A Rock-and-Roll Bro
Itunes plays “100,000Years” by KISS off KISS Alive! The two of us would listen to this record endlessly in his room at the bottom of the stairs. I was seven. He was thirteen. The double album opened up to a picture of two very 1970’s-ish looking teenagers holding a homemade KISS banner in a sold-out Detroit arena. One of the teens was holding up a fist – the ‘devil’s horns’ was yet to be invented as the universal rock symbol. His turntable was attached to a box-shaped strobe light that kept beat with the music. The Peter Criss drum solo made that thing flash like a lightning storm against a pitch-black sky. We spent a lot of time in that room. He had a small black and white television and we watched Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in game six of the 1977 World Series – each one on the first pitch off three different Dodger pitchers.
Dave calls me to go see this band at O’Gara’s. I initially don’t want to go because I don’t like the band and I hate the venue. The bar is all old St. Paul locals and frat boys who can’t part with their year around baseball caps, and nu- metal jackasses with skullcaps and goatees. Closed circuit to you fellas…your idol Fred Durst is a non-relevant, uneducated, male-pattern balding, pudgy idiot. But I decide to go anyway, knowing that I’m certain to have an awful time soon to be forgotten.
Itunes plays “Toys in the Attic” by Aerosmith off the Toys in the Attic LP. He got the new room in the basement after my dad did some remodeling. There seems to be a familial rule that the oldest always gets a room in the basement or attic. Every family adheres to it. It’s the transitional living environment before moving onto an apartment or dorm room. I would always hear this song emanating from the deep recesses of our house – one of the few Aerosmith songs with impressive harmonizing. He got a shiny, silver JCPenney stereo component system for Christmas – very high-end for that time. The speakers were powerful and the bass response would make the kitchen china cabinet rattle. I always imagined he would give that stereo to me some day, but he took it to college and I never saw it again. I did, however, eventually get that basement room.
The show at O’Gara’s is predictably unremarkable and routine. A bad show even makes the Heinekens taste sour. Nothing worse than being surrounded by Dave Matthews Band-types. As I’m getting ready for bed, I leave the cordless phone on the charger in the living room. I know the battery is fine but I do it anyway. I decide to fall asleep with my headphones, listening to a just purchased CD by The Supreme Beings of Leisure – some middling trance music by a band or DJ that may or may not be European. I can’t remember the last time prior that I went to bed wearing headphones. The weather is just turning into fall.
Itunes plays “Celebrated Summer” by Husker Du off New Day Rising. When I was 15, he came home from college at the University of Minnesota. At the time, I was obsessed with west coast punk: Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, Circle Jerks. There seemed to be a sun soaked musical renaissance going on over there, complete with skateboards and cops on horseback busting up shows in Huntington Beach. As a bored kid in South Dakota, I couldn’t have been more removed from it and more in love with it. He handed me the cassette, which pictured the sun setting over a lake or ocean and the silhouette of two dogs in the water. I was taken by the odd band name, and I liked the un-even crack that ran through the bold letters. He said that these guys were pretty big in Minneapolis. I gave it a listen. That cassette became a permanent resident of my tape deck. Bob Mould’s fuzz box fret board runs and Grant Hart’s ability to write a hardcore punk song with a great melody and sensitive lyrics…genius. It was amazing and it was happening just one state over. It’s one of the five records that changed my life. Years and years later I would meet Grant Hart at The Turf Club and tell him exactly that.
I sleep late as usual. Wake up around noon. As I make my way to the bathroom, I glance at the caller ID box next to the phone. It shows ten new calls, the first one at around 2:30a.m. Ten new calls…beginning around 2:30a.m. I think of the possibilities: prank callers, drunk friends, wrong number dialers. I press the arrow to make my way through the list. The first few are “unavailable” and the rest are from my parents. I think it’s unusual, but I’m not instilled with any sense of alarm. I pick up the phone and listen. The first one is a panicked voice saying, “It’s Danny. Call me!” The next one is the same voice, “If you’re there, pick up! You need to call me right away!” The third, “It’s Danny. Where are you? Call me when you get this!” I know Danny is one of his closest friends and that they bartend together. Danny’s a very easy-going person, so it’s odd to hear him so shaken. The rest are all my dad telling me, in an extremely solemn tone, to call home. I start to feel slightly light-headed. I know that even though he has a car, he often rides his bike to work. So I think that he may have been in an accident and they want me to go to the hospital to check on him. But why wouldn’t they tell me which hospital on the messages? I call my parents.
Itunes plays “Pretty Vacant” by The Sex Pistols off Never Mind the Bullocks Here’s the Sex Pistols. When I was in high school, we would go to Minneapolis a couple times a year to visit him. I always looked forward to these trips because he would take me to Suns and Northern Lights – both on Hennepin Avenue. I could find the t-shirts, posters and cassettes of all my bands in those two stores. It was a rock and roll haven and I loved it. I really felt like I belonged in there. I would save my money for weeks in anticipation. He would always take just me, while my parents and sisters did something else. One of my prized Northern Lights purchases was a five-foot tall Sex Pistols poster. It was the centerpiece of my bedroom wall and still one of the coolest things I’ve ever purchased.
I hang up with my dad and stand in my kitchen leaning against the sink, which still contains last night’s dishes. For some reason, it hits me that I’m wearing the green Nautica bathrobe that Krissy gave me for my 24th birthday. It’s threadbare, dirty and doesn’t even deserve Goodwill. Why do I still have this thing, let alone wear it? You’d think I would’ve got around to buying a new bathrobe sometime in the past seven years. And the last I heard, Krissy was married with child and living in Savage. I feel numb, cold, outside myself. My chest feels hallow. My eyes hurt. I don’t know what to do. Crying seems futile and too standard for the moment. I think about seeing him just seven days ago. He was behind the bar giving me free beers. He talked about going to Arizona to see our newborn nephew. Earlier that summer, he stopped by and we sat on my deck for a bit. These things cross my mind about a million times for the next few minutes. For the life of me, I can’t remember what I did next.
Itunes plays “Repo Man” by Iggy Pop from the original motion picture soundtrack of the same name. We loved this movie because it is one of the greatest pieces of punk cinema ever made. Before VCRs were commonplace in living room entertainment centers, we would rent one from the E-Z Stop convenience store, watching it as many times as we could before having to return the bulky appliance. Emilio Esteves was Otto Maddox, a pissed off southwestern punk. He meets Bud, played by a never-cooler Harry Dean Stanton, who mentors him in the art and philosophy of being a repo man. All the repo men, except Otto, were named after beers – Lite, Bud and Miller. All the cars they repo had Christmas tree air fresheners. Actor Zander Schloss, who played Kevin the Nerd (a precursor to Napoleon Dynamite), eventually joined The Circle Jerks, who made a cameo in the movie as a tuxedo-wearing lounge act. We would try and one-up each other on such pieces of Repo Man trivia. Like I said, one of the greatest pieces of punk cinema ever made.
I become obsessed with having a clean white shirt for the service; a new, crisp, white shirt with sharp collars. It was something to think about and a task to get done. On the drive to Rosedale mall, tears flow when I realize why I’m buying a new shirt in the first place. It continues to happen at intermittent times. I’m satisfied with my shirt selection so I go to the bar to get his apartment key from his roommate, Tommy. Some of his things are needed for the service. I’ve never met Tommy but he knows who I am right when I walk through the door. Tommy was the first one to know – he became suspicious when he didn’t show-up for work as scheduled. Others seated at the bar turn to look at me and then turn and whisper to each other. Tommy walks over and hands me a set of keys, explaining which key opens what door.
Itunes plays “Beats So Lonely” by Charlie Sexton off Pictures for Pleasure. Charlie Sexton was a seventeen-year-old Texas guitar phenom in the mid-eighties. Before our hometown was wired for MTV, all I had for music television was the old USA Network weekend cable show, Night Flight, of which I was a devout viewer. I saw Sexton’s video for this song one weekend, and having literally just picked up the guitar myself that month, I watched with heightened interest. He was wire thin and his shirtsleeves were rolled up to his elbows, exposing skeletal looking forearms. He looked like a tall Matt Dillon. Sexton never became a guitar hero to me, but he looked like a genetically predisposed guitar player. Anyway, he called from college and I asked him if he had heard the Sexton song or seen the video. He said he hadn’t. About a month later, we talked again and he said he had just seen the video that weekend at First Avenue. He liked it. I felt a sense of pride, having turned him onto something cool. I felt I owed it to him for Husker Du.
As I approach the apartment’s screen porch, a neighbor is knocking on the door – a feminine looking Asian guy. I ask him what he wants. He said he was concerned because he saw the ambulance out front last night. Concerned. More like nosey. I said I knew nothing about it, but I would tell Tommy he stopped by. He keeps talking about the ambulance like I don’t believe him. It’s taking all I have to not push my fist through this guy’s face. I want nothing more than to do it. God, that would be so satisfying right now. Send him flying through the screen porch and tell him to stop looking like a girl as he drifts into unconsciousness on the grass, choking on his teeth. But I snap back to reality. I again re-assure him that I’ll tell Tommy he stopped by. I won’t.
Itunes plays “Dream Police” by Cheap Trick off the album of the same name. I always wondered why he loved Cheap Trick so much. Even at my worst, I’m probably a better guitarist than Rick Nielson, and their Live at Budokan LP sounds like the amps’ treble settings were turned to eleven. That and the excessive crowd noise, which for some reason was never turned down in the final mix, make it almost un-listenable. But he loved ‘em. This song always brings to mind the image of Vic Damone desperately trying to sell Cheap Trick tickets to the very disinterested girl on the outdoor bleachers in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. That movie was the first time anyone outside California ever saw Vans footwear. He bought a black and white pair. I bought a red and blue pair.
I walk into the living room of the apartment. It’s an otherwise pleasant football Sunday afternoon and the sun is shining through the windows. The blanket he lied down to take a nap with is bundled on the couch. Next to the couch is a brown paper bag; I guess he felt nauseous and kept it beside him in case he threw-up. A half roll of Rolaids rests on the coffee table for, what he thought, was heartburn. I don’t sit on the couch; instead I fall back into a chair for a few minutes. It still doesn’t seem real. My body feels light and weirdly transparent. The heaviness of it all is yet to fully strike me. I go into his room and grab miscellaneous items that I think may be needed for the service. There’s a business card of a police officer on his dresser. It turns out that it was one of the officers who were called to the house along with the ambulance. I wonder if he can see me standing in his room. That maybe there’s only a limited time in which he’ll be able to still see me and communicate with me. What he would say if he could talk to me. Maybe some assurances that it didn’t hurt, that he’s okay and not to worry.
Itunes plays “Last Night” by The Strokes off Is This It? On the plane home, I was flipping through GQ magazine. I had just recently started hearing about this band, but was yet to hear any of their music. I didn’t care what their music sounded like because I was going to buy their debut record no matter what. They just looked cool. I couldn’t remember being so taken with a band’s look since The Clash. Staring at me from the GQ article were five guys with messy hair, dirty denim, vintage clothing and fitted leather jackets. They all looked like they were nursing killer, lower east side hangovers. Maybe it’s a calculated look on advice from a whip-smart publicist. Maybe it’s not. It didn’t matter. For a few minutes, it made me think of something else and I didn’t think that was possible. The least I could do is pay these guys back by purchasing their record and helping them recoup the advance that paid for the vintage clothing.
Thirty-six of his friends make the nine-hour drive to the service. I can’t imagine knowing all their names. I have an odd feeling that things are expected of me, and that I’m continually being watched like a ceramic vase with a crack that’s barely holding water. People continually ask me how I’m doing and my standard reply, “It’s been a rough couple days, but I’ll be fine,” is stolen from a 21 Jump Street episode; the one where Hansen’s girlfriend is shot and killed in a convenience store robbery gone bad. People don’t really want to know how I’m doing, because I don’t want to know how I’m doing. I don’t want to go through a process of self-examination and dissect the grieving process as it applies to me. Hansen eventually freaked out, and I’m sure I will too.
I never sought out a support group or a therapist. Music and isolating myself with my guitar and the occasional one or ten Heinekens is what I did. I walked away from the relationship I was in at the time. Whatever I was about to go through, I couldn’t expect anyone to accompany me. When people ask if I have any siblings I’ve become accustomed to saying that I’m the youngest of three, usually without any guilt. I do know now that those five, or six, or however many stages of grieving is crap. How can an academic study break down such a tragic emotion, neatly categorize it and then generalize it to everybody? Is one of the stages slamming so many Jag Bombs that you wake up on your bathroom floor with zero idea of how you got there? Because I don’t recall reading about that one, but I was in that stage for quite a long time.
I remember being obsessed with the fact that when he woke up that day, he had no idea it was his last day here. But God knew. God knew and I didn’t. I bought a notebook so I could write letters to him. I know he can’t read them but they’re there, and one of the few things I would grab if my place were burning down. And one day I’m going to write, “I’m getting married tomorrow, wish you could be there.”