I know what caused this. A stupid song. The song is not really stupid but I’ll call it stupid since I let it get me so worked up. The song is “Piano Man” by Billy Joel. Oh, and “I Knew Prufrock Before he got Famous” by Frank Turner. So two songs. Two stupid stupid songs.
BORN THIS WAY
The microphone is held together with duct tape, the chord connected to it affixed with duct tape as well. The house lights are too dim, busted bulbs and black light, you can see the outlines of cigarette smoke and sweat in the halogen. The singer seems so much older than me, he’s not, and he’s wearing a t-shirt of a band I’ve heard of but never actually heard. They’ve played four songs already, the crowd is piled on top of itself at the front of the stage, ravenous for more.
or last night.
“This song…” the singer says “is one I wrote at 2am… after everything went wrong” he says, “and I mean every word of it.”
And I mean every word too.
East Lake Trash. There were too many of us in the car and none of us were old enough to drive, including the driver. I sat in the backseat, pressed tight against the window of the beat-down 4-door Chevy. I had my shirt pulled up and over my mouth and nose to mask away the pot smoke. I was tall and too skinny, and had already started chopping off my hair. Jon drove, the cassette tape music were his choices. Black Sabbath. Black Flag. Hendrix. Sounds that sound like that.
Parking lots were no sanctuaries. Electric weekend nights hummed with seething violence and drugs and teenage sex. I was just the passenger to it all and I would find myself gazing in eyes that were glazed over, or rolled back, or wide-open asleep. Briana’s house, lost in the White Projects behind the airport, was always on our radar. Her mom would snort coke and sleep with Briana’s boyfriends. Her mom was only 32, too young to be a grandmother but it wasn’t up to her, no not anymore. I ran away at 1am and rode my skateboard there, past Bama Motel Hookers and the Woodlawn Wolves, showing up with my shins all bloody… decorated in pieces of gravel and glass.
Secret Handshakes and New Years Eve Promises, all strengths of East Lake Trash. Jon taught me how to drive in a wrecked El Camino and I drove fast, maybe too fast, but fuck, I’m impatient now, I was really impatient at 15. You want to know the REAL reason I don’t do drugs or drink? Morals? Religion? Recovery? No, no, no. The real reason is because I’m fucked up enough as is.
That, and I’m a control freak.
My personality is cocaine. My mood swings are heroin and vodka. And at 15 I had no idea who I was becoming.
News traveled Amphetamine fast when Martin wrecked, and he was drunk, and it was the third car his dad had bought him, and the third car he’d wrecked. Jeremy was in the back seat and his legs crushed and broke in the tumble. Everyone around me was on LSD and didn’t care, so I pretended not to care either. We poured into a car for the Rugby Deli, the all-night store that sold beer and cigarettes and porn to anyone, any age. We hit Thrill Hill so fast in the wrong lane, Campbell driving with his pupils wide from the Acid. I was in the back seat in a hoody, freezing cold in the January electricity.
And no one knew why we were supposed to fight that time, but we were, and it was in the graveyard off Division Avenue (ironically next to Station 19, and maybe 100 feet away from where I’m writing right now). The East Lake Trash buzzed with the voltage, the potential blood. I was scared and stupid and too skinny and I wore a fist full of heavy spiked skull rings, there were two baseball bats on the floorboard. Boys I didn’t know with long hair and ratty jeans from different zip codes lit Molotov cocktails; seeing the fire in their hands was electric.
News traveled LSD fast when the skinheads moved into East Lake. Wisely, they kept to themselves in the angry half-black, half-white neighborhood, UNLESS. Unless they hosted their tourist nazi allies from out of state. Trucks with Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi tags lined their street on Friday afternoons and that always meant hostility for the weekend. 35 bald angry boys surrounded a handful of us, us being the Outsiders, at the Rugby Deli. Police cruisers kept black eyes and broken ribs to a minimum. A retaliation of severity was planned, one week out and to the day.
East Lake Trash gathered in a church parking lot, maybe a mile away from the skinhead house. Weapons were passed around, sharpened, chipped and displayed. We caravanned to a high school parking lot and quietly circled around the dirt infield of an abandoned baseball field, directly behind their house.
I carried a lead pipe in one hand and a fist full of heavy spiked skull rings in the other.
Two “scouts” shattered the windshields of every car in the driveway, then ran to the field, the trap set…
But Police had been waiting and they knew, and I think the skinheads knew as well, they weren’t as dumb as they seemed. I think back to all of the knives, and brass knuckles and spiked skull rings. The moon was so bright, you could see the gleam of steel and the nervous violence of the East Lake Trash. We were there to maim, to hurt and kill. I ran through pitch black woods, hiding from Police, hiding from skinheads, running with the East Lake Trash pumping through my veins.
Lately, out of concern for my well-being, or out of morbid car wreck curiosity, I’ve been asked about my writing. The details, the stories, the characters… are they real? How do I remember them? Am I lying?
I don’t want to just write the song, I want the song to be about me. I have the pen, the axe, the fists, and the terrible ideas. And I can write memory, and mental snapshots, and moments… and I can morph them all into portraits of sorrow, or hope or death or life or fuck it all. This song is about me. This song is my account of nothing.
DIE THIS WAY
The singer is so much younger than me and that’s okay. He’s wearing a shirt of a band that I was friends with, once. There is zero ventilation in the room and you can smell the testosterone sweat and smear of teenage hardcore. But no one is smoking so that helps. The microphone looks new, no duct tape. They’ve already played two songs, the second one had no lyrics. The singer is leaning over, pushing on his knees for balance.
“This next song” he says, “is your life. Every word. Now do something with it.”
The bass guitar thumps against the snare and the crowd, ravenous, moves against the sound.
This is right now,
and right now,
and the night was so so electric…
He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me,” as his smile ran away from his face. “Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star, if I could get out of this place.” – Billy Joel