A lot of my Facebook friends have taken to Instagram and taken to it with such an artistic flurry that I can’t help but think that anyone with a lens can turn into Ansel Adams. As it turns out, so many of them just have an eye for photography and an app for editing, whereas I do not. I took this picture from the top of the parking garage at 8th and Mulberry. The moon was shining and with the way the clock on the courthouse always shines, it was a rare night time beauty that I got a bit caught up in. I stopped my car, stood on a median and snapped it. It sucks, but it was a beautiful night, so I wish it didn’t.
This picture is what it looks like straight down from the parking garage. I became fascinated by that area below. I wondered what it would be like to dive off of the top onto those tables. Would they support my weight, or would they disintegrate like Gallagher’s watermelon? I thought about how my aim would be and if I could even hit a table or if I would just splat. I wondered if I would survive but also how quickly I would die. I didn’t want to suffer. I either wanted to demolish the tables and survive or die instantly. Thoughts like that pop into my head every once in a while. I honestly had no intention of diving off the top of a parking garage, nor will I ever at this point, but the whole moment called back to a time when I was convinced I would’ve jumped.
I spent the year after high school at Iowa State University. It was a bad idea for me to go to school in my mental state. The summer prior, I had a girlfriend, a beautiful and sweet redhead, and I was so nervous she would hate me, that I pretty much just spent the couple of months we were together ducking her with every excuse possible. I knew that if she got to know me, she would hate me, and as long as I didn’t see her I still had a girlfriend and that would fix everything. It was foolproof. It was also selfish and stupid and hurt her tremendously, but I honestly didn’t know how to behave. I was awkward and stupid and my brain kept telling me I was worthless, so clearly she thought that as well. And if she didn’t, she would. I made sure of it.
Once at school, I stayed in the dorms and made no friends. During the first semester, I hung out with a high school friend, but I was still a mess. By the second semester; I only left my room when I went back to Des Moines to play hockey, which was as often as possible. I attended about three classes total. I had so little respect for my roommate that I masturbated to internet porn while he slept with little care of him waking up. By the time spring break had rolled around, I had decided that not only was I ready to quit school, I was ready to die.
I decided the week of Spring Break, I would try to see as much of the country as I could, so as to feel like I was fulfilled, I guess. Then when I got home, I would end it. I opened up a credit card specifically because I didn’t think I would be alive by the time the first bill had arrived to pay for my trip. I bought a bottle of sleeping pills and kept it in my glove box, just in case I decided to do it sooner than planned. My grandparents lived in St. Louis, so I figured I could see them one last time. I knew there was a sign on the highway on the way to their house that said “Chicago/Memphis”. Since going to Chicago made little sense from St. Louis, I decided I would head to Memphis. I would visit Graceland, get some barbeque and then figure it out from there. But I knew the trip ended with my life ending.
After a fun day at an auto shop in rural Missouri fixing a broken axel on my 1984 Honda Prelude, I spent some time in Memphis. I figured next would be Tupelo, you know seeing where Elvis was born and where he died seemed apropos, but I was turned away pretty much at the border. I went into a gas station just across the state line and the toothless clerk said, “You’re not from here, are ya?” Then spit. Then put his hand under the counter without taking his eyes off mine. I however darted my eyes around as much as possible because it was creepy as fuck and I didn’t want him staring at me. I eventually focused on his stained hat, while he focused on my eyes. I would think it was the easiest cliché to write if I hadn’t actually been there to witness it. I threw five bucks on the counter for my 20 ounce Mountain Dew, backed slowly out the door leaving my change on the counter lest he smash my hand with a hammer (yes, this was an actual thought I had) and then turned my car right the hell back out of Mississippi. I checked my map and decided to go to Little Rock and take Highway 65, past the Ozarks, past Branson and right back into Iowa.
The best thing about having nothing to lose is when you suddenly realize it, and you stop thinking about stupid crap like what someone thinks of you. In Little Rock, I made friends with the hotel staff and they had no problem letting an 18 year old kid drink in their bar. It was easy, and I wondered why I didn’t bother to do that at school. I watched wrestling at some guy’s house whose name I am pretty sure I never got but have since named him Rusty, because Arkansas. I drank Busch out of a paper bag in a parking lot of an abandoned supermarket. I was pretty much propositioned by a somewhat attractive cocktail waitress who had to have been twenty years my senior and had fifty years worth of stories to tell (I passed). When I left Little Rock, I headed up the road. I felt refreshed and inspired and, dare I say, happy. It was an odd feeling, and one I was trying to escape as I headed through the fog of the Ozarks. Because I was still convinced that the end of this trip was the end of me.
I intended to keep a journal of my thoughts, but I didn’t really touch it for the first few days. I thought it would be better than a suicide note (because I was convinced my words were so powerful that people would want to read them), but I ended up basically ignoring it. As I drove, I decided that I needed to write. It felt the same way someone who really needed a cigarette would feel. It was a matter of life and death.
I spotted a wooded area off the road south of Branson and decided I was going to walk into those woods and write. I straight up trespassed onto somebody’s land in Southern Missouri; because if you have a death wish what a better way to go out than getting shot by a hillbilly (instinct still told me to get the hell out of Mississippi, but not to stay the hell of a mountain man’s land. I survived unscathed). I stepped over all manner of poison: oak, ivy, rat (probably), meth remnants (assuredly). I hiked through thorn bushes and stepped directly into more than one creek that filled my canvas shoes with water blackened completely by mud. My wet feet slipped on moss covered igneous rocks and my arms got torn up by the bark of trees I hugged when I lost my footing. I stepped through even more creeks. Just for the sake of argument, it may have been the same creek and I was just lost. I walked what felt like miles, but was still close enough that I could hear the cars fly by on the highway, so that gave more credence to me just waling in a circle. I took a couple of lefts and suddenly a meadow appeared.
It was a sun drenched spot of land hidden amongst the humid forest. Weeds had grown nearly thigh high in spots. Virginia Creepers climbed the trees and took over the trunks of oaks that were likely there when people first settled the land. There was some manner of dead animal near the spot I entered the clearing. Deer, most likely, but my mind raced about it being everything from dinosaur to Hoffa to alien. Deer still seems most likely, maybe livestock of some kind, but man, what if it was Hoffa? I regret not doing further research, but bones creep me out.
I walked through the grass, parting the weeds with my hands like I was in an r&b video navigating a club. I felt smooth and graceful. Then I tripped over a boulder. The fall opened up a deep-ish gash on my shin, so I figured that was as good a place as any to sit. I tore off a sheet of paper and let the blood adhere it to my skin. It was the closest approximation to a bandage I could come up with. It felt very frontier like, even though it totally wasn’t.
So, I sat and I bled and I wrote. I wrote about everything on my mind. My life, my death, my fears, my loves, a few thousand words about The Dynamite Kid, an ode to Deftones “Be Quiet and Drive” (which was sort of the anthem of my trip). I filled the book; all of it. It all poured out onto this spiral notebook in one four hour self therapy session. I traversed the woods for a couple more hours; it was dark when I finally found my car. I sat down, took a deep breath, opened the glove box and dumped the pills on the side of the road and drove home.
At this point in the story, you’d think suddenly everything is better. I had some sort of mountain side epiphany brought on by my love of writing. Funny thing about being depressed enough that you’re ready to kill yourself, it doesn’t just vanish. You aren’t suddenly better. I went home renewed, refreshed and then immediately managed to alienate almost all of my close friends by getting into a feud with my oldest friend over a girl I honestly didn’t have that much interest in. I just wanted the attention. It took the love of the right woman to finally prop me up in the eyes of the public, but like I said it doesn’t just go away. The notebook lost a fight with a disposable Bic lighter a couple of months later, which I regret, but I felt I had to destroy it. Instead of remembering the healing moments I had in that meadow, it just reminded me of when I was at my lowest and I had to get rid of it.
The birth of my son should be one of the greatest moments of my life. Yet somehow, the event has been clouded by the suckiness of the rest of this year. In January, my step-mom, a woman who helped raise me from the time I was ten, passed away suddenly at the age of 49. This has undoubtedly been the biggest tragedy of my life and one that I have really yet to recover from or even accept six months later. For a large portion of this year, I have been slowly crushed by money problems, broken promises, missed opportunities and a go nowhere job that treats me with all of the respect you’d expect by a retail establishment. As I type this, I am preparing to go to my uncle’s funeral and then I have to go to work right after, because, of course I do.
All of these things have just slowly broken me. I get home from work angry and bitter. I’ve noticed that my anger doesn’t subside as much as it used to and I am quicker to outbursts, which is surprising because I’ve never really had a temper outside of electronics failing me (Then I pretty much just lose my shit. My phone is lucky it has survived this long). I have started drinking more than I should. The worst part is that I don’t know how to fix any of this. I guess I could go back to school and get that elusive college degree, but then what?
I sat in a funk this past Wednesday, angry at the world, as per usual. I was supposed to go with my sister and dad and aunt to see Fleetwood Mac. It was my Dad and Aunt’s shared birthday. They’re not twins, they just coincidentally have the same birthday. I had convinced myself that I didn’t like Fleetwood Mac and had no desire to go, regardless of whose birthday it was or what they were going through. I was looking for any excuse not to. I was tired after working a week straight and I was snapping at my wife and kid, which they totally didn’t deserve. Finally, I just sucked it up and went.
Fleetwood Mac is great and any idea that they aren’t should be punished. I am embarrassed to think that I didn’t like them, because throughout the show I sang and danced and cried. They are still as gifted and energetic in their advanced age as they were in their prime, even if Stevie can’t quite hit all the notes she used to. Lindsey Buckingham is as good as he ever was, playing an old school corded guitar that seemed strung specifically for him. “Landslide” and “Sara” are such important songs for our family for a lot of reasons and “Chain” and “Silver Springs” and “Gold Dust Woman” have always been favorites. “Tusk” was super cool to hear live, especially since (probably falsely) I had never heard it before (or at minimum had never given it much thought).
Here is the thing about music. Even from an elevated distance in a large arena, sharing an experience with people can cure a lot of ailments. My aunt, who has also has had a hell of year culminating with losing her brother on Monday, sang along with all the songs she remembered from her adolescence and beyond until finally standing up and dancing her heart out to Stevie Nicks’ song “Stand Back” and the song I always will link to Bill Clinton “Don’t Stop”. She was a hell of a dancer with rhythm I didn’t know she possessed.
The music healed her; at least for a moment. Just having a good time was catharsis enough for her. It didn’t fix anything, and I’m sure on June 27, she went right back to being sad, but it certainly provided a moment of joy for a beleaguered woman who just needed a win. That is, in a nutshell, what things like this can do. At minimum, music can make you forget your troubles for a little while.
The Des Moines Social Club and I go way back. It is the closest thing we have to a family business, now that my grandpa is retired and Klyne Graphics is shuttered. Being able to have a place like the Firehouse that is now a permanent home is huge. Zack and everyone else worked their asses off to get to this point and it swells my heart to know that it will be here for a long time. So when they decided to hold a pre-arts fest party, I, of course, was in. Adding to this was one of my favorite bands, Tires, was headlining and new favorites like Buffalo, NY’s Lemuria, Des Moines’ own Satellite State and the local supergroup Dick Weed (making their first appearance) rounded out the bill, so it seemed like a no brainer.
In brief (which nearly 2500 words in is an odd thing to say), Satellite State were loud and rocking and I know I shouldn’t be this way, but I am always astounded by teenagers who are this talented. Dick Weed was the best kind of stupid. Just guys messing around and being goofy and yet still being incredible musicians and performers. Lemuria was great and everyone should get to know them ASAP. The energy of the band and the charm and almost shy vocals of Sheena Ozzella (Gosh, what a great name) was a delight and a sign of a band who are truly well on their way to greatness. And Tires, well Tires was Tires. They’re among the most unique bands around right now. Unique is always a plus, but they’re just so good. They really are special.
But it was the event that makes me proud to be such a vocal spokesman for the DMSC. There was live art, including the unique photography of light painting. There were portraits and stencils and graffiti artists and all sorts of unique things you just don’t come across at enough events. There was beer (okay, there is always beer, but it is still a plus). Oh, and human statues, but eh, they’re creepy. Usually there is music. Or there is art. But rarely are the two intertwined in such a unique way. DMSC has always been masters of the multiple discipline show, and this really was no exception.
What I love the most about these functions is how many people I know and get to re-connect with. Some, I see a lot. Some are new friends (Hey, Tanner! If you’re reading: this sorry I sort of blew you off! You’re awesome), most are old friends who I see regularly. But I feel like I belong. Sure, I have nepotism on my side, but it is rare to feel welcomed. I was with friends. I was with family, and I didn’t feel out of place. That is still such a rare feeling for me.
So why write this? What does the opening have to do with the rest? Why write the things I am writing? What is the benefit? It is because you can’t put a lighter to the internet. One beautiful but foggy March day in 1999, I sat on a stone and wrote and I felt better and then I got low again and torched it all. I sat with the sun in my eyes and jotted down things into a spiral notebook and it reminded me that things aren’t that bad, and then things got bad and even the good things reminded me that things are bad. I will likely never be fixed, I know this. At best, I still have a long way to go. Just writing this doesn’t mean I will suddenly be happy and calm. Just experiencing these things doesn’t mean I am suddenly a well-adjusted person. Hell, after a great night at Artquake, I lost my temper in an almost embarrassing way, so art in and of itself isn’t the cure. But it helps. It is why I have so many thing similar to this piece on this site in lieu of actually writing about music. It helps.
Being around joy and creating or watching others create, whether it’s in a dirty, cracked courtyard right next to a viaduct, inside a huge arena with a hall of fame band or in a muddy field of weeds with nothing but a pen, your thoughts, and a blood soaked sheet of notebook paper (which I left there incidentally. I wonder if anyone found it and wondered what the hell a blood soaked piece of paper was doing next to a pile of bones), can be a solid way to overcome your doubts. There are people who care, and at minimum, there are people who are working to make this world less dreary, so they care by proxy.
Also, love is a great thing. There is love everywhere, be it in the moonlit sky, the stroke of a brush or the hiss of a spray can, right down to people who are honestly happy to see you even if it is for a brief moment and (especially for me)a wife who is my best friend children who worship you, who don’t deserve your scorn(even if they are terrible listeners who throw food all over the place)(my kid, not my wife).
This feels like a spiral notebooks worth of stuff.
Shit, where is my lighter?