My secret teenage shame

I hung out with the gothic kids in high school. Black tee-shirts. Doc Martens. Heavy metal. Righteous alienation. We were angry, depressed, rebellious. We hated everyone. We scowled.

Music was loud and angry. Nirvana. Smashing Pumpkins. Type O Negative. Marilyn Manson. White Zombie. Deftones. Rammstein. Metallica. We wore our teenage disaffection on our sleeves.

You know how it is. You fall in with a group of kids. The consensus determines what’s cool and what isn’t. You quietly conform. You listen to what your friends listen to. You like what they like. You wear what they wear. If you have disagreements, you keep them to yourself.

Which is why I never told my friends that after a long day of scowling at the mall, loitering at hot topic, demonstrating our nonconformity by making a giant fucking mess at our table at Carl’s Jr, I’d go home, slip on my headphones…and rock out to Bruce Springsteen.

Yeah, that Bruce Springsteen. Like many artists, something weird happened to him in the eighties, but if you’ve never listened to his earlier albums like “Born To Run” or “Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey” do yourself a favor.

It was the cover to “Born to Run” that sold me. I found it, originally, in a stack of LPs that my older brother got for free someplace, hidden between the Sabbaths and the Zeppelins. I don’t know why by brother even had them, since this was well past the record player era. I suppose the men in my family never could pass up free. Anyway, something about that pose, that guitar, that leather jacket. It called to me. I pulled out that warped old record and put it on my parents dusty record player.

And then I heard it. The piano, the harmonica. And Bruce’s inimitable voice.

The screen door slams
Mary’s dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again

Poetry.

How could I explain to them, my tragically cool friends, how Springsteen spoke to my teenage angst, to this unformed yearning in my heart, better than Nirvana or Manson ever could?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a place in my heart for the Deftones and Tool and Nine inch Nails. But at some point I got tired of being so angry and depressed all the time. Nine inch Nails was just wrist-slitting music, but in Springsteen there was hope. There was this pull, this desire to go and find something better, to just get up and go.

When I got my first car, I loaded up and went on my first solo road trip, blasting Springsteen and singing along to every word…and then I crashed and had to call my parents to come rescue me. Thunder Road, indeed. But that secret teenage shame is a whole other story.

Bonus Springsteen:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Funny Thing About Idols

 

Sometimes you build up a picture in your head, and then reality doesn’t quite match up. Most of the time, in fact.

I play a little guitar, and when I first heard Townes Van Zandt fingerpicking, the first time I heard his lyrics to “Lover’s Lullaby” or “Rake” I said, “That’s what I want to do.”

I have to add, he was a country singer who had been around since the sixties. Sometimes his voice cracks and gets annoyingly twangy. The quality of his vocals vary widely. Sometimes the seventies country musicians they surrounded him with in the studio sound horribly, ridiculously dated. But when you dig down to the essence of it, the man’s lyrics and his voice and his hands on his guitar, he was, in my humble opinion, a genius.

But I didn’t know anything much about the guy for the longest time, aside from album art and his music. He’d passed away a few years before I’d discovered him, but I built up this picture of him in my head as a successful singer-songwriter, probably living a quiet life in Nashville, a sort of a country-western Bob Dylan, probably with a loving wife and a few kids and a small fortune from a lifetime of musical success.

Then I saw the documentary made about him, Be Here to Love Me, and all of my illusions were shattered. Despite his lyrical gifts, Townes Van Zandt was a congenital fuckup. (Though that sounds overly harsh, given that mental illness was likely a factor, it can’t be debated that he fucked up with a shocking regularity.) A lifelong alcoholic and drug abuser, the man was addicted to everything it’s possible to be addicted to, from cigarettes to shooting heroin. He once glued a tube of model cement to his front teeth when he passed out while sniffing glue. He wrecked three marriages, and when his much-abused body gave out at the age of 52 he was nearly penniless. The bulk of his physical possessions were a motorcycle, a GMC truck, and a 22-foot boat.

And yet, his music is still beautiful. I don’t know why I thought all his lyrical tales of loneliness and despair and addiction were just some sort of fiction, some phase he’d grown out of before finding success, I don’t know. Maybe that’s what I wanted to believe. It’s a strange thing to find that he’s someone to be pitied, someone to look down on as much as someone to look up to.

But that’s the way it goes, isn’t it? I guess that’s growing up. Everyone, sooner or later, discovers that their parents are just flawed human beings, that they don’t have all the answers. And so it goes with our idols. Kurt Cobain. Hunter S. Thompson. Bradley Nowell.

For my own part, as I get older, I’m still learning from my idols. But I’m learning different things. When I was sixteen, Hunter S. Thompson’s work was an instruction manual. How to be a high-octane mutant drug-fiend that takes life by the horns and forges his own destiny, and nevermind what the squares think.

But now, Hunter’s life and work, much as I love the man, is a cautionary tale. Despite his success, he was a lifelong alcoholic. He was a violent and erratic drunk who could be cold, abusive, and downright cruel to his friends and family. He was, by all accounts, an unreliable horror to work with. When he got tired of it all, he shot himself in the head while his six-year old grandson was in the other room. His success was more due to shit dumb luck, a winning of the cosmic lottery, than any of his personal qualities. Hundreds of people who attempted to follow his example are now dead or serving prison time in Nevada.

And yet, does this mean I don’t enjoy reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for the umpteenth time? Does that mean I don’t want to listen to Townes singing “To Live is To Fly?” Of course it doesn’t. Maybe I enjoy it more. Maybe when we can see our idols as fully fleshed human beings, imperfect, damaged human beings…hell, I don’t know. I don’t even know what I’m trying to get at here. After all, I’m not perfect.

 

 

Vampire Hunter’s Playlist-“Run On” by Elvis Presley

Alex Rains, the protagonist of my upcoming action/horror thriller The Devil’s Mouth, has an unhealthy fascination with 1950s Americana. So, just to set the mood, I’m occasionally going to post some of the music that Alex has playing on his iPod while he hacks vampires to pieces with a samurai sword.

First up, “Run On” by Elvis Presley, released on RCA records in 1967. This spiritual was also recorded by Johnny Cash under the title “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.”

This song’s up-tempo, driving beat is just the sort of thing to listen to when you’re cutting down bloodthirsty hell-fiends.

Pick up a free preview of “The Devil’s Mouth” by clicking right here.