper.
Hand drawn to handle the most unreal expectations that life can offer. Bad guys are big and have guns, BUT the superhero is big too, and he’s got heart. Shine the light in the sky; pick up the red one-way telephone…
So someone can save the horror story family of rookie school. The 2.5 kids, plus mom and dad, trapped inside their own burglar bars as smoke and fire raced to annihilate their American dream. The first arriving Engine Company found their charred bodies clutching each other and clutching the bars they’d installed to keep out the thieves. Now they live forever as a spook story for firefighting rookies, a grim look at “the calling”.
So thank you and acknowledgments go to the ones that understand. Please understand that I’m scratching away the surface, leaving only one thing behind. And that one thing is what I’m supposed to be in this life.
This is for you. And
This is for the homes of East Lake and Ensley, too poor for power, every room covered with mattresses and blankets, all while wannabe lawyers argue over socio-economic politics on Fox News and the patio at Dave’s. The kids are awake at 3am because there’s no such thing as a school night. Pot smoke and pills. Gunned down neighbors. And so it goes.
I don’t fight fires in homes like YOURS. The pretty, logical layout, a beeline path to the kitchen, just past the plasma screen TV and marble coffee table, all modeled out of an Ikea catalog. The black smoke-filled houses I frequent have broken chairs pushed against doors, weakened wood floors, and boxes and boxes of nothing. And a lot of mattresses.
This is for Ricky Davis.
This is for the bit parts in my life that let substances stop them short of something brilliant, eating them alive. Hey Scott, to me you're somewhere singing along to those three-chord-backed screams that ruined our ears when we were teenagers. We weren’t THAT close I know, but man I liked seeing you around.
This is for the other side of the street and everyone on it. Because I’m just not the rock star gawk-movie type. No stretch limousine, or cigar-smoke nights of flash bulb fame and too-tall stages. But…
I am still writing MY “Born to Run”.
And I’m taking a whole lot of people with me, chapter by chapter. Sit back, hold on, accept nothing and expect nothing in return. When I strike the match I want you to know who I’m doing this for. Hold my hand, we’ll burn the world down together.
Life is not a movie, or a sold out corporate-sponsored concert. And (unfortunately) it’s not red and blue tights-covered muscles, unbreakable bones and x-ray vision, penciled perfectly in right angle boxes. But I’ll make it something that matters.
I can promise you that much.
“There are only a few things that really belong to me. Who I am, who I was, and who I want to be.” – Bouncing Souls