Some periods in life are definitive. An event assumes critical and dramatic proportions and lives are defined by how they were before and after occurrences. A car crash, a key performance, a special person. But not all the times that make us who we are have so much sound and fury. Occasionally, in our long quiet moments we canoe the underground rivers of ourselves and, after traversing through long and vast channels, re-emerge. The inner journey doesn’t show its experience immediately, doesn’t reveal itself loudly. But looking back, we see the time for what it was and with nostalgia acknowledge the wonderful transitions, like seasons of the earth that we will only live through once and move into ones that are always new, the old ones just memories.
When I lived with my parents, I had a basement bedroom that was pretty much like having my own apartment. As a kid, it used to scare the hell out of me to sleep downstairs alone in the dark. I’d plan my escape routes if someone broke in and I heard them, worked out hiding places if I couldn’t get away. But later, as Middle School years passed their midmark and adolescence loomed, it was a solitude I treasured. Long hours spent at my desk writing and drawing or in my bed reading. It was an age before VCRs were common, before DVD and Internet, and so late night TV programming could often hold some interesting fare. Offbeat cartoons by Bakshi, edgy comedy shows like Saturdays and SCTV, and best of all, the eclectic variety show Nightflight-where I saw Le Planete Sauvage for the first time.
Adolescence is usually thought of as the time when we decide who we are, when crucial decisions are made about ourselves and our roles in society. I assert that the process starts a lot earlier and is, in fact, ongoing, a process that, properly engaged, takes place during the entire expanse of a person’s life, from cradle to grave. Certainly, as the dark, unknown, complex and decidedly more ambiguous world of High School seemed imminent, I gave a lot of thought about how I was going to enter that world. I had been a chubby, geeky kid. I liked Star Wars, Micronauts, super-heroes, role-playing games, and science fiction/fantasy fiction. To say I was unathletic doesn’t really capture my deviation from the roles society foists on boys-sports bored the hell out of me. It was as simple as that. I’m sure if I tried I could have done fine. I just wasn’t interested. But one thing I was interested in was dating girls-something that definitely wasn’t in the cards for me if I kept to the course I was on. Libido is a strong motivator, perhaps the single most force in any living thing’s drive. In 8th grade I asked for a ten-speed bike and a weight set for Christmas. To my surprise, I got both. My father, keen on my motivations as any good Dad would be (I thought I was in big trouble when Dad caught me reading his Playboys, instead, he laughed). I wanted to improve myself, healthy mind healthy body all that jazz. I biked all over Athens that summer. I lifted weights like crazy. When I entered High School, friends didn’t even recognize me when I sat with them for orientation. Several minutes after asking them if I could sit with them, astonished comments came when they realized who I was.
But despite the vast transformation I’d wrought in my physique, the fact remained that I was still a card-carrying dork. I’d skip out on football games to hang out at the Paper Chase, a local record/movie/comic store. Girls weren’t any more interested in me when I was thin and in shape than when I was a chubby little guy. Something was missing. I lacked the proper narrative of myself to attract the fairer sex. I wasn’t a jock, to be sure, but I also wasn’t willing to settle into some sort of non identified anonymity. There had to be something I could do to be who I was and have it be honest, interesting, empowering and, well, attractive.
Late at night I’d be at home, still writing and drawing. I’d still watch TV-the hey day of music television had dawned and there were arrays of videos, often comical attempts to render songs into something that was as entertaining visually as it was audibly. I didn’t just watch music television, I also listened to the local college station. This was Athens Georgia in the exciting emergence of indie radio. Experimental, off-beat, some-times awful, but almost always interesting. What was more, there was a whole compass of ideology that went with it. Its liberal largess made things like Hellblazer and Elric not only acceptable, but part of the greater, non-musical canon. It was, you see, cool. Cool in a way that stadium sports and arena rock weren’t. Cool in a way that put paid to American Top 40 and the fall’s clothing that was so widely accepted as being in that it might as well have been a uniform.
My friends and I would trawl the air-waves and compare notes-not always agreeing, we’d often argue about whether what we listened to was worthy or crapola. One of my favorites was Screaming Blue Messiahs. Not because I remember their music fondly, in fact, I can’t remember their music at all. I said I liked them just because of their name-because it was something shocking to say and I just liked telling people I liked a band with that name. It makes me laugh whenever I think about it.
The new narrative-although perhaps it was just an expansion of the old one-was well upon me in the years that followed. I picked up on Russian literature, wrote short stories, claimed I was a socialist, developed a penchant for mysticism. I dyed my hair red, spiked it with judicious amounts of hair-spray and gel, wore a motorcycle jacket and engineer boots and wrote reams of bad poetry. There were women here and there, nothing too special, in all seriousness. Just more stories to laugh about or feel disturbed by. But the basement and the time I spent there hadn’t let me down. In that space and the many late night hours there were the defining moments of my life, when I decided, as a boy, what I was going to be.Read More