Killing Bono

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I’ve been reading Killing Bono by Neil McCormick, something I picked up on Sunday at a Barnes and Noble where I was trying to escape the heat for a few minutes. It’s an interesting little book that most people will see as a sort of first-person biography of the band U2. McCormick, now a music critic, grew up in Ireland with Bono and crew as his classmates, and he is still good pals with the quartet. But that’s not what attracted me to the book. Because what this guy did was told the tale of how he was so close to fame – in fact, he even jammed with the band a few times back when they were trying to figure out who played what, and eventually went off to leave the group, then called Feedback and playing shitty Beatles covers through Sears amplifiers or whatever. And it’s interesting to see not only that this guy had so many close brushes with what later became fame in his youth, but that he didn’t become madly famous for being the fifth U2er or whatever. When he didn’t gig with those guys, he got his own JcPenny bass and started his own shitty Beatles cover band, and although they played some second-rate gigs sixty miles out of town opening for a polka act or whatever, he never got the deal from Island or anything else. Instead, he worked a job at a crappy music weekly paper, pasting down headlines while crammed into a tiny office with a half-dozen other people. I really like the never-got-famous biographies, not of the bands who we now see on the cover of Billboard holding up gold albums, but the ones who really tried to get it going, and partied hard and slept on floors and didn’t do shit, and ended up selling insurance 20 years later. For some reason, that really gets me going, and makes me wish I had tried a little harder at getting a crap band going in high school so I could at least fake writing about it.

I have a pretty mixed opinion on U2, though. I first saw them back on MTV when that live video of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was played almost constantly, because they only had like 12 videos back then. I never got into the band that much, but got Joshua Tree when it came out, and was drawn to it, if anything, because the bass lines were incredibly easy to figure out. It wasn’t a great revelation or a best-ever sort of thing, just an album I liked, listened to for a few weeks, then filed back in with the rest of the CDs. The other main exposure I had to U2 before I got to college (where like everybody listened to them, as some kind of bridge to what was then called “alternative” rock) was that when I dated my first girlfriend, right before I left for school, we spent a lot of time parked in her car, for obvious reasons. And while I had all of this heavy metal shit in my tape deck, and she had all of this more punk-oriented stuff, I think two of the tapes we compromised on were Depeche Mode’s 101 and U2′s Rattle and Hum – both live albums. So I spent many an hour parked in dark areas of Elkhart listening to Bono sing “All Along the Watchtower” while I tried to figure out how to undo a bra strap.

Fast-forward about four years, and we get to one of the reasons I couldn’t stand U2 for years. This is simple: for whatever reason, there are highly impressionable girls who tend to lock onto U2 and make it their main infatuation in life, only listening to their songs and being in giggles about how dreamy The Edge or Bono were or whateverthefuck. And in 1993, I ended up dating one of them. And while we dated, it was not horrible – I mean, she wasn’t carving lyrics from October into her arm or anything, and she hadn’t planned any pilgrimages to Windmill Studios in Dublin, but it was still one of those minor things that tick you off.

And when she dumped me later, I really, REALLY hated U2, and became a real dick about it. You’d think Adam Clayton personally poured sugar in my car’s gas tank or something. This was further reinforced by the fact that after the relationship, I became heavily involved in the spoken word of Henry Rollins, who has a bit about how much he hates U2. So for years, I completely despised anything with The Edge’s jangly guitar and Bono’s vapid vocals.

For whatever reason, though, I ended up buying a copy of Achtung Baby after I moved away from college, maybe 4 or 5 years after it came out. Part of it was that the girl that I based a character on in Summer Rain was totally in love with that album when we were friends, and so maybe it was research. Also, the ex-girlfriend had once sent me a mix tape, and in some sort of horrible nostalgia, I was trying to track down all of the songs on it, one of which was “Acrobat”. And yeah, I ended up adding that album to my list of guilty pleasures, because it’s so enjoyable. It’s almost as simple as their earlier things, but they built out such a thick sound with so many things in the background. It sounds more natural than synthetic, but song to song varies so much, and the little buzzes and beats make it seem so much more filling. And one of the reasons I like the album so much is that it’s got such a happy sound to it, just this total, poppy, it’s-a-wonderful-world sound to it. But then you really drill down into each song, and some of them are so insanely personal, rather than the usual blanket political/spiritual messages, that it’s so god damned depressing, and that totally hits the spot sometime.

Of course, the story ends here, with no great revelation about how I’m now a lifetime U2 fan. Honestly, I haven’t picked up a single album of theirs other than those two, and I don’t feel a need to. I think the moral of that story is that I have so many of these damn guilty pleasures, but it doesn’t mean I need to rush out and buy someone’s complete discography plus singles and bootlegs and SACDs just because one of the CDs has a certain meaning from a certain time.

It’s still hot, by the way, which is why I keep writing these driveling musical commentaries. It’s easier than trying to work on short stories, and far more interesting than a thousand words on what kind of bottled water I drank today. Or is it?

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GnR

I finally picked up one of those Moleskine notebooks this weekend, after looking for one locally for a few weeks, and finally running into a stash at a Barnes and Noble. I don’t know why I’ve regressed to the point where I think the right paper and the right pen will make the right words come out or something. I went through this in like ’94 when I was first trying to get started writing, where I thought an expensive fountain pen or a cool little booklet would make the words come faster or something. I’ve since learned that a Mead 3-subject spiral and a Bic pen stolen from work will do the job just the same. If anything, they’re cheaper and you don’t have to worry about the fact that most “journal” journals have margins and bindings and fucked-up lining that means you’ll burn through $20 of fancy-pants journal in the time it takes to fill a third of a college rule 8.5×11.

But I bought one anyway, thinking it would be a good place for the occasional piece of paragraph, since I’m currently using mini-legal pads and post-its and a lot of other shit. It’s not as easy to carry a spiral and write on it in the train. It works well if you get a seat, but writing a note or two when standing is a bitch. And since the days of depressingly writing for pages at two in the morning when alone in bed seem to have passed, I feel a need to make up for the words in other spaces in the day. And as far as Moleskine is concerned, it’s the nicest little journal I’ve seen. There’s some back-story about how Celine and Hemingway and Van Gogh used the same notebooks. I’ve since read that the history is bullshit, and the company basically started making the books like five years ago, but it’s the same kind of little book you’d expect Kerouac or Burroughs to be slinging around in a front pocket, so it has a certain appeal there.

I haven’t been able to do much writing lately, because it’s too god damned hot to even think, let alone think of plot and characters and textures and everything else. I’m still sitting on 104,000+ words of nostalgia that covers my time in Bloomington, but I can’t get nostalgic enough to really start carving that shit up to get it from good to great. I thought about posting a story or ten here, and maybe I will, but first I need to keep cleaning.

I was listening to Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction – on the way home from work today. I don’t know why, although I’m pretty sick of all 20 Gigs I have on my iPod and I’m too lazy to go buy some more new albums and rip them, because I don’t even know what I’d buy, let alone where I’d store them if I bought them. And that made me think about how strange it was that back then, I listened to this album like every day for about six months, and pretty much memorized it, and I did that with a lot of albums, and now, I can barely find an album I want to listen to all the way through twice. I wonder if music was better then, or if it was some kind of chemical-hormone thing in my brain that made me more receptive to music, or what.

I remember hearing about GnR during the summer of ’88, when I was in the Catskills. My dad’s girlfriend had a couple of nephews that were vacationing there at the same time as us, who were these typical Italian Long Island types, not total all-out guidos, but very machismo and partied a lot and everything. And once or twice, they talked about getting buzzed and staying up late and listening to Guns N’ Roses, but they weren’t like metalheads or anything; most of the time they listened to club dance music or whatever. So I assumed that GnR was some kind of stupid Poison/Bon Jovi bullshit, and went back to my Megadeth or whatever.

Then that fall, before “Sweet Child” and all of that hit the charts, I think Tom Sample, who had gone off to college in Goshen, told me I had to check out the album, and that it was more metal than Cinderella or whatever. I bought the tape from work – I worked at Wards then, and they sold a handful of tapes and CDs in the stereo department, and I would have bought my groceries and tap water there if they sold it, just to get the damn 10% employee discount.

I listened to that album constantly, or at least as much as I could between spins of the new Metallica – …And Justice For All. My first take was that I liked how a band could be so firmly seated between pop like Aerosmith or Motley Crue and still have almost as much of an edge as more “extreme” metal like Judas Priest or Alice Cooper. In a sense, it was almost crossover, but between glam and thrash. It was a lot dirtier and banal than the lipstick bands, with a certain amount of kick-ass edge, but it was still marketable enough to play it on U-93 or MTV. It was also real AOR in the old sense of the definition – Album Oriented Rock. (And it’s sad that I can’t type AOR without first typing AOL and then backspacing… fuck!) It’s amazing how many times I could start it at “Welcome to the Jungle” and 53 minutes and 26 seconds later, find myself at the end of “Rocket Queen”.

Of course, by the time the fall semester progressed, almost everyone loved Guns ‘N Roses, including all of the jocko-homo types at my high school. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” got played at dances, and “Paradise City” was blasting out of every mommy-and-daddy-purchased 5.0 Mustang GT in the school parking lot. I got a little sick of the radio songs, and found myself fast-forwarding to “It’s So Easy” after putting in side A of the tape. I zipped around the popular stuff for a while, then gave up on the album to spend more time working on that new Metallica opus, or whatever new tape of the week I was digesting.

Going back to the album now, I still hate the radio songs, and I think that sums up the main problem with a band like this. Because face it, if W. Axl bit it in a horrible car accident today, the news networks would be playing a five-second clip from “Sweet Child”, not the infinitely cooler “Rocket Queen”, or something more obscure and Stonesy like “Locomotive” or “Double Talkin’ Jive” from their double album. But those are the kind of tracks I love, the kind of bluesy, textured songs with depressing lyrics where Rose goes from the screechy catcalls to the lower, gravely lyrics that show the holes in his soul, topped off by the wailing guitar that Slash always delivered. When I was still using MiniDiscs, I had an 80-minute blank filled with my custom all-time, all-star G’NR album. I cherry picked the best of the Use Your Illusions, and fed in the top stuff from Appetite, and it was exactly 79:54, but I wanted both versions of “Don’t Cry”, so I had to settle for the eerie alternate lyric one and call it a day.

Actually, I’ve found myself listening to Buckethead’s Population Override a lot lately. It’s also solo guitar-god stuff, but this album is less goofy set pieces and whatever, and more Satriani-style compositions. It’s actually really good to write to, and it’s on right now. And hey, he played in Guns N’ Roses, too, on that abortion of a world tour a few years ago.

OK, time for a cold shower.

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Ten years of unhoosierdom

I was just thinking about this the other day, and I realized this weekend marks the ten year anniversary of when I packed up and shipped out of Indiana for Seattle. It’s a nice round number, which is the only reason I thought about it, but it is pretty weird. I guess ten years seems like an eternity to me, and it doesn’t seem like that long ago that I left. On the other hand, living in Seattle does seem like forever ago to me, and my whole time at 600 7th Ave and working at Spry seems like another lifetime.

I don’t really miss Indiana anymore, although there are bits of it that are interesting to me. I don’t think of it as a bad place anymore, and it’s not that I think of it as a big, evil Red state or anything. Indiana has conservative politics, but it’s a small place, so you can’t really not have conservative politics. It’s where people go when things are supposed to be small, or where old people go to live, and there’s not much you can change about that unless you double the tax base overnight, or leave and move to another state, and I can’t do the former, so I did the latter. Now, when I go back, the worst problem to me isn’t the Jesus people or the conservatives, it’s the people who bitch about them. It’s like a woman who bitches about her husband who beats her – if you don’t like it, leave. I know, you can’t always leave, and that’s not a great metaphor, but bitching about the backwardsness in Indiana is like bitching about the sun in Los Angeles.

Lots of other little flashbacks remind me of things, but it’s more about Seattle than Bloomington. We went to Newport mall out in Jersey city yesterday, and that little area right around the PATH train station looks so damn much like Bellvue or Redmond, the east side of Seattle. It’s all of those office commercial buildings with mirrored glass outsides that look like airport motels, plus the subtle roads and open skies. It looks just like the area surrounding the Bellvue Mall, the building I used to work at in Factoria, and all of the other stuff around I-405 in Seattleland. And sitting here in Sarah’s apartment, looking out toward the skyline from a few floors up with lots of sunlight from a couple of big windows, it almost reminds me of the time in my place in Seattle, except it’s not raining and there’s no Kingdome anymore. But sometimes the weather’s just right and it makes me think for a half second that I should go down to that ’94 Ford Escort and take a drive up I-5, and then I remember I made my last lease payment on that thing 7 years ago, and all I’m driving is a MetroCard these days.

Ten years… I still haven’t written up a suitable story for that cross-country drive. I wrote a story for this Bloomington short-story book that probably will never see the light of day, but it covers all of the events up to me leaving, and not the actual trip. I drove nonstop, by myself. I went through so fast, there was no real vision of a trip, as much as there was a huge blur. It rained a lot in part of Montana; I blew through all of South Dakota in the darkness. I stopped at Devil’s Tower at about 2AM, technically on the 4th of July. I don’t remember Wall Drugs, but I do remember a few other gas stations with slot machines and nothing else. I listened to every tape I packed at least five times. For every meal, I stopped at McDonald’s, because I didn’t want to hunt around for some other alternative 19 miles off of the off ramp. Montana was really shitty, 12 hours of uphill and curves, almost no roadstops, the few around were no more than barns with a single gas pump that was overpriced and so low-octane, you could safely drink it. Then I crossed into Idaho, and it was all downhill, all beautiful. I regret not taking the trip slower, spending some time and money exploring the nature, taking a few more pictures, relaxing for a couple of days before I reported for duty for my first real job. But I regret a lot of things, and I made it here, so who cares.

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