1. Jilted, Stilted
There is a girl on a sagging flowered sofa, across the from the stage; she has messy chocolate-colored hair and zigzagged scars on her pale arms, she is two years older than I am and she has also tricked herself into being totally crushed out on King Emo. We are aware we are competitors for his attention, but we’ve become friends despite that – we both like getting stoned and listening to Kill Rock Stars bands, and at the ages we are those two things are enough to base a friendship on, that and it’s nice to have someone to talk to about him, someone who can commiserate when you say He blew me off, again.
2. Busted Hymns
It is 1997. I am fifteen years old. Someday, I will find this Home, but it will turn out to exist in more than one place. I will find it only to learn that it is fleeting and exists more in a moment than a fixed location. Someday, I will have diamonds tattooed on the side of my face. Someday, people will call me Mutiny. I don’t know any of this, yet. I am fifteen years old, just plain J. I put my headphones on, and the mix tape in my battered Walkman warbles out raspy punk rock lullabies written by bands I will never get to see. My hands tunnel underneath the scratchy blanket and between my skinny legs, and I touch myself raw because I want to feel something, anything, I touch myself until I shudder with release, until I start to weep. When my tears have dried and the tape clicks off, I can still hear the trains roar, and beyond that sound there is the sound of the foghorn bellow. There is a disquiet in me, the seed of which has been growing since childhood and which will only continue to grow so large it will nearly consume me in later years, that need for constant motion, that urge to go somewhere, anywhere, everywhere, so long as I can go, go, go. I finally fall asleep, and I dream of pirate ships and train robbers.
3. Night Train
There comes a time, though, when the lurid fairytale land disappears. You leave for a little while and you come back to it and it has changed – or sometimes you don’t even leave, it just morphs right in front of you. The stores are different, the parking lots are patrolled by cops, the smoky clubs where every band that played was the best, the loudest, the one that thrashed your soul, have either closed down or have started booking terrible bands and raising the price of their drinks. You can’t help but wonder if it’s your fault, maybe you left Neverland too long, grew up accidentally. You can still sense that fire, it’s hidden in the bricks of buildings and if the wind shifts just so you can smell it – kind of like ganja and yeast and tar, kind of like salt water and whiskey – and you duck down tiny side streets hoping there’s a spot unchanged, a spot you missed, hoping there’s some small section where you’ll hear a guitar chord coming from a bar and it’ll punch you in the gut, where a man with inky swirls on his face will offer you a sip of the Sour Apple Mad Dog 20/20 glowing violently green in the bottle he holds, where a woman with hair twisted into snakes will spread the vagabond’s tarot out for you and assure you everything will be all right – or, if not all right, at least exciting. But you don’t find it. And you search for it in other cities, too, and you experience a similar sensation – the tingle of magic hiding somewhere out of reach, but everywhere you look, there are only condos and cell phones and overpriced coffee.
4. Just A Fucked Up Kid
The radio station job, it doesn’t pay in money, but I do it because I love it, really it’s about the only thing I love; I clock in endless hours calling indie labels to try and cadge CDs off ‘em and cataloging the new music that gets sent to us, and the perks are such – One: I have my own radio show, two hours every Tuesday afternoon, and it’s like making a mix tape, live, and forcing anyone tuning in to listen to the shit I dig, which is mostly punk of various kinds (pop-punk, art-punk, drunk-punk, riot grrrl, hardcore, oi!, streetpunk, crustpunk, old punk, new punk, red punk, blue punk…), but occasionally I throw in some indie rock, or noise, or glam rock, or ska, or Billy Bragg. Two: I get loads of free music; anytime the station gets anything even remotely worth having, before I catalog it I take it home and make a tape of it. Three: I get to go to shows for free, and I have an excuse to talk to my favorite bands; I come armed with a cassette recorder and I ask them to do short interviews for me to play on my show, or station IDs, and usually those nights end with the interviews degenerating into all of us drunk and ridiculous and some band member or other hitting on little combat-booted, plaid-skirted, underage me – which I think is just fuckin’ great. And four: I get these sweet business cards, with my name and the name of the station on them, and underneath my name they say DJ / Punk Music Director / Hip Chick.
5. Lining Lake Michigan
Then, we are silent, because we look south and there is a perfect vision of Chicago’s skyline for our taking. It is a glowing haze, a shimmering mirage, all wound pink, sulfur yellow, Halloween orange, and various murky shades of gray and brown and bruise-blue. We stare at it in mutual silence. Somewhere nearby, a drunken frat boy hoots a garbled catcall. I say - Man, Chicago looks like I could reach out and touch it. But it’s so far away, I mean, the trains’ve stopped running for the night. I wish I could just swim there. I should, I should jump into Lake Michigan and swim to Chicago. ‘Course, I’d probably drown, or get hypothermia, or some weird disease… -Yeah, but it’d be punk rock, Keenan says. I snort, and a dribble of beer comes out of my nostrils. I mean, that’s what punk is, right? Endangering your life on purpose?