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If you’re new to my blogs, welcome!  Some of you may have popped up via Googling my name after checking out my book A Division of Souls.  In case you haven’t noticed, I run two blogs.  This one, Walk in Silence, is primarily my music blog, wherein I blather on obsessively about non-writing things such as new music releases, favorite albums of yore, and tunage wot I found on college radio, just to name a few subjects.  I try to keep it enjoyable here, so if you happen to be a big music nerd like I am, I hope you enjoy my posts!

If you are looking for my writing blog, you can click on this link here, and it will take you to it:

Welcome to Bridgetown

My writing blog, as you will have assumed, is where I have been talking about my budding career as a writer…well, more like my long, often slow but never uninteresting backstage work as a writer while attempting to make it into a legitimate career.  The blog contains all kinds of commentaries, including thoughts about the writing process, things I’ve learned as a self-published author so far, and a lot of background info about the stories I’m writing.

Never a dull moment here, folks!

Fly-by: See ya in a few weeks

I’ll be afk for a bit while we head out on a well-earned vacation (and to rawk out at Outside Lands upon return), so it’ll be a bit quiet here for a few weeks.  I may pop by for a bit of photo sharing though!

Upon return, I’ll be returning to the Tuesday & Thursday posting schedule that I’ve had going for the last few months.  The WiS series, at least the 80s years, is done, so I’ll be jumping back into music blogging, talking about tunage old and new.

See you on the flip side!

Walk in Silence Epilogue

charlesgate

4 Charlesgate East, Boston (Picture courtesy of backbayhomes.org)

My first long distance drive, mere weeks after I got my license, was to drive all my stuff to Boston.  For most of the trip it’s relatively easy — Route 2 all the way in.  The trick is navigating the weird roads: the double-lane rotary in Concord, four-lane highway down to two-lane surface road, the weird intersections in Cambridge, the lane-change to get on to Storrow Drive, and looping around multiple one-way streets of Back Bay to pull up next to my dormitory and unload with all the other students.  At a building that had no parking.  Somehow the insanity of that early September day ran smoothly, thanks to a number of fraternity brothers teaming up to help us newbies.

As you can see above, it wasn’t your typical box dorm…Charlesgate was once a hotel, turned into an SRO, became a Boston University dorm (BU is a few blocks on the other side of Kenmore Square…they still have a few frat houses on Beacon on this block), and eventually became the largest dorm for Emerson College.*  Some of the rooms were huge and spacious (like mine, thankfully!), while others were little more than a closet space.  It was old enough to have its own ghost stories!  Some of the older SRO renters still lived there per a loophole, including an older lady that lived up the hall from me and smoked smelly cigars, despite the no-smoking rule in the buildling.  It was quite the peculiar building, but it was a great place to live.  Our cafeteria was right across the street, along with a bus stop for a school shuttle that would bring us to the dorm at the other end of Beacon.


Note: Yes, this is the exact same Fuzzbox I’d fallen in love with a few years previous…their second album was a complete 180 with shiny production and nary a thread of Oxfam in sight. It was one hell of a brave move and I love this album all the more for it.

My freshman dorm room was 306, facing Beacon (you can see it the picture — second floor up from the white stone facade, the farthest-left bay windows).  I’d been placed with a kid from New Hampshire who I originally thought I’d get along with, as we both had the same tastes in music.  In reality, though, we couldn’t have been more different and irritating to each other.  He was a punk purist who actively disliked any college rock tainted by commercial radio and major labels, even if they’d started out on indie labels.  I was someone who liked pop radio just as much as I liked obscurities.  He thought I was an ignorant local yokel.  I thought he was a poseur and an ass.  I liked a bit of order and cleanliness; his side of the room was a total shithole.  We didn’t hate each other…we just had absolutely nothing in common except for some music choices.  We merely tolerated each other until our year was done.  On the plus side, I will say that he did introduce me to a lot of excellent indie bands that I’d otherwise have ignored.**

One big problem I had?  I was within walking distance of three record stores.  There was the Tower Records at the corner of Mass Ave and Newbury Street, where I could get all the new releases.  There was Nuggets in Kenmore Square, an excellent used record store where I could buy a lot of stuff cheap; and up the street from that there was Planet Records, which catered to my collectible whims.  This basically meant that I was constantly broke, but at least I had a soundtrack for it!

Another big problem was of my own making: I’d been expecting to meet more people like the Misfit gang, and had completely failed to do so.  A specialized college like mine tended to attract the artistes and the trust fund kids (or at least that’s how it seemed at the time), so I quickly found myself not fitting in anywhere at all.  Even some of the students from towns smaller than mine were all about being the intellectual hipster with a dash of special snowflake for added flavor.  But it was also my own damn fault, as I was looking for my own imagined version of an ‘alternative crowd’ that wasn’t there, at least not at this college.  It took me most of the first semester to figure that out and get my shit together.  By second semester I’d shifted focus and met a different crowd that I got along famously with.  [In fact, I’m still in touch with two or three of them to this day.]

Of course, I was also missing Tracey something fierce, and that had its own problems, mostly in the form of a high phone bill, but also frustration that we were so rarely able to talk to each other.  We’d write letters and call each other now and again, and nearly every time I came home on the weekends, I’d make sure we spent at least part of the day together.  But it became obvious that I was torn; I wanted to loosen the ties I had with my home town, but I couldn’t exactly do that, at least not completely, without ending the relationship.  And I just couldn’t accept taking that step at that time.  Would it have made any difference if we had split up?  Who knows…I’ve long gotten past mulling that question.  Either way, I felt a bit stuck: not quite released from my old bonds, and not quite connected to the new ones.

I’d even stopped writing for the most part.  Sure, I was focusing on my school work (once more a B- student with deadline issues) and my occasional extracurricular activities (getting a midnight shift at WECB, our then-AM station!), but I’d started to find myself falling into that dark spiral again, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep that up again.  I toyed around with reviving the IWN again, but creatively I was running dry.  I did write some of my best Flying Bohemian songs in 1990-91, but a lot of the poetry and lyrics had gotten quite…angry.

On the plus side, I’d started drawing a hell of a lot more.  During one of my history classes I was doodling in the margin of my notebook, drawing a caricature of Daniel Ash from Love and Rockets, when I came up with an idea: an alter-ego character.  I’d drawn similar characters my senior year in high school (two characters from my Belief in Fate project in comic strip form), but Simon ‘Murph’ Murphy was to be one of my favorite creative outlets of my college years; he was full of non-sequiturs, weird life observances, smart-ass remarks, and had no filter whatsoever when it came to saying what was on his mind.  He was the right outlet I needed right then.

The weekend trips back home were also what saved my sanity.  I’d hop on the commuter train at North Station on Friday night, bogged down with a suitcase full of dirty laundry and a backpack of homework and music to listen to.  I’d take the Fitchburg train out to its terminus, where my Dad would pick me up and drive me the last few dozen miles home.  Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine got some seriously heavy play on those trips…it was my ‘Fuck you, Boston’ album on the ride out to western MA.  Alternately, Bob Mould’s Workbook was the ‘fuck it, let’s just start over correctly this time’ album for the same trips.  I got a lot of my shit together on the rides back.  By Sunday afternoon when my Mom or Dad would drop me off at the station, I’d be in a much better mood (and bogged down with clean laundry and a bag of fresh groceries to keep me fed) by the time I got off at the Convention Center stop on the Green Line and walked back to the dorm.

I had to grow up a hell of a lot in a short amount of time, and freshman year was a blur of anger, frustration, depression, and everything in between.  But it was also a blur of excitement, unexpected creativity, and self-realization.  It took me quite a long time to get used to this new reality, but I wasn’t going to overwhelm me.  I’d find a way to figure it all out.  One way or another.

* – Emerson sold off Charlesgate and its neighboring building Fensgate in the mid-90s when they moved the entire school over to the Common…they’re both upscale condos now.  In fact, at this point, the campus I knew as a student no longer exists as part of the school.
** – In a very bizarre twist of fate, he’s now a lawyer.  I don’t even remember what he went to Emerson for…writing, perhaps?

 

Walk in Silence 21

Love And Rockets

(Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images)

The summer of 1989 was spent mostly in cemeteries.

No, I hadn’t decided to go full-on goth…I was in the Cemetery, Park and Tree Division of the DPW, lugging lawn mowers in the back of the town trucks around to most of the local cemeteries.  We on the summer help team would cut the grass around the headstones and the odd niches, and one of the regular full-timers would come riding around on a John Deere and cut the rest.  We’d usually be one or two sections ahead of the riders, so occasionally we’d sneak into one of the wooded areas and enjoy the shade.  The cycle of cutting was such that by the time we made our rounds at all our usual stops, it was time to cut the grass on the first location again.  My favorite cemetery to mow was Silver Lake; it’s the largest in town (a few of my relatives are buried there), so it would take a few days to finish, and we’d have so much more time to goof off.

Me?  I got along just fine with everyone at the job.  They thought I was a bit weird, wearing my Cure and Smiths tee-shirts and all and listening to that weird shit, but I gave as good as I got, and got the job done as needed.  I brought my Walkman (I finally had an official Sony by that time!) and listened to all kinds of stuff during my job, both old and new:  Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade, Bauhaus’ Swing the Heartache: The BBC Sessions, most of my 1988-89 compilations to date, The The’s Mind Bomb, Concrete Blonde’s self-titled, The Cure’s Disintegration and The Head on the Door, most of Cocteau Twins’ Treasure, The Moon and the Melodies and most of their EPs from that era, and so much more.  I’m pretty sure I went through fifty or sixty dollars’ worth of AA batteries that summer.

I also started focusing a bit more seriously on the writing.  The IWN had pretty much gone into stasis, the Belief in Fate project was complete, so I focused mostly on my lyrics and poetry writing.  I also worked on my guitar chops, both on my bass and on my sister’s acoustic.  I’d gotten better, though my chord-shifting still needed a hell of a lot of work.  Given that I was outside for most of the day and hiding inside in the evening during the hot summer, I didn’t have much else to do except listen to a lot of music and let my influences get the best of me.

This was a bit of a double-edged sword, as I found myself returning to my ‘morose bastard’ ways again, even though I was in a strong relationship and was heading out into the Big Bad World in a few months.  Perhaps it was a bit of melancholy I felt in realizing that I’d finally be letting go of both the good and the bad of my youth.  Maybe it was a bit of sadness that I’d be heading off to Boston and leaving Tracey back home for another three years.  Maybe it’s that I’d be even further away from my friends and would have to start over from scratch.  Maybe it was that I really had no idea what I truly wanted to do, but I was afraid to admit it, especially after I’d already committed to my choice of college.  Maybe it was a bit of all of this.

The end of the summer came quickly.  I worked pretty much all the way up to the last few weeks of August, taking maybe a week off before I was to head out the first week of September to my new destination.  Which meant any last minute music dubbing and compilation making would need to be done post haste!

fiasco

It also meant that, for a very brief time, I’d get to see all my Misfit friends again.  Chris borrowed his grandfather’s cabin out on Packard Pond north of town, and invited most of the Misfit crew in for a three day get-together (which he’d amusingly named a ‘fiasco’).  It was a purposely low-key party, just like most of ours, in which we listened to music, played various games, watched silly movies and cartoons, and went swimming.  There was even a tag sale up the street that we went to, where I bought a few things for my impending college years.  It was the vacation we all needed then, a few days of doing nothing but sleeping in, goofing off, chatting and just having fun.

If anything, I’d say this was the point where our friendship had truly become more than just being high school friends.  Many of us have drifted various ways over the years, but that summer was the moment when I truly knew that many of these people would be in my life for years to come.  I wouldn’t know when I’d be seeing them again after this, or if we’d be in constant touch with each other (remember, this was 1989, well before anyone of us used the internet)…but I knew that, despite that, we’d still find a way to make it happen.

I’d borrowed my mom’s car for that weekend, so I was one of the last people to head out when the party was over.  I packed my belongings in the back seat, helped Chris clean up, and saw him off.  He’d be heading back to his parents’ house for a bit and then head back to UMass in a few days, I’d be leaving the first week of September for Boston.

The Last Home Year had finally come to a close.

Walk in Silence 20

XTC, North Carolina, 1989

XTC, North Carolina, 1989 (courtesy of Getty Images)

Kevin introduced me to Tracey early in 1989.  They were both band geeks who’d known each other for a while and he must have felt she’d get along with me and my weird music obsessions.  We hit it off almost immediately.

The funny thing was that I’d been totally out of practice when it came to relationships, even on the high school level.  I’d kind of avoided the whole dating scene for the most part since a few very brief hook-ups in junior high, but as a senior I figured it was high time I got my act together and figured out how to be a boyfriend.  The other funny thing was, as a freshman, I could never quite figure out why some of the senior guys were going out with freshman girls.  [I mean, yeah, did know the reason behind it, at least for some of the guys, but it just seemed so…weird.]   And that’s why it’s funny: Tracey was a freshman.  I totally took the route I thought I’d never take.

Being with Tracey definitely helped turn things around for me somewhat.  Our relationship gave me an emotional anchor I hadn’t had for some time, and the both of us could see that that was a very positive thing.  I’d finally gotten past that moodiness I’d been stuck in for so long; so much so that at one point I’d told her that I was in such good spirits lately that I kind of missed being the moody bastard all the time.

Our relationship had its usual teenage ups and downs, of course.  There was the age difference, which we had to manage with a bit of care at least with the parents; there was my penchant for acting like a doofus more often than I should, which would get on her nerves; there was the distance and the fact I had no transportation, let alone a license at the time.  But eventually we got over them one way or another.

She couldn’t make it to my senior prom, but that was okay — I chose instead to help co-deejay it with Chris, of all people!  We and a few of the old radio club crew (Derek and Dean, who had a sound production thing going at the time) got together and had a grand time playing all the pop hits of 1988-89 on the stage of Town Hall.  I’d suggested before the doors even opened that our last song would be U2’s “All I Want Is You” as a sendoff.

Our relationship lasted about three and a half years, give or take.  We definitely had our highs and lows, but by 1992 it became quite obvious that the two of us had wanted to move on in our separate ways.  It wasn’t a bitter break-up, but it certainly was one that took me some time to get over.  Despite that, we remained friends and still talk to each other online every now and again.  And I’ll always thank her for helping me get out of that moody spiral.

*

The last few sounds of college radio came to me during those last few months of my senior year.  The radio on top of my bookshelf — the one that held nearly all of my cassettes — was firmly set at 89.3, WAMH.  I turned it on every morning while I was getting ready for school, and had it on when I came home.  I made four radio tapes at that point, calling them The Last Home Year Cassettes, reminding myself that this was probably the last semester that I’d be listening to my favorite station until further notice.

I graduated in May of 1989 and I’ll be honest, it wasn’t so much a release of excitement as much as it was what Dave Sim would call a “Grand Finally”*.  I floated through the final exams in a haze, studying the best I knew how and getting them over and done with as they came.  The graduation ceremony took place on the football field, and I was of course cornered by my family to take all kinds of pictures while most of my friends all dashed away before I could say goodbye to them.

For a summer job, there were only a few places I could think of signing up.  I didn’t want to go back to the supermarket, nor did I want to work at the local factory.  I needed something that would take me in just for the summer.  My dad and his copious local connections got me a position at the Department of Public Works that summer, and for the next three and a half months I’d be riding the back of one of the trucks, cleaning up the sides of local streets and back roads, and mowing nearly all the cemeteries in town.  It quickly became one of my favorite jobs, because I got to spend hours outside in the sun, listening to my tapes when I could, and goofing off with most of the local regulars.  It was definitely a boys’ club, but despite that it was fun and we all got along just great.

The future was looming ahead, and it was pretty damn close.  All I had to do was wait just a few more weeks.  I signed up and got my driver’s license (finally), started making a list of things I wanted to bring to college, thought about what writing I wanted to bring with me, and of course what music I’d bring.**  I’d prepared myself well for the move to Boston…I was totally looking forward to escaping the small town for the big city.

And to my joy and excitement, I’d received news that most of the Misfit gang would be returning home, at least for a short time, before heading back to college.  We’d planned to meet up one last time for a three-day party at Chris’ grandfather’s cabin north of town.

 

* – Sim was referring to his and Gerhard’s completion of their megastory in the Cerebus comic book universe, ‘Church & State’.  It had taken so long to finish, ended on a down note, and neither wanted to celebrate when the final issue of the story came out.  He said it felt like ‘not so much a grand finale than a grand finally.’

** – I’d briefly spoken with my two new roommates that I’d meet in September; one chose at the last minute to go to UMass instead, and the other was a kid from New Hampshire who I thought I’d get along with musically.  That match-up ended up being the total opposite, but that’s a story for another time.

Walk in Silence 19

cocteau twins

Cocteau Twins, picture courtesy of Getty Images

The saving grace for me my senior year was my music collection.  It was the one constant that kept me sane as I tried to figure out what the hell I wanted to do with my future, while trying to figure out how to sever ties with my past.  I didn’t have a solid plan other than I want to tell stories.  Whether this was via my writing or my music or my art, I didn’t know, but I was willing to try all the different avenues to see what fit the best.  I’d already made a plan to head off to Emerson College in the fall to study film production.

At the same time, that nagging feeling that I just wanted to get the hell out of town and move on never quite went away.  It frustrated me that I had to wait one more year before I could do anything about it.  I was afraid that this year would hold me back, that I’d settle for what I already had well before I even got started.  Music was there as an open door to remind me that there was a wider world out there.

Earlier in 1988 I’d chosen to expand on my ‘radio tapes’ collection; essentially I wanted to practice the hallowed art of mixtape making, though I chose to call them compilations to hint at my own version of the K-Tel album mixes of yore.  Even the titles changed — instead of using one of the featured songs on the tape, I came up with my own theme.  I made about five or six early wonky practice runs that spring and summer, with pretentious names like Cimmerian Candlelight (theme: quiet and/or dark songs to listen to at 1am) and Preternatural Synthetics (theme: synth-driven alternative rock).  They’re not my best mixes, but at least I made sure there weren’t any dud songs.

That August I came up with the first of many mixes that would start a very long practice of mixtape-making: Listen in Silence.  It was a celebration of the best of past and present college rock, including The Church, The Sex Pistols, Wire, Midnight Oil, Violent Femmes, The Church, The Smiths, and more.  It was also a soundtrack for me to listen to on my headphones, often quite loud, while sitting in the back seat of the bus: in essence, it was a soundtrack for me to block out the rest of the world that was driving me nuts.

That was soon followed up with another mix that would become the template for all my future mixes:  Walk in Silence.  Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” in particular had become somewhat of a deeply personal theme song for me at that point, partly due to a dream I’d had early in October (and had used in my Belief in Fate project).  In the dream, I’d been cleaning out my locker for the last time, taking down the music-related things I’d posted inside and pulled out all the notebooks and trash, when I heard my friends calling me from the other end of the hallway.  They were waiting for me so we could all finally exit the building together for the last time.  “Atmosphere” had been playing in the background throughout.  [In retrospect, I would not be the least bit surprised if I’d fallen asleep listening to Substance and that song had entered my subconscious.]  Since that dream I’d equated that song with the reality of literally walking away from everything I’d known up to that point — in a positive way.  It was me saying goodbye to things I was no longer connected to.  It was my theme of moving on, and that shows in the first WiS mix.

[The mixtape bug hit me quite hard, and I’ve never quite let it go.  To this day I still make personal mixes, the latest having been made three months ago.  I may no longer put them on ninety-minute tapes or even burn them onto cds (I create them via mp3 copies in a new folder, deciding on a perfect running order and retagging the mix accordingly), but over the last few years I’ve reinstated the rule of making sure the mix conforms to two forty-five minute sides, which maintains their tight theme and flow.  I then put them on my mp3 players for travel, work and gym listening.]

*

For most of my senior year, when I wasn’t hanging out with Kris or Kevin in the cafeteria, I tried to maintain a social balance; on the one hand I made it a point to distance myself from those who held me back or irritated me, but on the other hand I also made it a point to be more open and talkative with my classmate acquaintances.  I’d come to the realization that we were all pretty much the same small-town weirdos who were doing our best to fit in during our time here.  The change was a positive one for everyone involved, as they were glad to finally get to know the new me, and I’d tossed my preconception that they were just irritating popular kids.

At the same time, however, I’d noticed I was veering into a bit of a free-fall on a much more deeply personal level.  I’ve admitted before that I can be overly obsessive and even overemotional about things, and that means more than just music.  Even while I was opening up socially, I equally felt myself falling ever deeper into my own rampant emotions.  The lyrics and the poetry and the writing that I’d used as a mental and emotional escape had become an addiction of sorts, in which I found myself feeling some kind of depression or annoyance on almost a daily basis.  I wanted to linger down there in the lower depths, because at the time it felt like the truest emotion for me.  I never showed it publicly.  I didn’t want anyone to make a fuss, and besides — after a night’s sleep and a bit of musical exorcism, I’d be okay the next day.  At least until I headed home and was on my own once more.  I don’t think I was falling any deeper…but I wasn’t rising all that fast, either.

It was an unexpected introduction that spring that made all the difference.

 

 

 

Walk in Silence 18

Moments in time, late 1988.

Joy Division, Substance (released 11 July 1988).  In between the Flying Bohemians jam sessions, I was teaching myself how to play bass by playing along to some of my favorite albums of the time.  I picked up on Peter Hook’s distinctive style (a countermelody high up on the fret board) pretty quick and would often run through “Transmission” and all of the second half of this album.

The Go-Betweens, 16 Lovers Lane (released August 1988). Another case of me really liking a band just as its members were about to head their separate ways.  This one’s a lovely and melodic record that got a lot of play on WMDK and WRSI.  I’d hear them playing either this song or “Streets of Your Town” every morning as I was getting ready for school.

The Wonder Stuff, The Eight-Legged Groove Machine (released August 1988).  A goofy band from the Midlands UK that got a lot of play on WAMH.  I picked up this cassette at Tower Records, along with Dead Can Dance’s Within the Realm of a Dying Sun, during a trip to Boston around the time of its release.  The trip itself was a visit to Emerson College to check out the school.  [Yeah, I’d pretty much already made up my mind which college I’d be heading to by that point.]

Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking (released 23 August 1988).  This band was the shit that autumn.  You’d hear “Jane Says” everywhere.  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this band at first, as I wasn’t sure if they were trying to be metal, punk, alternative, or all three at once…but they grew on my pretty damn quick.  Especially this song.  I may have ‘liberated’ this album from the radio station, under the pretense that there was no way in hell anything on this album would ever be played on-air there…

Living Colour, Vivid (released 3 May 1988).  This one’s slightly out of chronology, but I put it here because of MTV.  The channel had come up with a ‘new music’ tour of college campuses with The Godfathers headlining, and in early October they’d made a stop at UMass Amherst.  Chris and I wasted no time buying tickets and squeezing our way into the crowded student union building to see these guys perform.  It was the first show where I’d witnessed a moshpit first hand, and had I been more adventurous at the time, I’d have jumped right in.

Siouxsie & the Banshees, Peepshow (released 5 September 1988).  I picked up a used copy of the vinyl version of this album cheap at Al-Bum’s, if I’m not mistaken.  I’d been a passive Siouxsie fan for a good couple of years, but this album was the one that made me become a bigger fan.  It’s poppier and trippier than the moody Tinderbox, with a lot of wonderful songwriting and atmospheric production.

They Might Be Giants, Lincoln (released 25 September 1988).  Whereas TMBG’s first album was filled with weird non-sequiturs, silly imagery and bizarre ranting, their sophomore album was a bit more laid back.  It took me a bit of time to get used to it, as I felt there were a few songs that would have benefited from being short segments rather than full songs, but despite that, I still loved their offbeat humor.

Front 242, Front by Front! (released October 1988).  EBM (Electronic Body Music) never really got much of a foothold here in the States, but I certainly loved it whenever it popped up on WAMH.  It was dance music, but its aggression and metallic sound made it lean towards what would soon be called Industrial.  “Headhunter” is by far one of my favorite songs of 1988, and it sounds excellent in headphones.  I remember running into Chris at Al Bum’s (he’d taken the bus up from his dorm) one weekend when I bought this.

Ultra Vivid Scene, Ultra Vivid Scene (released October 1988).  Right about the same time I was getting into the dark atmospherics of the 4AD label (with Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil, to name a few), the label was signing and releasing bands with a much harder and louder edge, such as Pixies and Ultra Vivid Scene.  Chris and I both loved this album, a few of its songs making numerous appearances on our mixtapes.  Fun trivia: yes, that is in fact Moby playing the guitar in the background!

U2, Rattle and Hum (released 10 October 1988).  Following up on The Joshua Tree, U2 went on a very long tour and decided to record new music along the way.  The end result is a double album featuring live performances of past hits and new tracks infused with Americana.  A documentary film was attached as well.  Many reviewers felt the album bloated and the film too self-important, but both have actually aged really well, to be honest.

Ministry, The Land of Rape and Honey (released 11 October 1988).  Ministry was another band that was hard to pin down.  Equal parts metal, hardcore punk, goth, and industrial, and angry as hell.  I gravitated towards this album mainly due to the energy of “Stigmata”, but also thanks to the ultraviolent (yet funny, thanks to its deliberately bad lyrics) album track “Flashback”, both of which got a lot of play on WAMH.

The Fall, I Am Kurious Oranj (released 31 October 1988).  Another band I knew a lot about but never owned an album of theirs until this one.  A soundtrack for a Michael Clark ballet losely based on the history of William of Orange?  Sure, why not?  Mark E. Smith’s vocal delivery is definitely an a acquired taste, but the album is indeed fascinating and fun.

Blue Clocks Green, “Hemingway” single (released November 1988).  Simultaneously voted most favorite and most reviled song on WAMH that school year, depending on which DJ you asked.  A ‘so bad it’s good’ track that gets stuck in your head for days.  Its 12″ single was known for containing a remix which was essentially the single mix played in reverse.

REM, Green (released 8 November 1988).  “Two things to do November 8,” the postcard and the advertisement said, followed by two images: the cover of Green and a voting booth.  Their first album for a major label after years of being on IRS, the album is a mix of poppier singles, darker-edged sounds and even a few light-hearted moments in amongst the more political tracks.  Pretty much huge hit for my entire circle of friends.

Cowboy Junkies, The Trinity Session (released 7 December 1988).  My first major brush with alternafolk that resonated with me (I was never a big fan of Tracy Chapman or 10,000 Maniacs).  I loved that it was recorded in a church, capturing the natural echo and ambience.

 

Walk in Silence 17

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“The problem I have with all my nonconformist friends leaving is that I don’t have anyone to nonconform with anymore.”

Yes, I said that.  In jest of course, knowing full well how silly it sounded.  I was talking with Kris (the girl from typing class, yes) when I said it one morning while we were waiting for school to start, and she of course laughed at me in response.  But you get the idea.  It’s kind of a downer when nearly all your closest friends you’ve ever had a spot-on connection with has left for greener pastures, leaving you behind.  The fun of being the class weirdo kind of loses its sheen when the public response is indifference.

But that was the point:  sure, I was saddened that they’d all moved on and left me behind…but I could get over that.  Some of them had gone down to UMass, so a visit would be simply a short half-hour trip down to Amherst.  Plus we could always send letters if need be.  Chris and I had already planned on doing a bit of that over the next year to share ideas for Flying Bohemians songs.

No, the thing that bothered me was that my social life had unhinged itself.  I had no anchor, no gang to hang out with.  I’d continued hanging with Kevin — we’d both single-handedly saved the school newspaper after the school’s budget for it had plummeted and they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have the local newspaper print it out for us anymore.  And Kris had become my partner in crime where college rock was concerned; we’d dub most of each other’s music collection over the course of my senior year.  But the fun I’d had with the Misfit crew — the silliness, the chats, the camaraderie — it wasn’t there with anyone else still in town.  But I could handle that.  I just had to make it on my own somehow.

I also had to make some adjustments.  There was a teen center that had opened down at the other end of my street a year or so previous called Crossroads (a former restaurant that, yes, was at a four-way intersection).  They had a local dj playing the Top 40 hits and a bar selling sodas and Shirley Temples.  I wasn’t a regular, but I’d head there maybe once a month just to hang out with friends.  At the end of 1987 it was always busy and packed with kids from town and elsewhere, but by autumn 1988, the scene was kind of dead.  There were still a few regulars, some slightly older townies and so on, but the excitement had worn off and the kids were finding stuff to do on a Friday night elsewhere.  The last time I went there was early in September.  Some old friends were there but they seemed to be as bored and distracted as I was.  I left an hour later and walked home on my own, never heading there again.

The entire town seemed kind of…well, I wouldn’t say dead, but old and dusty.  Unchanging.  And the things that were changing weren’t always for the better.  One of the local factories had closed up shop, leaving numerous locals out of a job.  Some of the local stores that had been favorites for decades were closing — sometimes for economic reasons, but also because they were just out of date and the owners were retiring.  At my school, the drama club had vanished; the teacher who’d run it had left, and some of the teachers weren’t interested in being in charge unless they got paid for it.

The music I was listening to seemed to reflect that.  When Cocteau Twins’ Blue Bell Knoll arrived in mid-September, I could just about hear the slow disintegration of my childhood.  I heard the silence of my neighborhood, all of its kids grown up and already moved on.  The creaking of old trees and the sad hiss of wind through dead leaves and branches.  The lonely distance of the sparse traffic of Route 2, a mile or so south of my house.

I had one more year to get through, but I could not wait to get the hell out.

My writing projects had changed as well.  After that moment of clarity at the radio station, my poetry and lyric writing had become less of a chore and more of an outlet; it became a personal journal, a way for me to deal with my own issues, albeit in an oblique and creative way.  I’d stalled on the IWN sequel, having gotten about a third of the way before I’d run out of ideas.  Two new stories popped up, ideas I’d come up with a year or so earlier but hadn’t expanded upon:  Dreamweaver, a horror story about a college kid whose violent nightmares become reality; and Belief in Fate, a roman a clef (yeah, I went there) written in second-person (inspired by Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City) in which I dramatized (read: overdramatized) the ups and downs of my senior year.

As much as I want to dismiss the writing of Belief, especially for its one-note repetition of my feeling absolutely miserable and sorry for myself for many and varied reasons, it ended up being even more of an emotional release for me than my poetry and lyric writing.  Although the first chapter was written a year or so previous, the rest of the novel served as a way for me to actually come to terms with my emotional side.

[Let’s be brutally honest for a moment: it was 1988, and if you were a teenage male in a small town and publicly showed emotions or any sign of weakness, you’d probably have been labeled a pussy or a fag and the more troglodyte of the jocks would have never let you forget it.  Maybe it wouldn’t have gotten that far, who knows…but I didn’t want to find out, because I didn’t have the time for that kind of bullshit.  That’s why I kept the deeply personal stuff private, and used my writing as the release.]

That’s not to say I was completely miserable my entire senior year, far from it.  In fact, I’d already decided I’d keep the freak flag flying, even if it was flying solo.  One summer while I’d been digging through the back cellar storage at my house, I’d found an old green trench coat that had belonged to my grandfather.  I started wearing the thing to school all the time, using its many pockets as an alternative to carrying an unwieldy bookbag.  The front right pocket housed my tape player, the left one housing a few tapes I’d bring along, and the inside pocket to be used for the various things such as my daily planner that I’d use to write down homework assignments.  I’d carry my books and my notebooks by hand, and even went so far as to plan when I would visit my locker so I’d bring home as little as possible.*

The trench coat (and often that Smiths ‘William It Was Really Nothing’ tee-shirt) became my uniform, as it were, for the rest of the school year.  Even during the winter time, when it wasn’t all that cold, I’d wear it instead of a heavier coat.  Over the course of the my senior year I’d become known as the creative nerd (as opposed to the band geek, many of whom I’d hang out with occasionally).  I was the one who wrote the music articles for the school newspaper, the one who made all the weird projects for art class, the one who’d hide out in the publications room down in the basement and goof around on the computer (a Mac this time!) instead of going to the library or the cafeteria for study hall.

And strangely enough, I started getting along with a lot of the people in my class.  I’m not entirely sure how and when it happened, but I wasn’t about to question it.  Classmates who bothered me or just plain ignored me treated me as an equal now.  There weren’t any long-lasting friendships there, just acquaintance, and that was good enough.  Maybe it was because we were all about to head out into the world in a few short months, and the social hierarchy we’d known for so long now seemed a bit…well, stupid.

It seemed we were all in the same boat: we all wanted to move on, as soon as we could.

* – Amusingly enough, this is in stark contrast to Kevin’s book carrying; he’d made a king-size book bag out of denim for a Home Ec class in junior high, and had used it all the way up to his last day at school.  My sister used to call it the Killer Gym Bag because he’d carry an insane amount of things in it.