Friday, May 22, 2009

Loaded Punk

Eeegads...okay, a request, then a post: if you tweet, go follow Duff and Loaded on Twitter, please. Duff has suddenly decided that tweeting rocks; help the man out and show them some Loaded love. Also, as an additional PSA, if you've not heard Loaded's Sick--get out there and have a listen! Myspace, with tracks from the album, is linked at the bottom of the page (it works now, I promise).

Love, love, love my Loaded boys.

Maybe that should be a weekly post (because, you know, I'm so good at keeping up with my own injunctions about what I'll write each week--how many marathon posts do I owe? Forget the sobriety posts--I'm so far behind on my initial dictum that I'd probably be writing until sometime next Juvemeber to approximate catching up to TODAY. Oh, and the punk history I should have finished 6 months ago? *Snort.*) But it would be fabulous, right? A weekly edition of "Have you Loved Loaded Lately"? Or maybe just "Loaded Love"...someone help out here. Need a decent name for the weekly blog posts I'll inevitably forget to do.

Here's a starter, though: Follow 'em on Twitter (links above, but duff64 and loadedlamf, if you don't wish to scroll back up), if you are of the tweeting kind. Go on, I'll wait here.

Finished? Thank you! I'd say that Duff, Mike, Geoff, & Jeff thank you too, as it seems to be a reasonable guess, but, well, I'm not one to speak for other people.

So, the post part--we're going to pick up on the aforementioned punk history track [link provided if you've no clue what I mean, or have forgotten those vast pearls of wisdom (*snort*)]. Two places I have not yet had a chance to wander though yet: gender and consumption. As you might guess from the title, we'll look at the latter of these first--> ye olde drunk punk.

As I have mentioned before, the "drunk punk" rhyme has been around from the get go, so far as I can tell. The first time we have record of "punk" being employed in written text is in 1575, in the bawdy little poem: "Old Simon the Kinge " (can be found in a collection called Loose and Humorous Songs, which can be found here*). The notice that precedes the collection is itself a fabulous study of culture; check this out:

...but we make no excuse for putting forth these Loose and Humorous Songs. They are part of the Manuscript which we have undertaken to print entire, and as our Prospectus says, " to the student, these songs and the like are part of the evidence as to the character of a past age, and they should not be kept back from him." Honi soit qui ma y pense**. They serve to show how some of the wonderful intellectual energy of Elizabeth's and James I.'s time ran riot somewhat, and how in the noblest period of England's literature a freedom of speech was allowed which Victorian ears would hardly tolerate. That this freedom dulled men's wits or tarnished their minds more than our restraint does ours, we do not believe.

I love this rationale, as it reveals so much about Victorian England (when the book was published)--don't judge the Elizabetheans*** on the standards used by Victoriana, their "wonderful intellectual energy" may have "run riot somewhat" (brilliant!!), but we do not believe that it somehow lessened their intellectual force, anymore that the restraint celebrated by our Victorian England does now. We have the same farking argument all the time now--what mode best supports art--freedom or restraint? What limits (if any) should be placed on art? It's clear, of course, that their (editors Percy, Hale, and Furnival) perspective required defense inside their particular culture. What a fantastic glimpse.

Anyway, in the text of the poem, the poet remarks "Soe fellowes, if you be drunke,of ffrailtye itt is a sinne, as itt is to keepe a puncke,or play att in and in..." Put short, the line will go on to tell readers that, while drinking, whoring, and gaming are sinful (and will, result in "want & scabbs"), one must take risks in life--and these are worth it. The worth of wine, women, and game is set out by King Simon, he of the "ale-dropped hose**** & [...] malmsey***** nose ," when he notes that "ffor drinking will make a man quaffe,& quaffing will make a man sing, & singinge will make a man laffe, & laug[h]ing long liffe will bringe." Indeed, laughter is the finest of all medicines, says our king, but laughter sufficently lubricated is even better. When a fellow of the puritanical stripe calls him out for his behavior, he points out that even the puritans, when caught in "human habits" will claim that "'truly all fflesh is ffrayle."

Thus begins a loooong association between punk and drunk. Here, of course, we have two points to ponder. First, the words rhyme (duh), which is one of the primary reasons that they are both employed here. Second, song celebrates wine, women, song, and gaming, so we are most likely dealing with the first of the definitions for "punke," which is, of course, prostitute and, in the case of this song, most likely female prostitutes, given that the context reveals nothing to indicate homoeroticism. We see that second definition, the young male "made punk******" in 1698, in the equally delightful "The Women's Complaint to Venus."

In this bawdy tune, we have an apparent chorus of women decrying the men's recent interest (blamed entirely on France, incidentally) in other men:
How happy were good English Faces
Till monseiur from France
Taught Pego a dance
To the tune of old Sodoms Embraces

But now we are quite out of fashion
Your whores may be Nuns
Since men turn their Guns
And vent on each other their passions

I'm particularly delighted by the second stanza here, which conflates war and sex--it almost makes the complaint sound like a Lysistrata one--our men keep going off to war and not giving us or due pleasure (not quite the complaint in Lysistrata, I grant, but not far off either), particularly in the last two lines where "men turn their guns" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and "vent on each other their passions." One could read this, if one had a sufficiently "clean" mind, as a protest on war, I guess, but the poet fairly quickly annihilates the possibilities (if vented passions weren't enough) two stanzas later:
The Beaus whom most we rely'd on
At Night makes a punk
of him that's first drunk
Tho' unfit for the Sport as John Dryden

What a great moment. Not only are the speakers complaining that the men "make punk" the man who is "first drunk" (wow...totally passivity here-->"makes punk" of the drunk, who, presumably, is unable to give consent. Holy hell.), but they are also complaining that the men don't really care what the punk looks like, suggesting that even one as ill-fit as John Dryden (who was notoriously ugly) would do for the "sport".

[An Aside: the careless use of rape imagery here is a bit astonishing and unfortunately familiar. Ever heard the "insult" that someone is "too ugly to be raped" (the weirdest attempt at insult I've ever run across--how to respond to this, "thank you"???)--yeah, that's EXACTLY what the complaint is here.]

So, there's the beginning of the association, steeped as it is in the sexual politics of the days (seems that gender and consumption may be inextricable...interesting). The rhyme between "punk" and "drunk" would never go away, of course, so that it crops up time and again is of no particular surprise. Now, let's fast forward to the late 20th century and the rise of "punk" in it's most recent sense, that of punk music (however you choose to define it, even if you honestly believe it was (and remains) dead in the water by 1980. Or 1982, for you Seattlites). "Punk," we have already seen, is employed to describe music that precedes 1970, such as the Garage Punk of the 1960s, but for the purposes of this adventure, we are going to look at "punk" as it appears in the 70s and 80s (we'll even, much to my chagrin, avoid the 90s and beyond for now).

We surmised previously (see corrections here) that "punk" was appropriated from British prison culture, where the skinheads/hooligans were "made punk" within the system; it's a bit unclear when the conflation occurs, clearly that is not the use employed in the 1950s South U.S., where punk simply referred to an outcast and was, so far as I can tell, often conflated with the greaser type. It's neither here nor there at this point, an interesting artifact of language, true, but the particular etymology doesn't alter what happens when we examine the punk drunks of the 70s and 80s.

Colleague Sam pointed out recently that punk seems to operate from a triangulation of contempt, fashion, and poverty, and I tend to agree. Various punk musicians will fall at various places within that triangulation, with "old punks" veering toward contempt and poverty, and the punks who arose in the era after the media appropriation of the label (think Quincy punks) tend to veer toward fashion and contempt, as many of them hail from the suburbs and have no vested commitment to the politics of punk*******, many of which arise from poverty or, at any rate, fears of poverty.

Next, we'll begin to delve into the question of style and culture within punk, which we'll pick up on our next installment, lest I try your patience with yet another obscenely long post. Part II will follow early next week.

*So delighted to find this online!

**Translation: "Shame be to him who thinks evil of it." Reminds me of a joke:

What is the word for someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual
What is the word for someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual
So, what is the word for someone who speaks one language?


*shakes head*

***BTW, if you or anyone you love is under the impression that our forbears in the English Language were not capable of being dirty, first read Shakespeare. Then, Herrick. Finally, I leave you with these gems of the middle ages. Oh, hell, here's an Italian one as well-->Put the Devil Back in Hell, dammit! If the last doesn't quite resonate with you, shoot me an email for an explanation.

**** Use your imagination, kiddos. If you don't have a sufficiently naughty imagination, you should borrow someone's for a spell. It'll make it much easier.

*****Malmsey = wine; therefore, malmsey nose = alcoholic rosacea

******You know, I don't think I have ever seen the phrase "made punk" used to describe women, though it is equally fitting, as women were made to prostitute through various circumstances and were certainly "made punk" by dominant men in several cases. Huh. So, for women they simply are "punk" (which allows for intent) but men have to be made that way--the masculine is rendered in the passive voice (which eliminates intent). Boy, if that's not discomfort screaming out of the authorial text, I don't know what it.

*******Granted, neither did a fleet of the "old" punkers, many of whom rejected the notion that punk was simply meant to be political.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Facebook Quizzes

Facebook quizzes are good for something other than wasting time, laughing at poor spelling, and poking fun at the friends who are consistently predictable. They are excellent for nostalgia.

Ah, Vyvyan.

If I put too much stock in these little quizzes, I might be in trouble, because I keep pulling the various psychotics and sociopaths listed: House, Courtney Love, and, the result of today's gem, which asked "Which of The Young Ones are you, prick?"

Apparently, my answers suggest a certain set of common features with Vyvyan, the psychotic punk of the show, for whom boredom was A. Very. Bad (albeit funny). Thing. At least for anyone else around.

Yeah, I can identify with that.

Update: 5/21

Facebook Psycho of the day: Alex DeLarge, from A Clockwork Orange.

Sheesh. Could make a girl a tad paranoid.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Unsolicited Advice for Bitter Parents

I want to share with you what a friend of mine is struggling with in her steplife. Her story is here; court is today--I can't even begin to guess what will happen, now that she and her husband have surrendered any hope of restoring a normal relationship with her stepkids. My heart breaks for this whole family and the years of pain that is yet to come for them, no matter the outcome today.

I am fortunate that my life has been lived in step on and off since I was about 11 years old. Now, I didn't have a great relationship with my father and stepmother, to put it mildly. And, it does bother me tremendously, even now--and I suspect it will for the rest of my life--that I allowed myself to be so separated from my father. Whatever choices he and my mother made, and, trust me, I have some excellent stories on the matter of how not to interact with your ex (most of them do strike me funny now, if they didn't at the time), I too much allowed those choices, arguments, and power plays to influence how I conducted myself with my father. And since he is long-since buried at sea, there is nothing to be done--the separation is now permanent. I fear this will be true for kitten's stepkids.

I am also a stepmother, and while I don't always know what to do with my stepsons (Turtle and Monkey--TG is my bioson), I do love them. And though they don't usually see it, I defend their rights to appreciate both parents equally and without fear of retribution Every. Single. Day. I have held them as they cried after their mother screamed terrible things about their father; I have reminded them to call her to let her know about activities. I have pulled their father aside or talked him through how to approach an issue without turning it into "dad versus mom," which is too easy to do if the adults can't see past the divorce. I have encouraged him to talk to their mother, even when he tries to avoid it. I don't do this because I'm somehow heroic or better or whatever, I do it because of the three adults in the life of these two kids, I'm the only one who is/was/whatever a stepchild, so my perspective is a bit different.

Do I always handle situations well in step? Hell no. I've provided each of the three kids with plenty of stories to share with their therapists when they are grown (that is the function of the parent, right?). For one, I seldom interact with their mother out of a sense of self-preservation--she is far too much like my own mother for my comfort, and I know my avoidance of her bothers all three kids. I am, do I put this...critical and loud (TG and I are screamers, the rest of the clan is not. Even after 6 years we are still trying to mediate this). I yell and I tell things as I see them, occasionally with a heavy dose of sarcasm. And, of course, there is that addiction piece, which has adversely affected them all, undoubtedly.

I am also the biomom, and I screw up plenty there too. I forget to call and send things to TG's father; I am so very grateful that the schools have since started sending stuff to both addresses, so that my forgetfulness is no longer a problem there. I find myself frustrated at the ways in which TG's father and I differ in our disciplinary tactics and approaches to parenting TG, but when the chips are down, I know damn well I can count on his father to have my back and to support TG. Why? We agreed a looong time ago, that we would work to parent the boy together, even though disagreement. Even across 500 miles. And, yeah, there's the big one for TG's therapist. 11 years ago, I chose to move TG 538 miles away from his father, in order to start graduate school (no, there was no local program for my coursework). That they have the kind of relationship is testament to something--tenacity, perhaps?

As frustrated as I have gotten with TG's father, with Monkey and Turtle's mother, with G and with myself, I can't begin to imagine a moment where I would encourage a child to despise his or her other parents ( bio, step, foster, first, forever or otherwise). To do so is an act of cruelty that I can't even begin to articulate. There are plenty of parents who do things that will result in such hatred from the child--those who abuse, those who abandon, the mentally unstable, and scores of others may earn the contempt of their children (rightly or wrongly) without interference from a third party. Most parents, though, are guilty only of being human and having the audacity to possess human foibles.

So, here's a few pieces of advice:

One, avoid labeling the other parents (step or otherwise) as slut, trollop, asshole, bitch, whatever, in front of the kids. Yes, you might really believe in your heart that he is a no-account-bastard-who-hates-his-children or that she is a psycho-hose-beast-from-hell, but, please do keep that kind of opinion to yourself when around the kids. Share it with your friends if you need to get it off your chest.

Two, don't convince your child that the other parent has hired someone to spy on you and follow you around, unless that is accurate. As a joke it rather sucks. If accurate, that's a whole separate problem.

Three, raising the kids is not about your divorce, split up, or separation. Deal with it. It's not even about you. The affair?--not really their concern. The abuse--yeah, it may be a concern. Very much. Ask for help in talking to the kids about it. There is nothing wrong with asking for help.

Four, waxing nostalgic about the past to the kids is seldom helpful. If your marriage or relationship was such a paradise, chances are you wouldn't have split up. See #3--this is not about you.

Five, wanton destruction of artifacts of your relationship might feel damn good, but do try to keep such activities out of the line of sight of the kids. Again, not really helpful.

Six, if you should happen to blow it on one of the above or something like them, apologize to the kids. If you called the other parent names or lied or shared stories you shouldn't have, you may even need to apologize to the other parent. Yes, I am serious. Humans sometimes do really dumb things; own up and don't repeat.

Most of all, be willing to forgive your screw-ups, those of the other parents, and the kids, when those screw-ups really aren't harmful. Don't assume that someone else is a negative influence just because you *shudder* disagree about something, and for the love of Pete, don't convince the kids that another parent is harmful or negative, just because you disagree. Deal with the disagreement between adults and grow up a tad... an ounce of grace and a pinch of calm will make all of our interactions better.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rural Running: Porch Dog Primer

My unintentional* foray into a 24 mile run yesterday took me through some of the remaining rural sections of my domain. Often, one can see the specific area I live in referred to as "rural"--it isn't (though rural seems to be code for "not yet overdeveloped"** in this case); however, you can get to rural areas fairly quickly from here--even, as it turns out, on foot.

The areas that lack the kinds of commercial development that have a stranglehold on most of the surrounding counties (mine included--our tiny county has SCORES of apartment complexes and big box stores) are every bit as beautiful as you might imagine. There are homes and the odd subdivisions scattered throughout, but there are also stretches of grasslands (that were once pine stands, most likely) and quiet. The traffic is, for the most part, relatively light, and those who do drive by tend to give runners plenty of room--unlike the drivers on certain other local roads.

I was fortunate to be joined by a number of new friends on my rambles yesterday, all of them canine. Dogs of all stripes--from farm dogs to apartment dwellers to the elite pampered set--are in abundance in my home county and its surrounding areas. Folks love their dogs, and I count myself in their numbers, since I do adore the canine troops, though I currently share residence with two felines, since G is, to put it mildly, not a dog fan. I was fortunate to grow up with dogs--German Shepherds*** at home and scores of labs, mutts, spaniels (of assorted shapes and sizes), bassets, dachshunds, and even a St. Bernard at the homes of family and friends. Consequently, I learned at a young age how to read dogs and how to approach them, etc. Such skills have served me well over the years, when large dogs (because folks tend to fear them more than the scrappy set--which is a tad foolish) appear in the neighborhood, roaming without obvious human in tow.

Yesterday was no exception, because I met scores of new canine buddies on my travels, and I'd like to introduce them to you. I am sad that I have no pictures to share but, well, the camera really would have been excessive, you know?

Rural Dogs 1 & 2: Turtle in Mouth and Short Dog

If you've never been in the backwoods of the South (or, hell, even a few miles out of the city), then you might never have met a rural dog (is this a regional thing, or a rural thing everywhere?). Rural dogs hang out on and under porches (some will be known as porch dogs, and you'll meet a few below) during the summer, when it is far too hot for anyone to be wandering about, but they tend to roam during the cooler months. Rural dogs do not operate within the confines of a chain link or wooden fence nor especially anything so untoward as the electric fence. These dogs roam, often without a collar, and they tend to find trouble where ever they can.

My first two buddies found me at about mile 6. One was a lab/boxer/indeterminate average black dog and the other was some sort of dachshund mix (rural dogs, by the way, are often black. Black dogs are absolutely ubiquitous in rural GA--which works well, since any other dog will be permanently stained red from the clay). The taller of the two carried a box turtle in his/her mouth. When they saw me run by, they seemed to think it would be swell to join me, though they periodically would stop to check out a chase opportunity--squirrels and the odd chipmunk (Turtle dog never releasing his/her catch during these forays). So, these two fine canines stayed with me in fits and spurts for about a mile-and-a-half, when they arrived at what I think was home. Short dog (who did a bang up of keeping up with me--boy am I slow) turned off the path, followed soon by Turtle Dog, who, prior to running home ignominiously dropped the turtle. *Bang!* Soon, however, TD reappeared and ran with me for another half mile or so, before apparently deciding that I was completely irrational. I think he came back for me that second time under the impression that I needed intervention.

Rural Dogs 3-7: The Boxer Brigade

The next rural dog set appeared around mile 10 or 11, when I met 5 boxer mixes in quick succession and my first true porch dogs (though I've seen a number of them online). Old Dog, the first one I encountered, merely observed my existence and then carried on. The next two, who were apparently plotting to disturb the local cattle, looked briefly guilty and then feigned innocence as I ran by; as soon as I passed (I turned back to look), they resumed their plan to harass the local cows that stood on just on the other side of the wire fence. If the dogs had access to wire cutters, they so would have been there. The last two made a great production of barking at me as I went by, but quieted when I said hello and passed the property line. They also failed to actually move during the barking episode, which suggested to me that perhaps the barking was more for show than actual, you know, property protection--they exemplify the porch dog motif-->all bark, little actual movement.

Rural Dog 8: Jack Russell, Terrier-at-large

The eighth Rural Dog was a Jack Russell, they of the hyperactive streak. He didn't run with me terribly long, a quarter mile or so, before he apparently decided that this was exceedingly uncool and would involve no more than a crazy running woman talking to him, and no food or ball throwing. Deeming the run a useless exercise (at that point, I was inclined to agree with the assessment), he turned back for home.

Rural Dogs 9-11: The Marauding Pack of Chihuahuas

I saw Dogs 9 & 10 before I met Dog 8; the Chihuahuas (I love that they are such an easily identifiable breed--even at that distance) were about a half-mile or so ahead of me, screwing around in the grass beside the road. They took off running about the time Dog 8 found me, and when I rounded the curve ahead, I did not see them, so I assumed they had departed the scene.


As I headed downhill at mile 14 or so, just before my route took a hard left to go around the reservoir, I spotted 9 & 10 at the bottom of the hill. Their pack had grown by one and all three chihuahuas romped at the bottom of the driveway. As I mentioned, dogs don't generally frighten me, but if you have ever seen chihuahuas in a pack in action, then you might realize why the situation--me in a fairly lonely area, facing down three ankle biters--gave me pause. See, chihuahuas, for all their nervous shaking, act like rebellious teens when they are in a group; as with the teens, their collective intelligence drops, the more chihuahua (or teen) you add to the mix. So the "little dog syndrome" they suffer from as single dog is amplified by additional dog, and here I was facing three of the buggers, marauding around the curve I needed to take. As I approached, the yapping began. And got louder. And they kept barking...

and running up the driveway away from me, while barking furiously.

So much for the herd O'Chihuahua.

Rural Dogs 12 & 13: On Pits, Chows, and Insanity

These two fine specimens (both mutts, one with a bit of chow in her, I think) were the only dogs living near a busy road and, probably not coincidentally, the only ones to threaten attack--well, dog 13 did--the chow (Chows are about the only breed I don't like dealing with. Unlike pit bulls, who are congenial animals when raised right, chows are freaking insane). My reticence to deal with chows probably made the situation louder than necessary (I'm sure she knew it), but, again, having been raised around dogs, I have a decent sense about them, and I realized quickly that she (dog 12--a lab/pit mutt variant was, I think, simply following her lead--but mostly wanted to be pet) was less upset by my proximity to her drive way than the fact that I was running. So I slowed to a walk, she quieted down some, and they escorted me, still barking (uh, them barking, not me), to the beginning of the pastureland. What really bugged the crap out of me how easily these dogs could be hit on that highway--the driveway is less than a half-mile from the highway, and, as we have seen, most of the rural dog set is willing to follow at least that far.

So, there you have it, my Tour de Rural Dogland. Maybe I should pack Milk Bones next time...

* I plotted two maps recently, 20 and 22 miles respectively. Unfortunately, when I got to the end of one road, I thought I might have looked at the wrong one, and back tracked to the other road, adding two miles to my intended 22. I really need to trust my memory better than that. On the other hand, I did 24 miles yesterday, walking the final 5 miles (GA gullywasher combined with running out of water--stupid, I know) in the time I estimated for the marathon, so I'm feeling pretty good about the 26.2 in June.

** Not going to go on an environmental rant. Well, not this time, any way.

***Large German Shepherds, at that, averaging about 125 lbs of muscle and fur.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Death of a Punk

As you'll note to the side of this blog, one of my favorite people is colleague Sam, he of the curmudgeonly intellectual stripe. He is largely responsible for my initial foray into punk as an academic mode, when he posed a query on the origins of the word "punk."

Well, Sam harrumphed into my office the other day, and, as luck would have it, my copy of Lexicon Devil, the recent oral history bio of Darby Crash, was quietly sitting on my desk, prompting him to wonder aloud why in the world people (read: me) were fascinated by him. I'd shown him a clip from Decline at one point, and, to no one's surprise, it did nothing to improve Sam's opinion of Crash. So, my task for the day--answering Sam's burning question...

What draws people to Darby Crash?

Granted, I've wondered about this myself, usually while I wonder what draws people toward any lead singer. Some of the answers are easy--charisma, bizarre behavior, the standard stuff of celeb worship. Crash was charismatic, by nearly all accounts. Paul Rosseler describes him as having "this natural power; it was hard to figure out what it actually was; it was either that he was so much smarter than anybody else so he could do those things, pr her had techniques that he learned from the books he read or from IPS. Or he just had magic" (23). Of course, not all accounts of his charm are as positive as Rosseler, with several leaning more toward manipulative (successfully, though) and pathetic (using his pathos to lure in those who would then care for him--classic addict move, BTW). Brendan Mullen describes Crash as
much more demonic, intense, intoxicated...he gradually began to exude a much darker persona...The dreaded "Gimme two dollars...gimmie a beee-ah...gimmie a ride home" was the Klaxon From Hell around the scene which witnessed a series of socially ostracized, overweight women, many of them easy-pickings and mind-suggestibles with absent or disapproving father complexes; of more or less the same psychological type preyed on by people like Charlie Manson. Such women openly competed for the attention of this emotionally unavailable, alcohol-besotted LSD guru while picking up his tab for booze, drugs, gas, food, and clothing. (Mullen 115)
He also had the intriguingly bizarre behavior in spades; though, truth be told, if one collected all of the punk stories worldwide and cataloged and categorized them, Crash wasn't exactly out of line with the norm. But, significant as the Germs were to punk, and to LA punk in particular, and as significant as his story is to the history of gender and sexuality politics in music and the particular shifts that occurred in LA punk that irrevocably changed the landscape for gay male punkers (the arrival of the suburban hyper-masculine punks from Huntington Beach, to be specific), the staying-power of Crash's legend is probably most deeply rooted in his death, an iconic death that heralds the coming excesses of the 1980s better than it reflects the "old punk" he championed.

Crash, as punk fans are no doubt already aware, died as a result of a heroin overdose on December 7, 1980. He was twenty-two years old.* By virtually all accounts, the overdose was intentional and well-planned, as he started announcing it some 5 years prior (the 5 year plan,** was, according to Crash legend, inspired by Bowie's "Five Years" on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. He remarked to Pat Smear, during a rehearsal for the Germs reunion show (Dec. 3, 1980), that he was only "doing this to get money to get enough heroin to kill myself with" (Mullen 243). He was sufficiently dark during and after the show to goad bassist Lorna Doom into trying to get several of Darby's friends to intervene.

Crash stated to Donnie Rose that "the purpose of [the Germs reunion] show was to demonstrate to the new punks how it was, what it was really all about in the old days" (Mullen 247). Ouch--and this at 22. One of the major changes that had occurred on the LA scene was the rise of the Hardcore punks from the beach suburbs, in and around 1979. Jeff MacDonald [oh he of Redd Kross and (!) Spirit of '76***] describes the transition as a sudden one: "We were shocked when it turned out it was the same kids who'd previously been hassling us for liking punk and now they're all red-hot punkers emulating how the media portrayed punk rock, as really violent and fucked up" (Spitz, 193). Mugger describes this group as "full-on white suburbanite rebellion" (Spitz 193). The old school punks--Crash and his crew--were quickly subsumed by the moneyed rebellion. Punk, as the Germs knew it, was dying in the face of what MacDonald and others saw as theatrics.****

How fitting that the speaker of the house for "old" LA Punk should choose such a theatrical exit, then.

He was not, of course, the first overdose post-WWII music had encountered, preceded as he was by Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison (yes, I know, no autopsy--but, really, fair guess that any "heart failure" was externally triggered), Brian Jones and scores of others. Musicians of any stripe within the musical community often spawn legends, among the most famous of which is the life of Robert Johnson, whose crossroads mythology has so permeated the musical landscape that references to it are ubiquitous in modern American culture (and wrong--RJ's legend was copped from the stories of Tommy Johnson by his brother). The deaths of musicians are perhaps even more likely to do so--Elvis seems the obvious example here, but scores of legends exist about Morrison's death as well.

Something in the deaths of Jimi, Jim, and Janis bespoke magical, mystical, legendary, and unattainable qualities that belied the tragedies of the overdoses. Their deaths are often regarded Romantically, not unlike the suicide fads associated with Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther:
Phillips calls this the Werther Effect, named for the spurned lover in Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther—Werther, in a blue waistcoat and yellow vest, sits down one night, writes the object of his desire a last letter, and shoots himself above his right eye. Soon after the book’s publication in 1774, young men dressed as Werther began to shoot themselves at desks with open books in front of them, and the novel was subsequently banned across Italy, Germany, and Denmark. NY Magazine
Like the Romantic poets before them (Keats and Coleridge, I'm looking at you), these musical icons bore the banner of generational genius--their music captured that certain undefinable something of their generation's particular Zeitgeist.***** The romanticizing of these 1970s deaths (the end of an era, the death of innocence, and so forth) set them remarkably apart from the musical and personal excesses that the 1980s would come to symbolize (even if the excesses, realistically, were identical--read a few bios of the 60s & 70s bands against those by Slash and Nikki Sixx, the excesses are almost identical, if the pleas for redemption that permeate the recent bios are not). In effect, the young deaths are expected (like those of Keats, Shelley, and Byron) because genius cannot exist but for so long in a single place or body. Crash capitalized on this expectation and chose a death that dramatized the excesses in an almost iconic fashion: raw China White heroin (and a large quantity of it, at that), announcements of his impending suicide that had gone so long as to begin to appear comic, etc. Such pronouncements were not unheard of in the punk world, even if they tended to reflect a more theatrical style than one commonly expects out of the genre--see GG Allin (who was jailed for the day he had legendarily promised to commit suicide on stage).

For me at least, and I can't pretend that I can speak for all who have written about Crash or wondered about his significance, Crash exemplifies a specific moment in musical history, where we see the transition of punk (itself a reaction to 70s glam and pot-laced "hippie music") into the vapid excesses of glam rock and metal that would permeate LA during the 80s, finally spawning GnR--the most obvious heirs to the mantle of excess. He's a troublesome figure--plenty of remarks that infuriate, and it is easy to turn him into a "lost soul" myth, which is, I think, what often happens to his story (much like those of Jimi, Janis, & Jim).

*A virtual prodigy, having killed himself some 5 years before he could join the lauded "27 club."

**Not that claims of impending demise always come about. GnR regularly remarked of themselves that none of the would see the far side of 27. Given that all five of the Appetite members not only passed 27 and 29 and the various age revisions in the interviews as they kept managing to survive, but they are collectively staring 50 in the face now. Good job, gentlemen. Glad you are still around.

***If you have never seen this must. Must. Simply must. Here's a sample of it's delightful awfulness. Want a Snoball? *grin*

****Not that LA Punk didn't have its bastion of theatrics from the get-go. See the Germs, the name it.

*****The most obvious corollary for my generation is, of course, Kurt Cobain. His death on April 5, 1994 is for Generation Xers one of those moments that it seems that everyone can recall what he or she was doing when the news broke three days later. And while his life has certainly been romanticized (the boy from Aberdeen who changed the face of music--what do you know, the Romantic myth of the Common Man), his death has, to a certain extent, not been, unless you count the myriad conspiracy theories that tend to accuse his wife, Courtney Love, of nefarious intent. I tend to agree with the NY mag author linked above, Vanessa Grigoriades, that "a dearth researchers have attributed [etd. to add: the resistance to romanticizing his suicide] to Courtney Love’s emotional denunciation of his act—“I want you all to say ‘asshole’ really loud.” No one wanted to be an asshole." My favorite part of her Eulogy: "Well, Kurt, so fucking what — then don’t be a rockstar you asshole."

Mullen, Brendan, Don Bolles, & Adam Parfrey. Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs. Los Angeles: Feral House, 2002.

Spitz, Marc & Brendan Mullen. We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Plagueless III: Xanax Dreams

Part II is here, if you missed it.

I mentioned recently that I had read an interview with Duff recently that triggered a recovery memory (note--recovery, not recovered). The interview, which is a damn fine one, references his slip in 2005, which, to the best of my memory, I had never read him speaking quite so directly about (though he's mentioned the general events of 2005 several times--he wrote "Wasted Heart"--if you have never heard it, shame on you, it is a beautiful tribute-- for his wife after the troubles of that year and mentions that at pretty much every show). A second article, referencing the same period, appeared this week

He remarks in the first interview that:
For me, it is the drama. I had a relapse on pills in 2005. It came out of nowhere. It was because of all this bullshit. Xanax was prescribed for me. I was supposed to take one if I had a bad panic attack. I had them in my bag and that was my first mistake. I took one, and the next day, I took two. In only nine days, I was up to 22. That is what guys like you and I do.
Addicts, he means, of course--particularly those of a particular stripe. Addictive behaviors can respond to all manner of triggers, and Duff has never really made any bones about what band and touring stress does to him. Hell, "Beautiful Disease" makes reference to the notion: "lost my mind about 30 time 'cause of bullshit pulled on tour" (this in a song about addiction, and realize that 30, in this case, isn't fact, it's probably a conservative estimate). While I am admittedly baffled that someone prescribed Xanax to a person that had struggled so badly with addiction (it's a benzo , for goodness sake--easy addiction), I imagine that the level of stress required--the anxiety produced by that stress--must have been dramatic for him to have even sought the option. I have no idea if he fully informed himself about the dangers of Xanax to addicts either, but that's really neither here nor there.

Reading the remark (and then hearing him talk about it on stage in Nashville) triggered a rather uncomfortable memory from 2007--when I was in therapy. I should note that I am now eternally thankful that the particular doc I saw was an advocate for non-drug therapy, especially for addicts. I recall being so incredibly whacked out (probably the best way to put it), panicking, rising to anger even more quickly than normal, and, oh lord the obsessing! that I went in one day convinced that he needed to prescribe something. Anything would do at that point. All I wanted was to feel normal. Unfortunately, I really hadn't experienced normal in quite sometime. I was simply in sensory overload, which he recognized, and being the good addiction specialist that he was, he taught me a few behavioral tricks to try before writing a scrip. And I am grateful for that for precisely the reason Duff mentions above, because, as he puts it in the second interview, once he began taking the Xanax: "Boom! I was off to the races. It knocked me off my feet, man. Guys like me, once you start thinking you're bulletproof that's when it gets really dangerous. I learned a great lesson from it. I let myself down. I let my whole family down. It killed me." That could have and, worse, likely would have, been me on such anti-anxiety meds. Such would have undoubtedly forced the kind of collapse that I fear--to the detriment of my family.

Addictions are a shared burden, as is the management of the addictions. Too, as with mental illness, the burden is shared with our children as possible (terrible and unintentional) inheritances. I coach TG regularly about addiction--the realities of why mom reads cough syrup labels and finds non-drug ways to deal with anxiety and insomnia-- and why it is absolutely essential that I do and that he pay attention to his own choices and habits. And, while I fear for myself, I fear far more for him and what he stands to inherit from his family tree rife with suicide, mental illness, and addictions.

The other thing that occurred to me when reading this article (the first one) came up time and again as I read the two bipolar memoirs and throughout the last two weeks is this: addictions and mental illness are a shared burden that we slowly learn to share and the we must share. We have to navigate how much to tell and to whom we will tell it. It strikes me as no small thing that 3 1/2 years after the fact, Duff is telling a bit more about his and his family's ordeal in 2005, just as the flood of information about the events of 1994 was slow to spread, but eventually became a natural part of his discourse. I met a young woman recently who confessed her own addiction struggles to me when we met, just as I shared with her. Why? It was important that we do so, given the context behind our meeting, which began with a misunderstanding borne of my attempting to type while angry (always, always a bad idea), and many thank yous to her for her bravery. You know who you are.

I find myself increasingly able to give voice to my addiction stories, especially the pre-2007 ones, though I'm trying to give voice to the recent slip as well. The stories, the act of sharing, creates and maintains a space in which addicts can survive, because the space is honest and realistic and, well, shared. Because if nothing else, each addict has to learn to rely on someone other than him or herself--too often we cannot be trusted with ourselves. We put the Xanax in the bag, give in to that one glass of wine, go seeking that one trigger because it will give license to release the demon (because we were cocky, because we were brave, because we were forgetful, scared, excited, whatever). What a difference there is when someone keeps us from traveling too high or picks us up when we crash; such a gift of a person can only exist inside an honest relationship.

And so we tell. We tell new acquaintances who might become friends. We tell coworkers. We tell our families. We tell the audience at the show. We talk and we tell and we share to survive. Which is, I guess, why I gravitate toward addiction and mental illness narratives, because they are part of an enormous participatory narrative.

Which brings me to Beautiful Boy.

Sheff's narrative of his son's addictions and rehabs and relapses and the toll that they took on the family frightened me initially not because of the point-of-view of intervention and concern--I'm well aware of the havoc addictions wreak on families and friends, but because of the same thing that Duff mentioned as "scaring the hell" out of him when he read it. What frightened me was the father/son role, or parent/child, to generalize a bit. Why? Simple: I worry over TG and what the experience of an actively addict parent and the genetic inheritances will bring about in his life. I worry because he does know that he likely inherited a potentially lethal disorder and that he alone has the ability to escape it. What can I do to prevent addiction for my son?

Honestly? I don't know.

Realistically, addiction begins as pulling a trigger--the first time might get you, or the third, or the ninth, or, if you get lucky--never, but pulling the trigger nevertheless. And, it begins as a solo effort--the not-yet-addict, responding to desire, to peer pressure, to fancy, to...whatever, makes a choice. Perhaps the not-yet-addict is unaware of his or her genetic potential. Perhaps (as was true of me) he or she is perfectly aware of the torrid family history ("she caught the family disease," goes Loaded's "Queen Joanasophina") but pulls the trigger anyway. Maybe she'll get lucky; maybe not. Maybe it will be, as Sheff puts it, a "near miss" that pulls her out of her addiction (274), should that be what comes to pass, rather than wholly destructive or deadly rock bottom. Parents can guide, encourage, intervene, and pray; we can teach and hope something positive sticks. In the end, though...there is choice, over which we do not and should not have control.

I could (no, I can't, but I'll fake it for a moment) try to intellectualize my response to Sheff's book. It chronicles parental struggles in painful (and, at times, overwhelming, detail), and the infernal and constant questions: how much do we tell? How much of our own habits and histories do we share with our children, and how much do we edit, realizing that everything we try to hide may come to light in spite of us, even if we never lived in a spotlight? At what point do our stories cease being cautionary tales (which is certainly how parents tend to see them) and become fodder for arguments over who did what, when, how often, and with whom or, worse (?) mere anecdotes of parental lost-coolness? The reader occupies and experiences those questions and that position throughout Sheff's narrative--the parent overwhelmed by fear and anger and betrayal. And then simply overwhelmed. A telling quote:
There's a lot I don't know, but I have learned some lessons about addiction. Though there are some wrong courses of action to take, there is no predetermined right course. No one knows. (275)
If that isn't parenthood on any subject, I really don't know what is. No one knows.

One of the most telling pieces of his narrative is the way in which Sheff is nearly always in motion (save for when he is himself hospitalized). Time and again, we see the frantic action of parent calling, praying, screaming, and the addict sleeps. Sleeps or is otherwise passive. We don't see much of Nic's activity because we are in David Sheff's world, not Nic's*. As a device to heighten the tension of the text, though--it works. Everything in Sheff's life becomes, for a time, about Nic's addictions:
Here's a note to the parents of addicted children: choose your music carefully. Avoid Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," from the Polaroid or Kodak or whichever commercial, and the songs "Turn Around" and "Sunrise, Sunset" and---there are thousands more. Avoid Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," and this one, Eric Clapton's song about his son. Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" sneaked up on me one time. The music doesn't have to be sentimental. Springsteen can be dangerous. (192)
Even the most innocuous of sources (*cough*Springsteen*cough*) is cause for emotional upheaval that may come utterly without warning. Everything in Sheff's world comes to be defined by his son's addiction (this is also true for the addicts, of course--every bit of music, every sunset, birthday, vacation, workday or image may be defined by its relationship to the addiction).

Addiction stems from solitary actions; though some are performed quite publicly, they are nevertheless actions imbued with separation from the world. Sheff captures the solitary motions of his son's addiction in the spaces of loss and terror, ones Sheff himself cannot voice the story for (as he did not experience the stories). However, addiction recovers in shared space--Al-Anon, AA, NA, rehab, group and individual therapy, books, blogs, stories shared over coffee and during concerts and runs and myriad other events. Sheff's website speaks to this need and truth, as he offers a forum for people to share their stories in. Share there. Share here, but do share your stories, whether they be hopeful or horrific, funny or frightening (alliterative or reasonably normal, for that matter).

Would I recommend Beautiful Boy? I don't know, really. Probably--especially for parents, though not in the "you can learn from THIS!" sort of way. Parents of addicts and addict parents--yes, definitely, if for no other reason than to hear someone else telling your/their/our story.

So there you have it, the sum total of my recent forays into fiction and non-fiction. Up for tonight? A Christopher Pike novel. Sort of needed a mental download. I'll get back to real work tomorrow.

Up next? Zakes Mda's Cion and Richard Meltzer's The Aesthetics of Rock.

(and Gravity's Rainbow, in my annual attempt to finish the damn thing).

*Nic's story is available in Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, which I've not read and haven't decided whether or not I am going to yet.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Plagueless II: Scary Books

Continuing on toward Beautiful Boy:

Before getting to one of the more serious jags in my recent readings, I want to share with you one of the most delightful bits of silliness that I have had the opportunity to read (using the term in a fairly loose sense, anyway). I read it before Lent--I can't recall when I bought it precisely--, but if you were remotely attached to any hair/glam band of the late eighties, you must check out Neil Zlozower's Fück Yöu: Rock and Roll Portraits, a glorious visual ode to perhaps the most ubiquitous of all rock poses:

the bird* (thank you, wireimage)

Ah, bliss.

Okay, back to the musing:

Wright’s Black Boy is likely the most disconnected of the various texts I’ve been reading of late, in so far as its themes are relatively divergent from the others, at least superficially. It is, however, one of the myriad books which I feel like I have put off reading for far too long (and how it never ended up on any of my undergraduate or graduate reading lists is beyond me), and I am glad to took the time to read it, as Wright is a favorite author of mine--I love his voices. Thematically, the book did, it turned out, fit in with many of my Lenten themes, not the least of which is his working out how to live in the world. In addition to Wright's discussions of the racial struggles of his childhood, teen, and young adult years, he encounters his own addiction and redemption story when he falls in with a crowd of adults who find the cursing of a young, drunken lad to be terribly entertaining. That scene was among many of the uncomfortable indictments included in the text regarding race and class (and it is so incredibly clear how the two are conflated throughout). Imagine this moment, if you will. A young boy, perhaps six years old, dirt poor, bored, and lonely is pulled into a saloon, where he is plied with drinks and taught the language of the drunken:
To beg drinks in the saloon became an obsession. Many evenings my mother would find me wandering in a daze and take me home and beat me; but the next morning, no sooner had she gone to her job than I would run to the saloon and wait for someone to take me in and buy me a drink....But the men--reluctant to surrender their sport--would buy me drinks anyway, letting me drink out of their flasks on the streets, urging me to repeat obscenities. (21)
The language of the saloon, which he learns by sound, if not by meaning, eventually catches up to him, when he flings them out at his Grandmother. This marks his first (and certainly not his last) encounter with the manipulation of language in the various places and spaces he will inhabit.

His narrative ends with the following remark: "I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human" (384). Exactly. Throw them into the void for someone, anyone, to hear and resonate with. This is why we tell our stories--whatever they may be--isn't it?

Much of my recent reading swirled around bipolar disorder (BSD, or bipolar spectrum disorder). I read them because BSD (Bipolar Spectrum Disorder) is one of my most nagging fears, and part of my Lenten (and post-Lenten) reading disciplines is to face those "places that scare" me. I have worried about the genetic links to BSD since my mother's diagnosis (and, indeed, before her formal diagnosis, since most of us "knew" about her before we were told). She was misdiagnosed as clinically depressed for years and treated with Prozac (and self-medicated with alcohol, because, guess what...Prozac alone doesn't help the bipolar brain, and can trigger mania ). And it's not just idle paranoia** either, because of my own substance abuse troubles and the hypomanic experiences that have driven me to do little things like, well, become confident (ha!) enough to drink again. I generally describe these periods as "hyperactive." I prefer the term; it's relatively accurate in so far as my habits and actions, but I am also aware that I have several of the "manic" habits--rapid speech, lack of focus, uncontrolled anger, "expansive" moods (the "I believe I can do anything" routine), name it. My mother's diagnosis is Bipolar II; she presents with significant depressive symptoms (and has had several episodes of major depression over the years) and hypomania, though I would argue that her suicide attempt of a few years ago was a result of a manic episode, not a depressive one, but I don't know how honest she's been with her doctor on the matter, either (such would likely pop her diagnosis over to Bipolar I).

So, in the course of that reading, I finished one of the most frightening books I have ever read. As most of you are aware, I'm a bit of a horror addict, so, as you might imagine, this was not a zombie tale (not that there are scores of those in print anyway), vampire story, or ghost tome. It was Marya Hornbacher's Madness. I can't say I would recommend it in general terms, but if you have ever wanted for insight into the bipolar mind, this book is it. Several pieces caught my attention in her book, not the least of which was her fluid interpretation of the manic mind--her narrative voice captures the speed (and, eventually, paranoia) associated with such episodes--I'm particularly fond of her overuse of the exclamation point, since in mania, so often, Everything is splendid! (Her digressions feel quite familiar. So familiar):

I report--and believe--that everything is going well, better than well, so he has no reason to think anything's wrong. I brush of his incessant questions about whether I'm doing too much...How could I be doing too much when everything is right? The meds are obviously working brilliantly, as anyone can see....(168)
Indeed, they are. Her use of dashes and the freeflow of superlatives heighten the effect of the mania--sweeping the reader into her madness.

Kay Redfield Jameson's An Unquiet Mind is likewise a personal account of biopolar disorder, though the narrative voice is considerably more staid and calm, even as Jameson delves into her manic psychosis, which befits her own characterization as the intellect drawn to study the very mood disorder that haunts her and her family. As a consequence, her voice is often reserved and, superficially at least, objective. Her insights (and I would argue that many of these insights ARE borne out of the objectivity she had to develop as a researcher) dance between the image of the bipolar patient has of him or herself and those held by others. She captures, at the outset of her chapter "Flights of Mind," the separation between the perceptions of the bipolar mind and those of the people who live with the bipolar patient:

It goes on and one, and finally there are only others' recollection of your behavior--your bizarre, frenetic, aimless behaviors--for mania has at least some grace in partially obliterating memories. (68)

One of the central arguments for each writer is mania is itself addictive--those behaviors that are read by others as frivolous, batty, or annoying, are products of a feeling of unconquerability and pleasure--at least until the paranoia becomes unmanageable. Both authors also discuss the heavy reliance on others for survival--that the ways in which the bipolar patient is treated by the world (family, friends, etc.) can make all the difference, but, as Hornbacher makes clear, such reliance takes a toll--the caregivers often suffer mightily in the face of the disorder, forced from superhero to sidekick and back again, over and over and over. She remarks of her husband

He doesn't know how to relate to me. He has grown used to my being sick. He gave up on getting me back and got used to playing savior. Now he is tired of that role; but at the same time, he has forgotten everything else. In some ways it is simpler to be married to someone who is all need and no give. It's an enormous drain. But there is a benefit too: you become the hero, the center of someone else's existence. You are the saint. You have, in this sense, a great deal of power. (222)
The remark, like hers about losing the ability to write to the darkness, struck me cold and familiar. I wonder just how often I left G in such a predicament. Being a functional sort, he was never pushed to exactly these lengths, but he certainly lost the ability to know what and how to deal with me in the first go around of sobriety. I pulled away--didn't know how to react to or with him, wrapped up as I was in surviving the everyday. He, in turn, locked himself away from me, through various means, and I often wondered if it was in part because I wasn't as weak as I had been...I don't know. The idea crossed my mind on more than one occasion, but it could have as easily been my own projections of my fears of being needy (which isn't the case. An attention whore, maybe, but I can damn well take care of everything else). And I struggle with that appearance of neediness; I deeply fear not being independent--to be beholden to another for my material or psychological well being is terrifying, which is why, I guess, I am so caught up in the fear of a genetic inheritance from my mother--because bipolar, if it does nothing else, forces the patient into the role of reliance...on drug therapy, talk therapy, and on friends and family.

Such reliance is the essence of what I avoided in Beautiful Boy, but I need to make a small digression before we get there. A nod toward an idol and his craft. And a thank you to a new person to my world, who happily provides me with intellectual fodder and teengirl gaiety.

*I am horrified, just horrified, that of all the pictures I have of Duff McKagan on my computer not one had him posing with the big bird. Not one. The picture you see above is courtesy of the Loaded site, where, thankfully, someone had the decency to post Duff in his natural habitat.

**I initially typed "idol paranoia." Given how often I've used the term idol in reference to Duff of late, I had to laugh at that phrase. How the hell would that look?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Plagueless Decameron

That the last two weeks have been a "roller-coaster" would be a significant understatement. Here’s to a completely boring, uneventful, totally calm week.

Yeah, I’m laughing too. So not going to happen.

On the marathon front, ran 20 miles this weekend. Fifteen on Saturday and five on Sunday. Feeling a tad sore today, but good. Saturday was horrid—hot, humid, terrible running weather, but I did make it through. Was pleased to discover that I could still run on Sunday. Next week, 18 miles on Saturday and 5 or 6 on Sunday—can’t remember which. Discovered that my new jeans are too big, which is a damn fine discovery, all in all.

Sobriety, well, still sober, 86 days sober, to be exact [I wasn’t really sure how long it had been, as I wasn’t keeping count. I’m not even 100% certain that February 7th is the correct date, but I know I was not sober for this post (snort…not sober? I was freaking wasted. I had a friendly online exchange with a friend that I have evidence, but no memory, of that night), and I was sober at this one (two days later), but…I can’t recall much other than the decision to race, which gave me the something to hang onto for the first few weeks.] I’ve removed a few triggers—I don’t usually shop on Friday nights anymore, for one—and I am generally at peace with my addictions, in so far as I think I ever will be. Of course, I’m pretty sure that around 90 days was significant last time too (and in the midst of another church upheaval *shakes head,* come to think of it). I’m careful about what I take—even ibuprofen---checking labels on cough syrup, and so forth.

Several people, Duff included, have recommended David Sheff's Beautiful Boy either in general or to me directly. To say that I have avoided the book really doesn't capture the lengths I went through to avoid even looking at the book on the shelves. I suppose my avoidance could be compared to the pilgrims in Boccaccio's Decameron, who shut themselves away in a monastery garden to avoid the plague, which was ravaging the city, hence the title of this post.

During their time (14 days, minus the 2 set aside each week where no stories are told, thus 10 days), the 10 pilgrims (10 x 10 = 100, hence Decameron) share stories, some quite obviously fanciful, others ostensibly true, but always with a moral center of some variant. One might even accuse me of having avoided the book not only by shutting my eyes to it, but by telling, well, reading, stories. My own frame narrative is likewise complete with stories of great moral uplift and absolute debauchery. The frame? See above--sobriety and running. The novellas? Yeah, they follow.

By the time Duff included Sheff's book on his "Summer Reading List" assignment to readers, I was well into my avoidance mode. His remark, that the book scared him all the more as a father, didn’t really help, since I do fear what life holds in store for my boy. I've written about several of the books in these pages (? wow...WTF do I call these...ah, nevermind, got it:) musings, as I devoured several of them during Lent and wrote about them here. So, for the next post or two, I’m going to wander over the readings, until I reach the one I was heretofore avoiding:

The Lenten vat, about which I have already written at length were Pema Chödrön's When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, her The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, Karen Armstrong's Islam: A Short History and Holy War: The Crusades and their Impact on Today’s World, Brad Warner's Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate, and Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.

In addiction (whoa, what a typo) addition to those, I’ve read:

Wright, Richard. Black Boy
Bock, Charles. Beautiful Children
Sixx, Nikki. Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star
Hornbacher, Marya. Madness: A Bipolar Life
Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Peter Manseau, Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World’s Holy Dead

There’s a pattern (or several) here, of course. The Sixx book, which I mentioned here before, is another of the myriad addiction narratives I’ve devoured over the last few years, ostensibly as research material for that eventual-book-based-on-my-dissertation-project that ever PhD has in his or her mental back pocket. As I have mentioned, I found the book intriguing; it was…frightening…at times, when the addiction demons felt too close to the surface, but I think the narrative strategy employed here helps to distance the reader from the action, though I doubt that was what the meta-commentary was intended for. Such commentary does, though, force the reader out of the insanity captured by the journal entries themselves. In terms of the redemption strategies employed by the book, it’s not nearly as self-conscious an effort as, say, Slash’s, but at the same time employing journal entries would, I suspect, tend to limit the redemption narrative impulse. Realistically, both of the above mentioned bios tend to follow the redemption track, particularly in their final chapters, both of which are unquestionably spaces of confession and redemption seeking.

Bock’s Beautiful Children should have been better than it is, and the ending of the text, when we slide between the narrative voices of multiple urban nomads, showcases what the novel could have been. Unfortunately, those voices are crowded out by characters who feel listless and flat in their narcissistic-depressions, rather than engaging or sympathetic. I was intrigued by Cheri’s mapping of her life as a film script, until the convention went nowhere, and she was rendered just another stripper with a heart of gold (and nipple sparklers). I wanted to like this book; I was probably looking for something like What We Do is Secret,** which was far more arresting in the end. Hillsbery can certainly be credited with a far better narrative strategy, particularly in the utter lack of visual cues*, than Bock.

Manseau’s Rag and Bone is a bit of a departure thematically (though, anyone who knows my obsession with Roach's Stiff will be unsurprised by my selection and giddiness), but I highly recommend it to anyone with a curiosity about the ways and natures of relics, all medievalists, and the merely morbid. His travels through the political and religious worlds that seek to preserve something—anything—that confirms the power of the status quo—from foreskins to whiskers to entire bodies, make for a terrific and quick travel narrative. He depicts his encounters with the various characters associated with relic-keeping with humor and goodwill, which makes for a pleasant set of tales, even one wrapped in the horrific realities of Kashmir and Sri Lanka.

The path to Beautiful Boy continues...

*It also contains the single best description of a mosh pit ever, and he describes it without so much as a single visual identifier—purely sound, taste, touch, and hearing, which certainly befits a good pit.

**The websites associated with books are starting to drive me bonkers.