by Tom Hallett
I think I can pinpoint the first time I really, actually, honestly and truly came face-to-face with my own mortality. Or at least the first time I realized the situation as such, anyway. I must’ve been 8 or 9 years old, living up in the tiny fishing village of Homer, Alaska—a tow-headed, mismatched-clothes- wearin’, Olivia-Newton-John-lovin’, T.V.-and-Grandma-spoiled little shit who had no concept of time, Life or Newsweek. Pioneer families who’d survived the ’64 quake were still squattin’ on land George Bush would shit a brick bible for today. The sidewalks were built of wooden planks. The local bar was in an old lighthouse.
OF THE WEEK: "Endlessly men prate about freedom, and shout and demonstrate
and riot and demand Congressional legislation and civil rights. All in vain.
The fetters are inward, the bondage is spiritual."
— Robert S. DeRopp
SONG OF THE WEEK: “The Pretender”
— Jackson Browne
There were less than 200 kids in my elementary school. Most of ‘em, like
me, lived out in the sticks, and rode the bus in. Moose, bears and wolves grazed,
foraged and hunted in a shaky, tremulous truce with dog and man on the fringes
of town. Grand, glorious bald eagles shared airspace with dare-devil bush pilots,
foul, free-soaring seagulls and clean, cold Arctic air. Real hippies still staggered
through the dirt streets. Shit, a whole tribe of ‘em built a gigantic
plastic dome and freaked, fucked and fried their ways into the local consciousness
while weed was still legal in the Land Of The Midnight Sun. And a couple o’
country miles down the road from my folk’s place, future pop singer Jewel’s
family was busy setting up long-hair homesteads, folkie havens and great big
Some guys were still comin’ home from ‘Nam in black body bags. And
back then, they actually showed the footage of those bodies comin’ in
to Los Angeles (and New York and Washington and Seattle and ...) on your friendly
Nightly News programs. I wasn’t too concerned about it, although I knew
there was a big discrepancy between what happened when I set up my plastic army
men and fought a war, and the horrific, bloody images I saw beamed into the
living room every evening. But like I said, I was a stupid, spoiled little ’70s
American kid, and like a lot of my peers, I thought my myopic little world was
far more important than those heavy trips.
My family (and just about every family I knew) was imploding. My mom and dad
were on the verge of divorce, I was six thousand miles from my cousins, my Native
American schoolmates from the Northern Minnesota reservation I was raised on,
and good ol’ Grandma. All my babysitters smoked dope and fucked on the
floor. When the folks weren’t out working, squatting on bar stools or
cultivating their own peculiar little social strata, booze, weepy country music
and loud arguments were the order of the day around the house.
And why not? We were living in the fallout of the ruined sixties dreams that
my parents hadn’t even bought into in the first place, the echos of Hendrix
and Dylan fading obscenely into the soul-numbing strains of Terry Jacks, Frankie
Valli and B.J. Thomas. The Wonder Years, my ass. No, my dad and mom never jumped
on board the Love Train, but they sure got sucked into the aftermath, as did
most of the country, enduring a (has it ever ended?) sick and blasphemous hangover
the likes of which no proper civilization had seen since pig-eyed, pompous Emperor
Nero gazed upon the flickering flames flattening Rome before him.
But did I—or any of my equally clueless, fifth-grade, cartoon-headed little
buddies—give a good fat flying fuck about any of that? Nawww. Not really.
Come on, man, were were NINE. Girls still had cooties—but ya secretly
dug ’em. Cigarettes tasted like shit but ya smoked ’em anyway. One
beer was like a night in Bangkok. Pain was fun. Blood, scabs and bruises were
badges of courage and honor. Night was EXCITING. Movies still scared you, thrilled
you, brought you to hidden tears in the dark. Music sliced through your ears
and into your guts like a searing, shrieking sword from heaven.
That close to the womb, death was still larger than life. You’d never
admit it to your tough-guy friends or your shithead older brothers, but there
was still a faint hope somewhere deep inside your feathery little chest that
Jesus, Santa, the Kennedys, Old Yeller and Evel Kneivel were real, and not just
some flim-flam, jive-ass chicanery cooked up by your eternally irate (and always
frantic) ’rents. It was almost spring, the snow was gone, and the thaw
wreaked olfactory havoc on our virginal little senses—the scents of the
ocean, the endless forests and fresh dogshit co-mingling in our noses like a
raw, heaven-sent potpourri. And best of all, the whole gang had new pairs of
black rubber fishing boots with that groovy red stripe around the top. We were
ready to kick some ass.
Of course, when it all came down, nobody showed up. We’d agreed to meet—six
or seven of us—on the mud flats across from Beluga Bay, a lake where float
planes landed in the summer and gashed-out, and home-made hot-rods raced for
fake trophies and cases of cheap beer on an egg-shaped track on the ice in the
winter. Mom raced Powder-Puff. One year Charlie Williams was flag man, and his
son-in-law won the race but his brakes went out and he plowed into Charlie,
the flag and the hot dog stand sure as shit an’ grease. Charlie lived—some
of the float plane pilots who caught the wind just wrong in the summer didn’t.
The place was no stranger to Death. Our purported meeting place was directly
across the road, where the ocean crept in like clockwork at high tide and licked
the harsh, rocky beaches, then slyly retreated at low tide, leaving behind a
mile or two of slick, dark brown mud. Which we, in our infinite, 9-year-old
wisdom, were convinced was full of treasure.
O, what hare-brained, glory-blinded little fools we were. Only my cousin Bobby
and I showed for the meeting—the rest probably gathered in the thick woods
behind Mark St. Michell’s place to pass around a stolen Camel straight,
or maybe over by the school, at that little shack where some hippie kids had
left a stack of old girlie mags and some incomprehensible (to us) anti-war graffiti
scrawled across the bottom of five or six ancient trees. Frankly, we didn’t
care. We were goin’ out on them flats in our new, kick-ass rubber boots,
and we were gonna find some long-lost gold, or a couple of half-buried chests
full of old toys, or maybe just some cool, sea-polished chunks of driftwood
we could whittle away at later while we bragged to those chickenshits about
how we’d braved the ‘flats and got the goods. Fuckers. Pussies.
Sigh. Smart kids.
Bobby marched out ahead of me; I was a couple inches shorter, hadda pump my
legs a little harder to keep up, the mud getting goopier and more insistent
with each sloppy, idiotic plunge of my new rubber boots. On we trod, though,
until we were at least a quarter of a mile from shore. And the mud just got
thicker, and darker, and thirstier. Up to my ankles ... the mid-calf ... finally
turning the black to matted brown and overlapping the sweet red stripe at the
top, flowing up and over and inside and down my pants and on my socks and then
it happened. I saw Bobby stop short, I mean fucking short, man. His boots went
down, first the left, then the right, into the slime. And then they stopped.
But Bobby didn’t. Carried by his own momentum, he literally flew out of
the boots and landed, face-first, a couple feet ahead of himself. I would’ve
gaped and shouted, but at that very moment, my own boots decided to become one
forever with the Homer Mud Flats.
I, however, didn’t fly right outta my boots. No sir, no such luck for
ol’ Tommy. Me, I just STOPPED. And kinda twanged like a straight arrow
shot into a fresh baby elm—I mean, the skin on my jaw was literally flapping.
By then, Bobby had rolled over and commenced to howling—huge, bellowing
guffaws of moronic, innocent little kid laughter. Though, from what I recall,
he was quite a sight himself, with the entire front of his body perfectly stained
brown and dripping; his back fresh, clean and spotless. But it was the sight
of me—his scrawny, dorky little cousin, frozen in mid-stride like some
freak-factory children’s mannequin—that caused his momentary lapse
of sanity. For I was not only immobile and twanging on my feet, but I was quite
clearly and very rapidly sinking into the mire I’d so longed to frolic
in only moments before.
Long gone were dreams of lost treasure, hidden toys and fantastic beach-comber
booty—I was no stranger to the dangers of the ’Flats, and I knew
we were in for some shit. It was still a half-hour or so off, but there was
no mistaking the smells, sights and sounds surrounding us; the shrieks of the
picking, plucking, ravenous gulls; the shift in the wind that brought a sigh
of salt to the brow; that slight ache you got in your knees and elbows when
the barometric pressure suddenly shifted. The tide was coming in—fast.
There it was. I was 9 years old, and I was sinking (up to my knees by this point,
the suction only getting stronger with each fruitless tug I gave) quickly into
who knows how many feet of thick, briny goo, my only possible hope for salvation
the laughter-stricken hyena of a boy lying curled in that same mud a few feet
away from me. Did I mention that we were a good quarter of a mile from actual
land? Uh-huh. Can you say fucked? Sure, I knew ya could.
What happened? Well, obviously, I lived. I’m here to tell the tale. Bobby
survived without a scratch, other than the good hide-tanning we both got from
our pops later that afternoon. Mom rescued us. It wasn’t the first time
she’d come dashing out of who knows where, breathless and half-hooting,
“What the hell do you little piss-ants think you’re doing? Jesus!”
Ah, but never did a string of nerve-wracked expletives sound so sweet upon the
ear, my friends. Salvation. Hot cocoa. Mild finger-wagging. Eye-rolling. Forgiveness.
That was mom. Later, the pain would come, once dad got home. But ya know, you
almost welcomed that thick leather belt across your skinny, puckered little
ass—it meant you were alive. Living. Loved. Human.
The black boots? Those shiny, red-striped little status symbols we were so stupidly
proud of for six hours of one day, one spring in 1975, before fucked-up, greedy
old white guys dictated children’s fashion, musical tastes and social
behavior? Wellsir, as you might have suspected, they’re still there, or
what’s left of ‘em (they were made of good ol’ fashioned American
rubber imported from some country where rubber trees actually grow, ya know),
anyway. Two pairs of black rubber boots with groovy red stripes at the top,
stiffened and hardened and buried two feet deep in the mud, forever a physical
part of the Homer Mud Flats themselves. Four tiny, rotting shards of lost youth,
innocence and invincibility the only mute witnesses to the day I realized life’s
too fucking short for bullshit. Oh, I’ve forgotten it a few times since—hell,
even recently. But I guess that’s why I told ya’ll this long-winded,
self-serving little tale.
Because life’s too short to just stand by and watch stupid people fuck
good shit up, and not say anything about it. Life’s too short to wank
off while your friends and neighbors and families and beautiful strangers are
dying the dark deaths of their souls and screaming silent screams for help,
respite, love, peace, truth, honesty. Sure, people TALK about telling the truth,
but they don’t mean the Truth, capital “T.” Sigh. So I’m
gonna. Fuck the dumb shit, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, the throttle
is stuck on that “T,” boyos, and I’d be more than happy to
be the one who throws a spanner in all these stinky works.
It’s not a long list, but I think it’s time somebody addresses it.
And I’m not gonna spout off all day about it, or lay it on too thick.
I’m just gonna point out the obvious, hope people can take some constructive
criticism, and let the chips fall where they may. What the hell do I have to
lose? You think you can throw somethin’ bigger than the Homer Mud Flats
my way? Bring it on, man. Here’s my local snipes-n-gripes for this week:
THREE LITTLE THINGS THAT HAVE REALLY BEEN PISSING ME OFF:
1) There’s a new radio station in town. The
Current, left of the dial there in St. Paul. Cool stuff. Cool people. Sure,
they needed some help from the community and some Public Radio suits to get
the shit off the ground. Sure, the DJ’s pretty much play whatever the
hell they want, and sure, their on-air catalog is “only” hovering
around several thousand songs. I can see why people are bitching. I mean, that
totally SUCKS compared to one year ago, right? WHEN THERE WAS NO FULL-TIME FM
ROCK RADIO STATION WORTH A GOOD PISS IN THE WIND FOR FIVE STATES OR MORE AROUND
YOU!! Jesus Christ. Some people are never happy. Quit whining. Get a life. Don’t
like it? Turn the dial. It’s all over now, baby blue. If you really wanna
hear lame, over-produced, Top 40 teeny-bopper singles on the radio—shhh
.... listen now, it’s really simple: Just get in your car, point it either
North or South, and turn your tunes on. Now, as you skip and roll over various
state lines, turn the knob, little buddy. You hear that? Yep, it’s the
same song, that one you like. Over, and fucking over, and fucking over. You
deserve it. We don’t. And we don’t deserve you, either. Kudos to
2) Local writers who think a great band breaking up, or a cool artist dying,
or a scene disappearing, or a much-loved local club closing is a really fucking
cool thing to “break” in the news. Remember when a great band
getting—or staying—together was good news? When a cool new album
was worth giving all your ink space to? When the opening—or the salvation—of
a much-loved venue was something to crow about? Ah, yes. Those were the days,
my friends. Here’s my take, and I think it’s pretty fair: There’s
a reason why people still hearken to that ancient adage, “Cursed is the
bearer of bad news.” Not that bad news shouldn’t be reported. That’s
life. And sometimes life really sucks. But you know what? It sucks even more
when you feel like the person reporting that bad news is actually getting some
kind of perverted charge out of being the first motherfucker on the block to
shout “Rock is Dead!” Hey, I’m no Jimmy Olson, never claimed
to be. But you, folks (you know who you are), you can keep the title “SCOOP”
for yourselves. Yuck.
3) Bad Local Music Writing, Part 256: It’s getting to be a pattern.
And I don’t like it. Why do “rock journalists” think they
have to be smarmy, condescending and (shudder) “collegiate” when
they’re talking about a fucking rock and roll record? I gotta say it—these
are the same kind of pretentious twits who were around making fun of Little
Richard in 1956 because the words to “Tutti Frutti” (A-wop-bop-a-lula-a-lop-bam-boom!!)
were utterly, gloriously and jubilantly STOOPID. Yeah, hey—they call it
ROCK AND ROLL, man. Sometimes it’s OK to just have FUN with it. Alas,
some folks just can’t seem to do that. To wit: a recent, 500-plus word
article in another local rag about an up-and-coming national band that reads
like a bitter, jealous, post-break-up letter from a somebody who used to know
Music as a friend and lover but now sees her only as a reminder of lost hope,
wasted opportunities and someone else’s mistress. How sad, stupid and
utterly wasteful. You have nothing better to say about music than that? Jesus,
at least attack a big-time corporate tit-sucker band/artist that people should
know you know sucks. I know it, and you know it. Blah!
That’s it for me this week, kids. My apologies to no one but you, dear
readers, who’ve been subjected to my windy ranting and wanton raving once
again. Next time out—CD reviews, local news and my personal recipe for
an affordable rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. Until then—make yer
own damned-to-eternal-hell news. ||
If you have local music news/gigs/events/CDs you’d
like to see mentioned in this column, or you’ve just got an extra pair
of circa-1975 black rubber boots with a red stripe on top you wanna part with,
send replies to: (temporary e-mail) email@example.com.