When I was fourteen I used to practice the solo from Smells Like Teen Spirit with the guitar hoisted over my left shoulder. Not looking at the frets was a total rock and roll move – one step removed from playing with your teeth or mastering the hammer ons for Eruption but come on – still very rock and roll.
I ran through the progression over and over again so it would seem effortless, but that’s about as far as my guitar playing abilities went. I was discouraged when I couldn’t make it through what I considered to be the most desirable solo of all time – the six minute mark of Stairway to Heaven – even when Damien, the instructor with curling fingernails tabbed it all out on lined paper. I sold my hefty Line 6 amp at a pawn shop for cash, and got really into digitized beats.
The EDM-blitz lasted quite awhile, but the gravitational pull of guitar is tugging me back. I’ve re-discovered classics (Crosby, Stills & Nash), geeked out on Mac DeMarco antics, and bit off pieces of jam bands, shoe gaze, and slacker rock – a slow, dystopian groove that’s both haunting and energizing (Japanese Breakfast).
I like the introspective nature of slacker rock. I like that you can lean back in your car and let the reverb wash over you. I like that I’m not listening to a long-haired rocker rifling through a million notes. It’s sleek and slow and kinda sad.
Saying yes to the concert on night one set the stage for what was to come. Long days followed by longer nights. Constant movement, coffee, alcohol, minimal sleep. Rinse and repeat. It was a bender. It was New York. There was no slowing down.
Another whiskey? Well of course. The stale bar began to blur; the darts landed further and further from their target. In hindsight, a brilliant metaphor.
Was that the same night we popped into the jazz club, or the night after? I don’t think they liked us there.
On night four we struck up conversation with some girls standing nearby. They seemed fun, but I quickly learned they were from Florida – which is to say, the only thing we had in common was our shameful presence at the bar. I was handed another Negroni, and focused my attention to a girl wearing stripes. She had blue eyes I could’ve stared into for eternity. Feeling more confident than usual, I approached her and gave it a go. I can’t recall what was said, but I remember thinking the conversation ended too quickly.
(revisit New York Part 2 – in which Jab searches for lust)
There were mesh sandals and tracksuits. Accents. Large, boisterous families. Roller bags designed in foreign countries. A frighteningly boring safety video as we took off from Dublin. An empty Paris airport, escalators pointing in every direction. Glamorous men and women bubbling – sucking cigarettes. And us — me and Kelsey watching and sucking cigarettes as well, doing our best to blend in, maybe even add something to the mix.
In Biarritz there was pumping surf and sun-bathing women. The very first night we stood by the ocean, clutching beer, listening to a DJ play disco with ink running down his arms. He swayed and flicked the mixer – someone in the crowd cooed.
It felt good to be away from the entrance of a restaurant or the sliding doors of a bus. Ordering beer was easy, but other things – really basic shit – like asking for water or the bill, was still awkward.
But somehow we’d woken up in a central vein of French coolness, masked by cigarette smoke and a speedy, hip-spinning beat. The music swelled – getting faster – two women approached the mixing board with carefree intention.
I lit another cigarette, surely the last of the night, and passed it to Kelsey. The smoke curled around us, rising to join other trails of smoke winding up towards the hill. With each puff I felt more at ease, just another glowing ember in the night.
My friends had been smart and brought locks for their bikes. Fuck. My brother had told me to bring a lock for his bike. I was eager to leave and had thrown the bike in the car and left for the ferry.
I’ll buy a lock when I get there.
I rode past the bar and noticed a small shack with a dark fenced in yard. I could hear music inside.
He’s gonna kill me. This is a terrible place to hide a bike. It’s a nice bike too. Fuck, this shack might even be connected to the bar? It can’t be. I need to get inside. It isn’t.
I’ll tell the people inside the shack what I’m doing. Either they’ll tell me to fuck off or be amused by it.
The members of Ripe were crowded into this house preparing to go on stage. They were amused.
‘Terrible spot for a bike’ one of them yells through a smile.
I’m driving laps around town. Yesterday I replaced the dash speakers in my 4Runner and the new sound is, well, so much better.
At 24-years-old, the stock speakers assaulted any music they played. Frayed copper wiring strangled bass. From dust-caked diaphragms, rockstar voices cracked and soloists fumbled. The result was moods worsened, passengers underwhelmed, silence. Serious stuff.
I will say — like listening to an orchestra in Royal Albert Hall or a psych show at Red Rocks — 90s rock plays terribly well on tinny little car speakers. What else should I be? All apologies. What else could I say? Everyone is gay. Suddenly the Old Port was dangerous again. The Speckled Ax Cafe went back to being Norm’s. The girls less numerous, more approachable, just as disinterested in my truck.
There are more speakers to be replaced in the back. But that project requires aggressive disassembly – removing seat belts and side paneling. Joe at adult ed showed me how to solder electric components. His hands shook but his eyesight was sharper than mine. I’ll bet Joe has the right tool for those belts.
Somewhere, my little brother is driving as well. Ohio maybe? Somewhere outside Chicago? He’s driving to Bozeman. I wasn’t really listening when he laid out his route at breakfast. Did it even come up? We were distracted. I was picturing his truck from above, one of the toy cars you see beading along a highway from the window of an airplane. He was seeing his truck from below, bent underneath, calculating the perils of rust and rattling exhaust. Our grandfather kept repeating Bozeman in a funny voice. We liked the way it sounded.