I felt like my hand exercises, unlike my vocal exercises, were too easy.
I would sit at the dining table at one end of the living room with my rubber bands in front of me and my feet flat on the floor, and do them. I had learned to have several rubber bands there in case I broke one or accidentally shot it across the room. I would do the exercises but I would wonder if I was doing them wrong because they were too easy.
You can laugh about this now–after all, I can–but at the time, since the exercises were easy, I got this wacky notion that I should try to speed up my mental rehabilitation by thinking about my crap while doing them. As if multitasking was better for me somehow. And I decided that one way to make sure I did the mental work I needed to do to put my head back together was to do it at the same time.
This did not work. I found that while doing my hand exercises I couldn’t think about anything except my hand. It bordered on obsessive, or so I thought.
I asked my therapist about it. Did I tell you her name yet? I don’t think I did. You’re going to laugh at this. Her name was Lynne. L-Y-N-N-E. She didn’t bear much resemblance to Aesthetician Linn, L-I-N-N, other than being short and tough as nails.
Okay, maybe they resembled each other a teensy bit.
Anyway. Lynne just looked at me as I obsessed over whether I was being too obsessive and said, “Daron, I’m not a physical therapist, but that sounds like what you’re supposed to do.”
“Being totally aware of each finger, each muscle, staying focused on the exercise… That’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s called mindfulness, and it increases the effectiveness of exercises.”
“Go with that. That’s your body telling you to pay attention. I bet the hand therapist will say the same thing.”
She was right, of course. I started doing my hand exercises twice a day. It had become like meditating. Never mind that the therapist had told me to do them every other day if I felt tired. I didn’t feel tired, and when she tested me again she was happy with the results. I wasn’t, not yet, but it was better than it had been.
Since my multitasking plan didn’t work, though, outside of Lynne’s office I wasn’t really thinking about my mental crap much at all. I let myself settle into the healing routine. It took four or five visits for me to feel like Lynne knew even a fraction of the shit I had going on in my head, some more recent, some much older. Between Digger, Remo, career stuff, Ziggy, Colin, my mother, Mills… I had a lot to untangle.
What was weird was that I thought I knew how I felt about each one of the people I just named, but Lynne challenged me to evaluate whether that was true. “Is that really how I feel?” Which wasn’t what I was expecting from therapy, but it boiled down to something like this: how do you know who you are if you don’t know how you actually relate to the people around you? There’s a difference between what you feel, deep down in your heart, and what other people or society expect you to feel—and that’s different again from the feelings you’re allowed to express.
There was a lot to chew on. But while I was obsessive about my hand exercises, I wasn’t about my mind. My mind didn’t really want to think about all that most of the time.
Part of that was because Ziggy and I were getting along so well. And part of me wanted to say fuck it, if me and Zig are right as rain, then everything else can go hang.
Except I knew I needed to get my head straightened out. After all, I still wasn’t writing. I still wasn’t getting ideas, but on top of that I’d started to wonder what the point was in writing music that it felt like no one wanted.
Me and Ziggy had been nesting on Comm. Ave. for maybe a month, reading books and listening to music and talking and eating a lot of take-out and Top Ramen–and basically only leaving the apartment for appointments and to have dinner at Bart’s or the Allston house–when Bart and Michelle convinced us to go see a show with them at Berklee Performance Center. It was some kind of jazz program, incorporating some of the famous name instructors at Berklee with their most prodigious students. Kind of like a recital on steroids. I don’t remember now why Bart and Michelle had ended up with the tickets, but what the hell, it sounded like fun.
The weather was starting to get chilly, so I put on a hoodie under my leather jacket, and Ziggy wore a sharply cut long wool coat that looked almost military. I think it as right after Halloween. I’m sure it wasn’t Thanksgiving yet, anyway.
I don’t remember much about the show itself. I do remember getting invited to schmooze afterward with the performers. I also remember declining politely but exchanging numbers with some people. I knew schmoozing the Berklee faculty was probably a good idea. The paranoid part of me that had eaten my rational brain in Brazil had quieted down a lot. You might recall that was the part that believed my career as an original popular music artist was over and that slogging through tours for hire playing music I hated was my fate. But the rational part recognized the seed of truth in that. It was possible I might need to look at other career options. Teaching was a possibility I hadn’t really thought about before. After all, I’m pretty sure they want you to get your degree in music before you’re allowed to teach others doing the same. But Bart had been talking about it; he exchanged cards with some people, too, before we left.
We had walked to the venue and the four of us headed back to our place on foot. No one was paying us much attention–meaning no one had really recognized Ziggy. It was maybe ten at night, and most of the stores were closed, but the bars were still open along Newbury Street.
And so was Tower. The bright lights of the windows of their multi-story building at the corner of Mass. Ave. seemed to be beckoning. I caught Michelle’s eye. “You want to go in?”
“Sure, let’s. I haven’t been in there in forever!” She was wearing her hair down, the ringlets tamed by some glossy product. “Over a year at least.”
“Really? Where do you buy your CDs?”
“I haven’t bought a CD in at least that long.” We stood at the light, waiting to cross. “I listen to the radio mostly.”
“But you don’t buy what you hear? The only reason I listen to the radio is to figure out what’s new that I want.”
She shrugged. “I’ve gotten out of the habit.”
My mind boggled at the thought. “I’ve been trying to listen through the whole CD collection at the sublet and it’s a really eclectic mix.”
“You must be loving that.”
“He is,” Ziggy put in, as we crossed and walked along the sidewalk toward the entrance. “The more obscure something is, the better Daron likes it.”
“Yeah, I haven’t turned the radio on since we’ve been back in the States, really.”
“In other words, you haven’t bought CDs, either,” Michelle said with a laugh.
“True. Well, there’s no way we’re getting out of Tower without spending something,” I said. Hell, back in the day, even when I was flat broke, there were nights when I went in there at eleven p.m. and by midnight I’d spent my last dollar. That was one of the reasons it made so much sense to get a job at Tower, especially once Michelle had made manager. The employee discount alone was a help to my budget.
We went through the familiar doors and up the escalator. As usual, music was playing from the various departments.
When we were halfway up the escalator to rock/pop a new song started. A brash guitar riff caught my ear—as rough as punk but as solidly muscular as metal—on the verge of out of control and yet slickly produced. What the fuck is that? It was like catching the scent of frying oil and grill grease when you’re starving. I was dumbstruck, my brain trying to process what my ears were taking in. It was so obviously good. Grab-you-by-the-balls good.
Bart had to push me off the escalator so I wouldn’t get trampled by the rest of them.
Then the vocals kicked in. Same impression as the guitar had given, a raw voice with no pretense of artistry in it, rasping against me like an unshaven face, but so slickly produced it left no burn.
I said something like “What in the holy fuck is that.”
The rest of them apparently recognized the song, which tore away my idea that this was some weirdo thing that some Tower clerk was playing for the cred that comes with obscurity. “Surprise hit of the season,” Bart was saying. Or maybe that was Michelle. I wasn’t processing much around me other than the sound.
It was everything that was great about punk and metal mashed up in a single sound, a single song. Remember how the Berlin Wall had come down while I was busy in Spain? The wall between punk and metal had apparently come down while I was in South America.
“What is this band called?”
The name seemed completely appropriate to me in that moment. After all, I was having a moment like I’d been struck by lightning. My mind was literally blown.
The other three steered me to a large display with a dump of CD, LP, and cassette versions of an album called Nevermind. The song playing, of course, was “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
I was suddenly angry and I wasn’t even sure who I was mad at. “Alternative is dead, huh?” I said to no one in particular. “Guitar-driven rock is a thing of the past, it’s all been done, eh?”
Michelle was either oblivious to my distress or right in tune with it. “FNX has been playing it non-stop. I guess the rest of the country is catching on, too. They’re from Seattle.”
Bart added, “The band’s image is totally Generation X. Very working-class.”
Ziggy tried to tease me. “Yeah, check it out. They all dress exactly like you, Daron.” By then they had steered me to a poster of the actual band.
He wasn’t kidding. They did all dress like me. Converse high tops, blue jeans, a flannel shirt over a T. I’d been dressing like that since I was thirteen. (In case you’ve lost track, at that point I was twenty-three.) Long hair that looked like they just never got around to cutting it as opposed to the hair-band style. It was like they just didn’t give a fuck. They still looked like the basement/garage band they probably started as, and they hadn’t changed that just because they were major label material now.
It was like looking into a mirror while on acid and seeing your true self. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, goosebumps coming up as if my skin was being exposed, not my soul.
And it hurt to swallow, as if I was finally aware of just how much crap Mills and the whole rest of the industry had tried to force down my throat. I felt ill—angry yet kind of euphoric at the same time. Angry because I had been right, and euphoric for the exact same reason. Going back and forth between those two feelings so quickly made my head spin and I got nauseous.
If things had been just a little different, that could have been me on that record. That could have been us. I envied the authenticity Nirvana was presented with. Then I heard Kurt Cobain scream and I felt my throat constrict around the still-jagged memories of the Star*Gaze set…
And I remembered how much I’d had to drink to let myself go that far, to expose myself that much.
I didn’t know whether I’d dodged a bullet or missed the chance of a lifetime. Or both.
(Obv. the song in the post is “Smells Like Teen Spirit” but this title fit the theme of the post a lot better. -d)