I remember it as a good Christmas. I remember it fondly.
We had actual Christmas with gift exchanging and everything. I finally understood why Remo had designated a day for Christmas shopping in Japan.
I also finally understood one of the things Cray really hadn’t said–maybe couldn’t bring himself to say–about why he was so touchy and insecure. He called his mother to say “Merry Christmas” and I guess with the time change woke her up in the middle of the night and it turned into an argument. A yelling-into-the-phone kind of argument, which meant I could make out bits of what she yelled, too.
Of course, the only reason I overheard this was because after all the gift exchanging and a huge meal, Cray, his girlfriend, me, and Flip had gone back to Cray’s room to drink some Australian whiskey that either Cray or Flip had gotten for Christmas.
The relevant bit of the phone conversation for my realization was when Cray said something to his mom like “You could’ve been here, too, you know.”
I’ll say one thing for alcohol. It may mess up my logical thinking in such a way that trying to figure out whether it’s faster or better to take a cab or the subway in New York City ceases to work. But it frees up my emotional thinking as if somehow, when I drink, I have to drop all my baggage. It’s like I simply can’t carry it anymore when I’m well-lubricated, so I let it drop. The result is sometimes my own crap stops getting in the way and I can see other people’s crap instead.
Anyway. It hit me that Cray, deep down, was worried the only reason Remo “dragged him along” on the tour was to try to entice his mother–whom I gathered Remo was still interested in–to come along, too.
This struck me as ridiculous, because I don’t think that Remo would do that. For one thing, as we established, Remo didn’t do charity cases. And to me, Remo didn’t seem likely to compromise anything musically for the sake of interpersonal pursuits. But that didn’t mean Cray didn’t have hangups–and I remembered him telling me he thought his mother WOULD compromise the musical integrity of their group for the sake of interpersonal pursuits. So maybe it made sense for him to jump to that conclusion, even if it was wrong.
Our visions are always colored by our experiences. And by our parents.
Remo bringing Carynne and company down made sense to me then, too, if he had been thinking of it as a chance for everyone’s families to get together. There were a few others who joined in and I think maybe there would have been even more if we hadn’t been completely on the opposite side of the globe. I was a little queasy thinking about how much it all must have cost, but I felt a little better when I overheard Alan trying to tell him that he and his brother wanted to pay Reem back for their dad’s airfare, and Remo’s answer was: “It’s only money. I can’t take it with me when I die, may as well spend it now.”
If we hadn’t been having the problems with the record company, if the next album had been on the horizon and we’d been looking at a string of successes, maybe I’d get to that point, too. The point when I could say it was “only” money. I mean, yeah, if Chris and I cashed out of the house, that’d probably put a hundred thousand in my pocket? If I did nothing else to earn, I could probably live off that for six or seven years.
You want to talk math? Here’s the math that still was in my head:
I could live on about seven bucks a day in food costs. Round that up to $3,000 a year.
A closet-sized studio in the Fenway would run me about $400 a month, or $4,800 a year.
Let’s say $500 a year in clothes, shoes, etc.
$500 in equipment, just strings and repairs.
Say $500 for riding the T.
That all adds up to under ten grand.
No car, no health insurance, but it was actually doable to make ten grand a year busking. The busking permit in Cambridge cost $40 a year. There was really only one decent place to busk in Cambridge, which was Harvard Square, but on weekends there were plenty of people and lots of room around every corner for many different performers. I knew people who pulled in $200 a night on the busy nights. Of course, you only really had two big nights a week, and only when the weather was nice. But say six months of the year, 26 weeks, you played those two nights, and took in $200 each time. How much would that be? $10,400 cash.
The reality of course was that you’d get a gig to play in a club on a weekend night where your whole band would only get $200 to split between you, but you’d do it for the chance to get on the stage and play in front of hundreds of people for an hour or more, instead of standing for four to six hours in one spot, playing for indifferent passerby, many of whom considered you little better than a homeless person begging for change. But you know, fuck them.
Anyway. Where was I going with this? Right. Money. “Only” money. When I think that what Remo spent to fly me and my four friends to Australia and back was about equal to what I could live off for an entire year? It made me queasy.
But then I thought to myself, you’re not going back to busking. Carynne would never let you. You’ve got much better prospects than that, even if you’re depressed as hell about the lawsuits.
Yeah, I was depressed as hell about the lawsuits. It was a worst nightmare kind of scenario, wasn’t it? This wasn’t just “your album is a flop.” This was “your album is a flop and we hate you.” It took me some downtime, vacationing, to realize how depressed I was.
Two days after Christmas, many folks had left. A small bunch of us made our unhurried way to the beach. A while later we made our unhurried way to lunch. Some folks went on a boat–I was unclear if fishing was going to be involved or just… boating. I was starting to feel a bit crispy-fried from the sun, so I took it upon myself to retire to my room for a bit. I needed to sort out my clothes. Remember, I had everything I’d brought with me to Mexico and then Los Angeles in one bag, and then everything else I had brought to Los Angeles with me from Boston in another. It kind of worked out, you know? Everything I wore in Mexico, I wore in Australia. And then the stuff I had packed for the cooler weather I could wear in Virginia.
I did a load of laundry. They had coin-operated machines in the back of the hotel. I know, I know, glamorous rock star life. I needed the help of the front desk clerk to figure out which coins were which. Then I sat there waiting for the stuff to spin so it could be put in the dryer, reading a magazine and wondering if there was actually any kind of medicine for sun burn because the tops of my shoulders were actually starting to sting.
This is going to sound weird. But I actually felt less depressed while folding my laundry than I had at any other point in the day. In fact, I’d say it kind of lifted at that point. Something about putting all my things into some kind of order helped. This is why I say metaphors are reality.
Also, maybe it was calming to think that standing on a street corner with a guitar, if I was diligent and organized, would probably get me through, regardless of what kind of fuckage might go down with BNC and the music industry as a whole.
So I packed to go to guitar camp in Virginia. One small duffel bag and the Ovation. Bart and Courtney were going to take the Strat and the other bag back to Boston for me. I almost wished I was on the way already, but we weren’t due to take off until January 2.
The group eventually dwindled down to the five of us by New Year’s Eve. Over a late breakfast we were discussing what to do that night.
“The fireworks are supposed to me amazing,” Courtney said. “Like, they blow up the harbor bridge and stuff.”
“They blow it up?” I asked.
“I mean, not like destroy it, but shoot a ton of stuff from it and it’s cool,” she said. “It’s a huge deal.”
“It’s like July Fourth on the Esplanade,” Carynne explained, translating it into Bostonian terms.
“Ah, okay.” Huge civic occasion with a million-plus people. “Sure. We’d probably kick ourselves if we skipped it and we were right here.”
“I wonder what the rules are concerning alcohol consumption,” Carynne mused.
“This is Australia. There are no rules,” Courtney joked. “Except when there are.”
“Honestly,” I spoke up, “I feel like I’ve been drinking way too much since we got here.” Really, since I got to Japan. Nomad was a heavy-drinking crowd.
“Fine, don’t drink, then,” Court said. I think she’d really liked that the drinking age was 18 in Australia. Not that any of us ever stopped her from drinking back home, but the freedom to walk up to a bar and order… I understood that. “But–”
I cut her off suddenly. “I have another idea.”
They all stared at me, waiting for me to reveal my idea.
“I’ve got like ten tabs of acid in my jacket pocket.”
“Really!” Court’s eyes were wide with interest. “Where did you get that?”
“From Christian, like a million years ago, and I keep not getting around to trying it.”
Bart gave me the hairy eyeball. “You’ve never tried it?”
“In school, yeah. I guess I never did with you, though. That was mostly before I got to RIMCon.”
What ensued was everyone giving me their advice about psychedelic drugs. Michelle seemed to be the most savvy, actually, but she’d studied some actual science in school, plus had a bunch of suitemates who were regular trippers on mushrooms and LSD.
So the advice basically boiled down to this:
1. Vitamin C before
2. Lots of water during
3. Vitamin B after
Except we didn’t really know where to get vitamins in Australia, so the plan of action basically came down to the the following:
1. Drink lots of water
2. Carry the address of the hotel on a card.
3. If you get in trouble, tell people you drank too much.
4. Treat all cars as if real.
If you’ve never done psychedelic drugs, the one thing I’ll say is that they’re exactly like what you think they’ll be like. Because it’s your brain, whatever you imagine it will be like, that’s what your brain will make it be like.
That meant for me the trip was exactly like I’d walked right into the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine. I first saw it when I was about six years old. It was randomly on television one Saturday morning or early afternoon. I don’t remember why no one else was around but I was the only one watching it. And I was completely transfixed. I mean, the music of the Beatles always grabbed me by the ears anyway–I was already listening to the White Album on a daily basis at that point, every day after getting home from first grade, right after playing Free to Be You And Me. And this was the music of the Beatles with cartoon animation. Psychedelic animation. It quite literally sent my little six-year-old brain on a psychedelic trip of its own, making me a space case for the whole rest of the day.
We decided to have an early dinner, then drop once we got where we were going in Sydney. I was content to let Carynne and Courtney figure that all out. They were the planners of the bunch, you know?
I remember we were in a park. We’d each made sure we had cash in our pockets, our drivers licenses (but not our passports–those were in a safe at the hotel), and the address of the hotel. The weather was warm, tons of people were out, and we sat down under a tree. I got out the piece of foil, and separated the bits of paper. They didn’t look like much. It was twelve tabs, actually, in a sheet like postage stamps, except each little square was smaller than my pinky nail. I tore them apart on the perforations. We decided one each should be plenty, unless it turned out it was no good because it had been in my pocket for so long, in which case we’d double up.
One was plenty.
We were sitting there under the tree, and two guys came along and started busking nearby, with a guitar and a didgeridoo, and maybe a half hour later? Forty five minutes? I looked up and pointed to the sky. The sun was setting.
The sky had taken on a kind of three-dimensional texture that it normally doesn’t have. And it was like I could see the sound waves of the music sweeping across the sky, perturbing the ridges and swirls like leaving a wake through water.
And my first thought was, hey, all of a sudden, I understand what Yellow Submarine was about. It was this.
What no one told me, or no one impressed on me, was how long acid lasts. It was around seven or eight in the evening at that point. An acid trip lasts a full twelve hours, sometimes more like sixteen. So we were going to still be tripping our brains out at breakfast time the next day.
At the time, though I wasn’t thinking about that. Time stops moving while you’re tripping. Literally sometimes, where I would get focused on a flower or a leaf or the pattern on someone’s shirt, and I would kind of disappear down into looking at it on the molecular level, like zooming down a wormhole into the atoms. Time doesn’t move down there on the atomic level.
And then, zoom, I’d come teleporting back out to the regular world and time would move forward again. So yeah, it lasts 12 hours but it feels like a week goes by.
The fireworks were amazing, but I think they would have been amazing without drugs. Fireworks, in fact, looked exactly the same as they do without drugs.
But the smoke. The smoke was amazing. Like Chinese dragons come to life. Really.
I can’t even remember all the things we did and the places we went that night. Different ones of us were coherent at different times. I wasn’t hungry at all but at some point Bart got us into a restaurant and made us try to read the menu. The only words on it I could read were “black olives.” I’m pretty sure they were the ingredient in a salad or something. I resolved when the waiter came around that I was going to point and then just see what I ended up with. But when he came to me, all I could repeat was the words “Black olives” and show him where it said that on the menu.
All he said was, “okay,” and moved on like that was totally normal. I was pretty sure what he wrote on his order pad was “totally nuts” or something like that. But later, he brought me a large glass of water and a bowl of black olives with a tiny fork.
I decided I was in love with the tiny fork. Actually maybe I was in love with the waiter, who really seemed to understand my needs. You know? But I probably couldn’t take him with me. So I stole the tiny fork, named it George, and left four twenty dollar bills under the empty bowl when we left.
There was also a point at which Bart and Courtney played Frisbee with someone’s dog. That must have been earlier, when it was still light out? I don’t know. Time doesn’t work right and my memory is suspect at the best of times. The Frisbee left trails and streamers in the air that made me think, aha, the guys who animated Tron did this.
In fact, the number of movies that suddenly made sense to me during that trip convinces me that psychedelic drugs must certainly be a part of any film school curriculum.
The biggest revelation came toward the end of the trip, though. By then the sun was rising, we were starting to feel a little tired, but everyone was still completely high and groovy, and we sat on a balcony at the hotel and I played the guitar.
And I was playing a thing, kind of picking around with my right hand and hammering on the strings with my left, when it hit me that the entirety of existence is contained in the vibrating string.
Saying it like that doesn’t really express the enormity of what I had realized. It was like I could see to the ends of the universe by understanding this basic component of existence.
I still didn’t say it right. Plain truth is that words are inadequate to describe or explain what I then knew in my brain. Knew, felt, saw, understood, heard–all of the above. They say the senses are actually all one sense and it’s only that as humans we chop it up into these different sensory inputs, as if the universe itself is separated into things you can see, smell, taste, touch, or hear. Or know. But that’s wrong. Things aren’t separated. Things are just things. Things ARE.
I sound like a nut, probably. But I had never had a spiritual epiphany like it, and I’ve never had one since, but I found it not only mind-blowing, but immensely and intensely comforting to know that the universe was KNOWABLE. That a puny being like me, a tiny pinprick of light in a universe with billions of galaxies in it, could know this and experience this one basic thing.
The vibrating string.
At the time I tried to explain it to the others. But apparently I couldn’t use words and maintain my state of communion with the universe at the same time, so I contented myself with being non-verbal, and kept playing.
If there is such thing as a state of grace, that was it.
I’ll tell them later, I thought.
Later–much later–I got hungry and time started to move forward again. We had breakfast, drank a large amount of water, and all ended up asleep in Bart and Michelle’s room… not sure why, it just seemed like the thing to do at the time.
And I should stop there. I should leave off with us all contentedly sleeping, my brain completely empty of thoughts but full of knowledge and understanding.
But you know it doesn’t end there. The future was going to be full of lawsuits and dealing with Ziggy and Digger and Mills and who knew what else. The next time I opened my eyes, that would all rush in like a tide. But I had found something, between when I left L.A. and that morning, whether it was the epiphany or all the thinking or my growth as a person or what, I had found something that let me bob on top of it all instead of getting swamped. From up there on the surface I could look down into the swirling chaos that my life had been and realize that an era had ended. And that I felt good about that.
That’s right. The next time I opened my eyes, the trip was over. The tour was over. The motherfucking Eighties were over.
And my eyes were as clear as they’d ever been.
(Thus ends this section of the story! Tomorrow: February liner notes! And then on Thursday… Ziggy’s Diary begins! -ctan)