Becoming a Rock

This is self-indulgent. It’s okay – I’m a writer.

I’m walking. Down my wooded driveway in the crisp winter afternoon, earbuds in ears, hoodie pulled down low, hands in pockets. I am listening with my whole body. Each movement in step with a tune only I can hear. The footfall on the rocks, the slope of my neck, the way my ponytail whips in time, all a coordinated effort. The man singing in my ear hits fever pitch – a wailing, high falsetto that keens and spirals and splits the atom with its intensity, then it wavers, falling from the crescendo like trickling water in my eardrum.

I keep walking, but the girl deep down inside me fights the urge to slink to the ground, slithering and boneless, and curl up into a fetal ball. It’s a mental image I have often, and have never told anyone about. When I listen to music that really hits me there, I want to slide soundlessly to the ground and become a rock.

It’s ok. You can say it. Weird.

I’ve tried to explain. But how can you explain something as bright and as wordless as the stars?

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Even as an itty bitty, I knew music (and Joan Jett) was everything.

There are so many avenues I could take to try and explain a thought process without a rhyme or reason. I could talk about synesthesia, the autism spectrum, anxiety and depression, that uneasy marriage – I could talk about the indulgent melancholy of being a writer, the ebb and the flow, the dark and the light, the way we flirt with the abyss, the way we crave distraction, always distraction –

So many words, phrases, paragraphs – stories inside of us, all. To write is to let out tales, a trickle at a time, bit by bit, a stream made of consciousness. To hold a book in your hand that you’ve written is the penultimate accomplishment, or so it feels, but if I can tell you this secret: no matter how many poems, stories, or books you write, you’re still full of letters. They trickle out of your ears, your eyes, your fingertips. Every person is a story waiting to be told, a page to be turned – every sound is waiting to be described – every feeling is in need of a narrator.

And while it is a blessing, this over-abundance of letters – just like any lake, if you swim too long in deep waters, you will tire and drown. You will need your life support. Music has always been mine, since the toddler years, when I sat in front of the stereo with my Dad’s too-big headphones dwarfing my face.

And indeed there will be time to wonder “do I dare?” 

I measure out my time in intervals of obsessions rather than ages. My memory grows fuzzy with so much of the past. I don’t remember much of 23, but I can tell you exactly where I was in Auckland when I first heard Salmonella Dub (riding in a black sedan with a guy named Bernard who was telling jokes while navigating down the hill in Parnell, headed towards Stanley Street, the sun glinting off the water ahead; like diamonds) and exactly how I felt. Every time I hear a pacific beat I think of my heart, too big for my chest. I think of the way the light is different there; I think of Bernard’s blond hair; I think of the smell of fish and chips.

Music is photographic, staining my insides like ink, an invisible tattoo to match the visible ones, of which I always crave another.

The other day, my friend Jennifer told me that every time she hears “I am the Highway” by Audioslave, she pictures me walking along listening to it, because I wrote about my experience with that song and it stuck with her. I was blown away, not only that she had read my random muttering praise, but that she had retained it, remembered it, associated it with me. I was touched.

From time to time I take to these digital pages and wax poetic about some artist who means everything to me in a way that must, to an outsider, seem like obsessive keening. How can I explain? How should I presume? Do you know I rein myself in? For my life is measured by muses, and god, have there been many. My current one, a tall, troubled drink of water with haunted eyes and vampiric trill, inspired an entire novel (Thanks, Pete).

I am in love with telling stories. So too do I love the storyteller. The sadder the story, the more I love you. Perhaps a storyteller that writes gothic odes to the moon and Bacchus, fairy tales about wolves, about druids, liturgies to the autumn months, when leaves are dying yet at their most beautiful. Who writes odes to cover pain, who has bitten off the matter with a smile. 

I was ruminating on this (read: navel gazing – us writers have it down to a science) obsessive nature to my aforementioned friend Jennifer – who I should note, is an absolute gem; a patient, lovely, sincere person who approaches friendship with her whole heart – in a stream of text messages. I’d been texting back and forth with her all day, sharing snippets of information I’d read about Peter Steele whilst falling down my latest wormhole. Because I do that, you know, I fall willingly in with my whole heart, my whole body, my whole soul, and then I bother the shit out of everyone. I have always been this way, but sometimes, I feel just a little bit weird about it. About me. I do not think they will sing to me.

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I text Jen, “Other than David Bowie, I’ve never felt a kinship with an artist this strong.” I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, to feel so much. She responds that it is my compassion and empathetic nature that brings me down this road, that I feel such a kinship because I’ve felt the same pain, and I recognize the darkness. “It’s like a mutual empathy experience that he just doesn’t know he’s a part of.”

Those words hit such a chord, made such perfect sense to me, that I had to write it down. It’s no surprise that my friend Jen is an empath, too – how else would she have such perfect insight, and know exactly what to say?

I have known them all already known them all. Songs and words and notes and letters, reaching out from the ether, across time to a space where sincerity is allowed, and distance immaterial.

An artist whose sardonic meloncholy flirts with the room, words flying on gossamer wings, voice deep like good red wine. That tall drink of water who wears a mask to cover the mask that is also a mask; you need surgical tools to pry beneath, to see. These deadrockstars and their masks – they stay on even after their faces have returned to earth – thankfully, the voice makes it way through, and endures. The words shine a light in the dark, guide our way to shore, at least till human voices wake us, and we drown. 

The vulnerable, anxious empath in me reaches out and finds something to clasp. Something I recognize. Something that if it were not blinded by death and circumstance, might love me back, would understand.

It is the soundtrack to this story that is my true self, the one most people don’t see. The me singing loudly in the car, the me making footfalls down the path, the me with eyes open to a September sun or a wolf moon, depending on the day. Slithering to the ground, becoming a rock.

“Peter” means “Rock” 😉 
Poem sampled: The Love Song of J. Alfred Pruf(rock) (I had to) (Sorry)

 

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Adieu

Adieu, 2016. Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya, as they say in these parts.

I wanted to write a post about all the influential celebrities, public figures and other notables that the world has lost this year, but my thoughts aren’t really coherent. There are so many angles that I could take, but honestly, so many other articles and think pieces are out there doing it first and better (this one in particular  that a friend sent me on George Michael spoke volumes to me, and I just loved it. Take a minute to read it. It’s good).

So I’m not going to attempt to eulogize Bowie or Michael or Rickman or Fisher, or to draw parallels between the many artists and creative minds we’ve lost. Though I have to admit, if there ever could be a plus side to a beloved celebrity passing away, it’s that everyone flocks to their work with fresh eyes, revisiting and dissecting their contributions, looking at them from a new place, falling in love with them all over again. If anything good could come of losing someone like David Bowie or Leonard Cohen, it is that. Mourning can lead to a renewal of love, a new appreciation. Discovery. In death, a rebirth.

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Courtesy Entertainment.ie

I was listening to George Michael in the car today – ‘Freedom ’90’ on repeat – because that’s a damn good song and I don’t need any excuse to belt it out at top volume (sorry to my passengers). Just before the song segues into the chorus at the second verse, I realized the lyrics I’d memorized decades ago contain an interesting line:

I think there’s something you should know.
I think it’s time I told you so.
There’s something deep inside of me.
There’s someone else I’ve got to be.
Take back your picture in a frame.
Take back your singing in the rain.
I just hope you understand.
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man.

My grin burst out of me, y’all. Because life is so full of serendipity. George just died on Christmas. Days later, Carrie Fisher. And the day after, her poor Mother succumbed to what was essentially a broken heart. Beloved Debbie Reynolds, made famous as the first “America’s Sweetheart” in a movie called, yep, Singin’ in the Rain. No doubt that George line is a reference to that film (a quick Google search just confirmed it). Just a coincidence, surely, but when you start watching those viral videos of George Michael rehearsing a Queen song back in the early ’90s, who is that standing in the back, cheering him on? None other than David Bowie, who also died this year. Rogue One is currently in theaters, the latest Star Wars installment, and whose indomitable spirit cloaks that entire movie? Princess Leia, played by none other than Carrie Fisher.

Those little mysteries of life, the way that people are connected and interwoven, how their art intersects and merges, even in death – I find that magical. I find that comforting. And while it’s all mere coincidence, it is those little quirky sparks that light the fire in an artist’s belly.

I’ve heard a few people going around naysaying these past few weeks, seeking to remind us all that there are more important things going on in the world, that thousands of people die every day and only a small fraction of them are celebrities. That we need to get our priorities in order and stop grieving over people we don’t know.

To that I say, bah. To love a musician or dancer or painter or author, to mourn their death, to honor their life, does not mean that you care less about anything else. It doesn’t mean you’re shallow or wrapped in frivolity. What are we, if not made up of the things we love? When we mourn the loss of an artist, we mourn who they awoke in ourselves. We mourn the music, the writing, the art that shaped us, made us cry, made us shriek with joy, made us wail, made us think, made us angry. We mourn our own learning. We mourn our own becoming. There is nothing wrong with that. Don’t let anyone trivialize the things you love, or tell you how to love them.

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Listen to Carrie. Carrie is wise

So as I get ready to close this year out tomorrow (with more than one beverage, I assure you), I’ll be toasting those artists who moved me, inspired me, and shaped me into who I am today. The quaint, southern introspection of Harper Lee, the childlike mirth of Gene Wilder, the soulful gravel of Leonard Cohen, the brass balls of Carrie Fisher, the wholesome temerity of Debbie Reynolds, the unapologetic, drenched in purple, stark sexiness of Prince, the brooding, mocking intensity of Alan Rickman, the tough-and-yet-vulnerable crooning of George Michael, the other-worldly sex and sage of my very favorite artist of all time, one orange tinted, androgynous alien David Bowie. And so many others. I’m an artist who is grateful for artists.

Time is a construct and it’s all in our heads, but as an artist, and a fan – one who has seen more than my share of creative minds, icons and legends leave this earth this year – I say  a hearty “fuck off” to 2016. Goodbye to the Dumpster Fire to end all Dumpster Fires. Onward to next year, where I’ll continue living, loving and creating unapologetically, to honor those who came before.

(And if David Bowie really is colonizing Mars with super creative empaths, I’ll be the first one to buy a ticket to that space shuttle).