Monday, October 01, 2012

Rock Star

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Rock Star

We had the talent, but we had no luck. Promotion is the name of the game, especially after the music industry began to bleed money left and right. It was our misfortune to come of age in the era of file sharing and mp3s. Success, on one level, has always been about getting a name out while impressing the right people. That sort of effort would have required a discipline we did not have.

We played for the fun of it, to hear for ourselves the synthesis of different instruments. I usually played rhythm guitar and sang. My voice was the strongest of the three of us. On occasion, I could even play a half decent guitar solo. The chemistry was cohesive enough, our influences similar enough, to find musical commonality. After a time, we could effortlessly riff off of each other, instinctively anticipating what another might do.

But it wasn’t always fun and games. I put up with constant childish tantrums and hissy fits. I don’t usually suffer fools. If it were today, I would have chosen to distance myself from the musical partnership much sooner than I did. Had he not been the most multi-talented musician I’d ever encountered, a collaborative effort that spanned several years would have concluded in a matter of months. It’s fortunate we never actually toured or tried to play shows around town. The inevitable fights would have ripped us apart before we’d even stepped two paces upon the stage.

Like many musical partnerships, we suffered from ego problems. It wasn’t so much that we felt pulled in different directions, because that would have been easy enough to rectify. Instead, we often had to be careful not to steps on a particular someone's toes, a move that, if handled badly, could produce a verbal barrage of explosive anger. I kept hoping, like many who knew him, that the right girlfriend might calm him down.

We separated me from my compeers is that I was only interested in playing rock or alternative. The two of them produced homegrown hip hop, using specialized computer programs to put together each song. I went with them to thrift stores to purchase armloads of dusty LPs. Anything could theoretically be sampled and used in a song, regardless of artist or genre. A sample, no matter how catchy and clever, was only part of a time-consuming finished product.

I had no clue how to work the complicated software upon which they placed full reliance. All hip hop failed to hold my attention after a while. Even the best hook grew dull with enough repetition. The songs I heard were examples of proficient studio trickery, but I’ve always liked music that was much rawer, more about the performance than about auditory finesse. I'll take the performer over the producer any day.

Before I lived in Atlanta, I made periodic visits there on weekends. My father would always give me a few dollars for spending cash. Before I departed, he took extra effort to ensure everything on my car was functional, from turn signals down to the windshield wipers. I worked during part of undergrad, but could not sustain employment, which had been the case since I was 15. This was because of constant periods of depression that arrived in waves. Knowing that I probably would end up depressed again eventually and too sick to enjoy life, I tried my best to live in the moment.

My friend and bandmate attended art school in Atlanta. He was chronically unemployed, much as I was, though for a different reason. Occupying his time was an extensive multimedia project that took into account the life story of an aging, narcissistic underground cartoonist. With time, the cartoonist’s drug addiction and general dysfunction would bring the project to an end. But that was later.

One of two roommates avoided working outside the house because he was the college’s unofficial pot dealer. The second was a trust fund kid who'd probably never had to work a day in his life. Everyone smoked copious amounts of marijuana in their shared apartment, except for the dealer himself. Curiously, alcohol was his drug of choice. A nice guy most of the time, drink turned him into a surprisingly violent, confrontational person. On more than one instance, he was escorted home by the cops, too intoxicated to find his way home.

He was proud of the money he’d made dealing, but even more proud of the Cadillac he bought with the proceeds. Business had been very good. Prior to each school year, he bought a large quantity of weed while up North, where he grew up, then drove the whole way down to Georgia. His father shadowed him for the long journey, to make sure he wasn’t pulled over and arrested for possession with intent to distribute. A haul that large could not be excused as intended for personal usage alone.

The risks were substantial, but the payoff was considerable. What he sold was covered in red hairs, though I don’t remember the name of the exact strain. The entire shipment was concealed in a large trunk, then vacuum sealed so that the contents wouldn’t dry out. Most cheap pot comes from Mexico, which is mostly what I’d smoked prior to then. I wasn’t sure of the original source of what he sold, but I preferred not to know.

At most, he may have had 100 customers in totality. His services were not advertised beyond art college. Visitors were frequent. Most were men, who often got distracted by Grand Theft Auto and stayed longer than intended. I looked forward to the calmer times late at night when people finally stopped dropping by. Because I was in my early twenties, I could stay up all night and sleep in until 11 am. I was more resilient then. Fewer things had gone wrong with my body and I was younger.

I spent whatever money I took with me primarily on pot. It was extremely strong, much stronger than I’d expected. It was easy to stay high all day long with only a few tokes. But it took some getting used to, for sure. The first time I took a hit, I was rendered temporarily speechless, unable to leave my seat. An hour later, I finally could walk upright. This was my rude awakening to high quality, high-THC marijuana.

I viewed pot as a creative outlet, and it often was. Though it might not have been the healthiest choice, long term, I always found that it somehow granted me the patience to play for hours at a time. One of the reasons I no longer perform in public is that I find the necessary practice tedious. I’m usually very impatient and want everything to be perfect from the first run-through, which I recognize is not realistic. I’ve even been known to disgustedly hurl my guitar in the direction of a sofa or chair, immediately as a take or rehearsal would fall apart.

I really wish we’d recorded the sprawling jam sessions that seemed to go on for hours. What we did lay down were original songs which were directly and immediately transferred onto a computer. That made it easier to edit each take and mix everything down into a complete song. Analogue tape has a warm, friendly sound, but it’s expensive and time-consuming. Digital technology has all but replaced it in the industry, save but for the purists.

Music aside, THC made me less inhibited around men. The effect was frustrating, rather than liberating because I was almost entirely surrounded by straight men. Not much I could do about that. I tried not to stare, but sometimes my eyes betrayed my best intentions. Fortunately, I usually avoided my worst fear ever, which was to be caught red handed admiring a man who was not receptive to my gaze.

I secretly and perhaps less-than-secretly believed that one of my bandmates was very attractive. But, I did not make a great show of my feelings. In fact, I never aired them publicly because I knew it’d make him uneasy. After he ended up in a very unfortunate situation, I kept my mouth shut even tighter. What happened made me very angry, because it reinforced the narrative that all queer men were little more than lecherous manipulators.

One of the hangers on to the scene had granted us the ability to use an expensive condenser microphone. The fidelity was absolutely incredible, as you’d expect for a piece of equipment that cost several thousand dollars brand new. The loan was not made out of the goodness of the owner's heart. The microphone was bait, used so that this person might have frequent access to the exact person he wanted. None of us suspected that anything was awry at first, so the ruse worked for a while.

I’d observed him myself checking out a particular person's backside. I might have been looking in the same general vicinity myself, though like normal I quickly looked away as soon as possible. I couldn’t help but observe his behavior. Caught red handed, the man gave me a sideways, embarrassed look. Most queer men I knew were not this aggressive about pursuing men that were off-limits. Crushes on straight men were the very definition of futility. I avoided them whenever possible for that reason. It seems that he had different ideas.

As the story goes, my bandmate was offered Ecstasy. He took it against his better judgment. The drug always made him sick and he’d had enough previous experience at raves to know its deleterious effects. Intentions were now crystal-clear. The provider of the E kept intoning the same litany.

You know you’re gay. You have to be gay.

Hands began to explore places once fantasized, now realized. But the effect backfired royally. The victim associated the physical sickness he felt with the discomfort of being groped against his will. Once everything ended, the condenser mic remained with us, but the perpetrator was disassociated entirely from our circle of friends, though he continued to call. After a while, he got the hint and no longer sought communication.

When I heard about what happened, I was furious. Men who sleep with men have to deal with allegations like this all the time. Bisexual men, especially, are supposed to rut with anything and everything. We’re the very definition of man whore, according to some.

I was especially upset because the same thing had happened to me. All my fears and phobias dating from childhood seemed to be validated, proven horribly true. I had been taught to assume that the only thing men wanted from me was to be present while they pursued their own demented sexual whims. I’d believed that surely queer men were more evolved specimens, or failing that, too feminine or androgynous to resort to the same heavy-handed tactics of straight men.

It would be easy to make lots of instant pronouncements. Anger pins the blame on simplistic motives and easy answers. When upset, I rarely receive any sort of seasoned insight. I know that most men aren’t like this. But even then, there seem to be two or three problematic offenders one finds in a lifetime, the kind that one has to keep one’s eye on at all times. It’s easy to lose perspective, to begin pointing fingers.

We often see these crimes as a sort of Patriarchal entitlement, long standing proof that men do not respect women and their rightful boundaries. When male-on-male sexual assault occurs, it flips the framing and changes our perception. The first instinct of many heterosexual men, should they find themselves in an emotionally intense and dangerous situation, would be to physically harm and severely injure the intended assailant. I know, for instance, that many fathers would think nothing of killing a pedophile if he even so much as touched their children.

They would not understand why or how another man might refuse to confront a situation like this with violence. Not reacting with brute force when it seems entirely justified wins little to no sympathy. Conscientious objectors and pacifists of all sizes fall into the same category. Though I might look physically imposing, I’d have to be in an extremely heated situation before I’d even think of striking back at someone. I avoided fights whenever possible my whole life and have not sought them out as some men do.

As a Quaker, I’ve tried to live my life in a manner that removes the occasion for all war, as our founder George Fox once said. War for me is part of the brutality that governs male code. To most men, a forceful altercation, every now and again, might be a necessary thing. I’ve chosen to live my life differently, even though other men would not understand the reasons, nor my belief in nonviolence.     

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