When I was a kid, maybe 7 years old, I stole a 20 dollar bill from Mom’s purse. I went down to the convenience store and did my best to spend all of it on candy. We lived in rural Alaska at the time, so you shouldn’t be surprised that the clerk humored me, but also secretly called my Mom. She arrived at the store as I continued to add to the large pile of candy on the counter and tracked the total, counting on my fingers no doubt. In the early 80s you could buy a lot of candy with 20 dollars. It also represented our food budget for days, so I’m glad she caught me. I can recall thinking that the purse was an unlimited source of 20 dollar bills. Perhaps I thought Mom needed to be shown how sharing worked? It is hard for me to imagine ever having done that. I don’t even remember feeling guilty! But it was a child who did that. How could I now understand what that child thought? I can barely understand what I was thinking a few years ago. We imagine that adulthood is a distinct state, that one reaches maturity and then one remains a coherent person until the end. I’m not so sure. What would the child from Alaska think of this person today, who has several 20’s in his wallet and no plans to go buy candy? Who am I?
I first flirted with adulthood when I left home to attend a college summer program for budding "engineers" in Terre Haute, Indiana. As a family we moved around a lot, but we did that together. This was the first time I went off on my own. They put me up in a campus dorm room which was something between a motel room and a jail cell. But the conditions didn’t matter. If it had really been a jail cell, so what? It was an incomparable adventure. I was someplace new. My life, my own life, was beginning.
I packed my CD player for that first trip. It was a big plug-in device, bigger than anyone could now expect a CD player to be. About the size of a briefcase (How will we describe the size of a CD player in the future, when briefcases finally join them in the dustbin of history?). I brought this giant hunk of consumer electronics with me on a plane. These days people are shocked by how little I pack. It's mostly underwear and a laptop, no matter how long the trip. But back then this enormous CD player came with me all the way to Terre Haute. I'm sure I had some Queen CDs, and a few other unremarkable albums. But whenever I hear Joe Cocker's cover of the Beatles "With a little help from my friends" I immediately think back to that dorm room. Sitting alone. The golden headphone adaptor, left permanently inserted into the ¼” jack. The little volume knob, round at its base but tapering to an easily gripped thin rectangle at the end. The emotional crescendo as Joe howls and seems to do lasting harm to his vocal chords. I listened to it over and over.
I’d like to go back to that young man in that dorm room and play him the Pixies’ first album. It came out in 1987 and I heard it for the first time in 1994. I regret a couple of things in my life and that 7 year gap is among them. Back in 1987 I was recording George Harrison's "I got my mind set on you" off the radio to audio cassette. That song sucked. I needed help. The Pixies music just had more range than the shit on the radio… The clarion harmonies that emerge and then strengthen and then yield to distorted screeching, sometimes even barking. The slow-medium-fast pacing almost forces you to flail your body around. It was so new and I was hungry for the new. Also, I got laid within a year of hearing the album, and I bet that gap is more related to the album than my own maturity. If I could have heard it sooner... Time travel to get yourself laid, that's a better plot for "Back to the future" than trying to get your parents laid.
"I said 'I want to be a singer like Lou Reed'. 'I like Lou Reed' she said sticking her tongue in my ear"
Kristian Hale played the Pixies for me finally. And I spent more hours listening to the Pixies with him than I have without him. Frank Black too. By the time I heard their music the band had broken up, for fuck’s sake. So it was Frank Black by then. After we dropped out of college, Kristian and I lived together. We'd get stoned, play Tekken 3, and listen to Frank's best rockers like "Los Angeles" and "Czar". Repetitively, methodically, we'd kill each other on the screen using our anime avatars. I preferred playing the small Chinese woman. We agreed that the character named "Law" was too easy to play and so that was no fun. A few years later when we lived apart, Kristian killed himself, repetitively, methodically, using Gin and Tonics.
I only have film photographs of Kristian. In the background of the blurry, poorly composed images you can see the comical technology we used then. Like a huge bulbous grayscale monitor that had an integrated computer, but that computer was just a remote graphical station for another more powerful computer on the same network. Out front of the house where people coil and hang their garden hoses we had also coiled a long run of ethernet cable, so we could use our laptops out on the lawn in summer. Some people already had cell phones but not us. At our usual bar there was this strange payphone: you had to put in a quarter before the dial pad would work. And though the speaker in the handset always worked, the microphone didn’t work until you pressed this big green button. Once you did that, the quarter dropped and you had paid for the call. We had a system: If one of us got a call but the line was silent, we’d say “Ok, I’ll meet you at the bar, hang up now if you agree”. If the line went dead, we got our confirmation, and we got our quarter back. We were very clever back then.
Jen was the girl so overwhelmed by my knowledge of the Pixies that she agreed to share my bed. She and Kristian were like brother and sister, they got along better together than I did with either of them. She was still in college (ten times the student that Kristian and I combined could not be) but she spent a lot of time at the house with us as well. With the same force that Joe Cocker's "Get by with a little help from my friends" can put me back in that dorm room in Terre Haute, the Frank Black (and the Catholics!) cover of Six Sixty Six puts me back in that house with Kristian and my dear Jen, laying around on the living room floor, listening to the new album over and over. It was Jen who called to tell me that Kristian had died. She and I had split up by then. Then a few years later her brother called to tell me that cancer had finally taken her, too.
I’d like to go back in time to see them again. And sure, I’d like to still have them with me today, adults who did not die but who instead experienced the same future as I have. We could get together and lay around on the floor and reminisce and listen to “Six Sixty Six”. Though we’d probably check our phones at some point and ruin the moment. What I really want, more than anything, is to have those people from back then appear now. To have them travel forward in time to meet me. I could tell them what I think happened in the world during their absence. And maybe through their reactions, their questions, their feelings about what I’ve done and how I’ve changed, maybe through them I could finally understand myself.