Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dreams, Dropping Out, Recovery

Everything from that time feels distant, distorted, as if I read it all in a book, or saw it flash by in a movie.

I would sit in the garage of that house my sophomore year, everyone else gone to bed, there on the dusty concrete, singing soft with my guitar, writing my songs, in catharsis, beating those melodies out of the angst of the day. Then after laying awake for hours, trying to crack the codes of lyrics, of the indomitable musical hierarchy, to my roommate’s incessant breathing, I’d finally get back up, mind rushing, and walk out onto the deck to look up into the gaps between the clouds, into the stars, bare feet on splintery wood. Lonesome.

I hadn’t wanted to go to college. I hadn’t put in much effort. All my effort went to making music and going to shows and playing shows and handing out fliers outside of shows at Slims or The Fillmore or at The Oakland Arena. I went to school where my brother went, where it was convenient, and because I felt like it was the right thing to do. I never figured out a major. I mostly took classes that seemed like they could help my music career in one way or another. I wanted that time to disappear into something more meaningful. I hardly allowed it to exist.

On weekends I would drive back to Oakland, the cold little Toyata Tercel that my cousin sold me rattling over the twisting mountain pass. I would go to shows and play shows, and hang out with my friends in bands who understood.

My friend talks about the difference between schooling and education. We both quit but continued to try to be educated in any way we could, to find the lesson in an experience, to be open to being taken to new territories of knowledge and perspective by others. Each of us had trouble being schooled though, being molded by an institutional hand.

The personal statement in my college application had begun, “Music saved my life...” - That was true, but I didn’t know that music was eventually going to try to take my life as well. I’m glad I dropped out and found my own way. But in a sense I want to curse the world for telling us to follow our dreams without giving us a disclaimer: If you’re a troubled person, you’ll still be troubled when you’re holding your wildest dreams.

For a while all of those things I’d hoped for began to light up on cue. On paper, we seemed to be executing what we believed we wanted. Attention, travel, status, excitement, sex, drugs, the high of performance, the all night drives, the label and managers and handlers with all their pressures, the bewilderment of getting paid just to play music. I’ll tell all of those stories eventually.

But I was also there beside the backstage door in Philadelphia, holding a trembling fist of snow to the hives on my face. There, pacing around an abandoned lot in Salt Lake City, stressing on the phone with my lawyer over the details of the contracts that replaced my relationships with old friends. There, my hand clenched by a screaming woman, little more than a stranger, in a Chicago emergency room. There, slamming my fists against a hotel wall, against the steering wheel on the highway, against the side of the van, into my own chest and stomach, terrorizing my bandmates. And I was there, listening to my manager’s answering machine again and again as I paced around that empty Brooklyn apartment, ice caked on the windows, angry and afraid and exhausted and alone for a thousand miles. That’s the spot where I couldn’t resuscitate my dreams, where protecting my own self finally took precedent, where I would have been fully shattered if I hadn’t. That’s when I climbed back down and slowly began to dig through the rubble, to understand where those dreams flared up from in the first place. I haven’t really been able to want it bad enough since then. I haven’t quite been able to re-convince myself that anything beyond the song is that important.

All of those things were bound to happen - if not in that context, then in some other. All of that came from within. Your wishes are the ones that should be careful, before you stagger in with all your baggage and track mud across their clean carpets. My early twenties were spent in this frenzy. I think my late twenties are about recovering and making sense of it all so I can be a real person for the rest of my life.

Some mornings I wake up as the sky is beginning to brighten. I might scrawl something in my notebook if the moon is bright enough to write to, then open my door to the yard and make my way down the concrete path, between the side of the house and the retaining wall. Beyond the darkened blooms of the neighbor’s bougainvillea I’ll see those stars fading over silhouettes of hills and the skyscrapers downtown. I guess I’m young still, but so much has happened since I careened frantically through the hopes of a lonely kid in the middle of a Santa Cruz night. A lifetime has passed, and now everything kind of feels like a dream.