Panorama of San Bernardino

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Finding My Musical Religion

If I could write perfect memoir it would have music embedded into it.  One would read a bit of my childhood and young adult memories with a song playing in their ears.  For me, music is a religious experience.  I lose myself.

Music saved me.  In my high school years, it was a balm for all of the depression and loneliness in my soul.  Music from post punk bands like The Smiths, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Pixies, The Replacements, and U2 (along with many, many others) took that all the pain away and provided an outlet.  Only music people understand what I mean.  Truth is, you either are a music person or you're not.  It's like being a good waitress.  It can't be taught.  You can tell someone is a music person by whether they relate their music to memories. I remember the first Smiths' song I ever heard on the radio ("This Charming Man")  and the first time my friend Tracy played Siouxsie for me at her house.  When I was little, I would dance to The Go Go's on the radio singing into a hairbrush.  When I think of my dad, Johnny Cash is playing in the background along with some Loretta Lynn.

Interlude-Right now, the song "Changes" by Bowie is playing on my headphones and before that "Where is my Mind" by the Pixies and "Los Angeles" by X and I am watching the sun rise in the high desert with the earth's own special mix of purple and yellow.

If I ever lose this side of myself, the musical side, I will have officially become old and you can put me out to pasture.  The day I hear an X song and don't jump up and down like a maniac, just sedate me please.  And tonight, in true JEM fashion, I will be seeing The Cult live and don't expect me to not to dance and sing along.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fourth of July

"On the stairs, I smoke a cigarette alone/Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below/Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July/Hey baby/Baby take a walk outside."  An excerpt from the song "Fourth of July" by X

The Fourth of July brings back my childhood memories of homemade potato salad and thick rib eye steaks on the grill.  My dad would always complain about having to do all the work.  Mom was useless after having worked the night at Yangtzee's Chinese Restaurant.  Plus, she couldn't cook.  Mom knew her limitations and didn't even try and despite his grumbling, Dad liked the kitchen and barbecue to himself.

I grew up in a small suburb sixty miles east of Los Angeles called Ontario.  Ontario had a Dunkin Donuts, a Pizza Hut, a Carl's Jr., a Pup n Taco and not much else.    The favorite pastime of my junior high years was to walk through the sewer drains underneath the airport with my friends.  Life must have been really boring if sewage drains were an adventure.

My twin sister Jackie and I attended Imperial Junior High and took all GATE classes.  Our little sister Annie was two years behind us.  Our best friend Melinda, whose mom Mary often watched us after school, went to Imperial with us.  Jackie and I wore a lot of florescent during junior high.  That was the same year Wham UK came out with the day glow video and we followed the trend.  Melinda bucked the trends and wore her hair spiked up and favored tight stretch pants with a tank and a jean jacket with all of her heavy metal band buttons (Motley Crue was her favorite) lined up down the front.

We were latchkey kids.  CHIPS was my favorite TV show along with What's Happening and Good Times.  We had a track house on a cul-de-sac with a swimming pool.  Mom waited tables and worked at Circle K and Dad moved furniture.  Things were pretty comfortable until Dad bought a bar called The Big O and quit his job, a decision that plunged our family into financial ruin.  But, until then things were good although Mom always said we were bill poor.  Even though she worried about money, Mom always took us shopping.  Mom loved to shop and still does.  Even if it was her last twenty, Mom would use it to buy us swimsuits or shoes.  We shopped at K-Mart, JC Penny's, Montgomery Wards and Gemco.

Back to those summer barbecues, Mom and Dad would always fight.  My childhood was filled with the electrical tension of their relationship.  Everything would be fine and then boom, Mom would explode usually because Dad was drinking too much.  But, until their fights went off, those summer barbecues were beautiful times.  My sisters and I would swim until we couldn't move our arms and down Shasta after Shasta cola like there was no tomorrow.  Dad would let us each have our own steak and dribble steak sauce on it for us.  Dad never used A1 Steak Sauce, it was always Worcestershire Sauce.

The thing is, no matter how much I try, I can't recreate those memories in my head or on the page.  My writing is a poor substitute for the reality but I try to capture the magic nonetheless.  But, I ultimately fail because there's too much there.  I always forget something.

Like my dad's blue swim trunks and his scarred up legs from his vein disorder.  Or the way my sisters and I would dive off the diving board or play Marco Polo in the pool.  Mom's smile when she relaxed.  And the fireworks Dad would save up his moving tips to buy.  My sisters and I would watch in awe as the charcoal snakes weaved their way down the street and marveled with open mouths at the twirling fireworks that screamed as they spun.

Melancholy nostalgia are the only words that capture the feeling because no matter what, no matter what is left, Dad is gone.

And so are his fireworks.