“You know what your problem is, Greg?” he asked. “Your problem is you’re a fan who wants to be treated like a peer.”
I no longer enjoy the music of Nirvana. Even their MTV Unplugged performance, which is up there as one of the all-time great lessons in production value, as a case study in what happens when of an otherwise great band is upstaged by a preponderance of candles.
I don’t hear the music of Nirvana, not anymore. All I hear is a sad father, caught-up in nothing, mostly himself.
“Don’t expect a tip, Greg” he said as I held the door open.
“I don’t expect a tip,” I replied. “I don’t expect anything. That’s how you make it to 40.”
I saw Amy Winehouse at the Vic. It was a sold out show. The crowd was excited, so excited you could feel the room pulsating before the band struck a note.
Amy sang a few lines, lost her place and stumbled off the stage. The band kept playing. A few minutes later, Amy re-emerged, sang a few lines, lost her place and fell off the stage. The band kept playing. A few minutes later, Amy re-emerged with a basket in her hand. She began tossing Tootsie-Pops into the audience, sang a few lines, lost her place and fainted.
The lights went down.
The lights came back up.
34-minutes into the set, the show was over.
Howling with anger, the crowd booed like I’ve never heard a crowd boo. I left the Vic thinking I’d been jipped. But the next day, I woke-up and thought to myself, “That was the best Rock ‘n Roll performance I’ve ever seen. Almost like seeing Jim Morrison, back in the day.”
True to form, not long after, at the age of 27, Amy Winehouse was dead. How original.
“Why would you ever want to be somewhere you’re not wanted, Gregor?” Dad asked.
Last year, I set a goal of writing 25-songs. I ended-up writing 13-songs, with 1-song being a cover of “Plastic Jesus.” So technically speaking, I wrote a song a month. Not bad, but not the goal of writing 25-songs.
This year, in a desire to tighten my goal setting abilities, I set a goal of writing 17-songs, a little more than a song a month. 1-month into the new year, I’d written no new songs. 2-months into the new year, I’d written no new songs.
3-months into the new year, I formed a plan.
Looking to break out of my comfort zone, I signed-up for a guitar class at the Old Town School of Music. It was the coldest winter in the history of cold winters, so keeping busy was also my strategy for keeping buoyant.
On the 2nd to last class, we had a substitute teacher, a young woman who ended the class by plugging an ensemble she was teaching in the following term, “Glam Rock.” I knew nothing about Glam. But I liked her energy.
And I still hadn’t written a new song. So I signed-up.
It was so outside of my comfort zone, so outside of the musical box I’d been living in, I regained my outsider perspective. Consequently, a song was born. Once again I began writing, effortlessly.
But the unexpected happened, I fell in love with Glam – the songs, the attitude, the nail polish – I was experiencing a “personal awakening,” the surest sign adulthood wasn’t going to turn me into a golfer.
I came off the show high, exuberant, feeling a sense of joyfulness you can’t be handed, it has to be earned. I signed-up for the next term. Right away, from the get-go, something was off. The attitude in rehearsal was somber instead of glittertastic.
I hunkered down, feeling less inclined to dance, less joyful, closeting my exuberance. I wasn’t sure what was going on. But the show reveals all…
In the middle of the 2nd show, as we were launching into “Can The Can,” I paid a tribute to Suzi Quatro by kneeling before the heir apparent.
“Karen O gives me that Suzi Quatro feeling,” I gushed.
Feeling stung, I reached for a drink, pretending not to care.
“Well,” I said, brushing it off, “that’s my way of looking at it.”
I felt shame, my ears going hot. I felt uncomfortableness fill the room.
When I walked off stage after the 1st show, everyone grabbed my arm and said this, “Fun! That was fun.” This time, when I walked off stage, after the 2nd show, people barely made eye contact, their behavior confirming a hunch.
I stuck around for the Women’s Rock Ensemble and headliner, the Jagweeds. Then I left, heading across town to Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, on North Avenue just east of Damen, for pizza with basil, gardinier, mash potatoes and a side of constructive criticism.
Malinda came to my show. We met on Tinder, an app for hook-ups. We hooked-up and hit it off. I liked spending time with Malinda, there was an emotional complexity to her sex appeal which was endlessly fascinating. But I’d been keeping her from my shows, dreading this possibility.
Who wants to share bombing?
“There was tension when you talked about Karen O,” Melinda said. “Why?”
I shrugged, not knowing, biting into my pizza, the taste of gardinier mixing with pensiveness. “Let me sleep on it,” I said.
I challenge myself in my dreams.
Sure enough, I had a nightmare, being confronted by Giorgio Gomelsky, the demon spirit of misspent youth. Back in the day, Giorgio Gomelsky was responsible for nurturing musical acts like The Yardbirds. His bar, The Crawdaddy Club, is legendary for making a houseband of a little known act called The Rolling Stones. That was 1966. By the time I met Giorgio Gomelsky, in 1991, he was a lifestyle casualty slogging-it-out as pornographer on 24th Street in Manhattan, where he supplemented his income by providing filthy rooms with rudimentary sound systems as rehearsal spaces to neophyte wannabees.
Giorgio called me a nincompoop, screaming through Mick Jagger lips about the sound system being mono instead of stereo. Finally, exacerbated, he lept across the rehearsal space, landing in a pirouette and grabbing me by the neck with beautifully manicured hands. Giorgio put a gun in my mouth and whispered, “Go To School And Learn It!”
Malinda was sleeping next to me with freshly fucked hair. She looked beautiful. I reached for her. She pressed her body up against mine. I felt her breathing.
Restlessness gave way to sleep.
The next day, on facebook, my teacher posted an announcement: there weren’t enough people signed-up for the next term of Glam Rock. The magic number was 4. She had 3.
Malinda took me to breakfast at Birchwood Kitchen, on North Avenue just west of Damen, for chicken ‘n grits with collard greens and a side of camaraderie. We talked about the pros and cons of signing-up. Malinda suggested approaching the teacher after class, to see if there were office hours, so we could discuss any problems, maybe get to the bottom of why things had turned from Glam to Sass.
I asked Malinda how it would look if I skipped the class entirely, sending a quiet signal, or no signal at all, depending on how you look at it, since most people don’t notice, or care, when it gets right down to it.
We spent the rest of the day laying around, since it was a school night, watching 3-episodes of “The Wire,” a show I’d been hearing about for years. It was better than the hype. I liked the playful device of each episode starting with a quote which becomes a pivotal sentiment when expressed at a crucial turning point.
I spent the night at Malinda’s, waking-up later than usual, a little before 6AM. I was running behind, which felt like a metaphor, when in reality, it was just a simple fact.
On the drive to work, I thought about everything Malinda suggested. I thought about the benefits of mediating the drama during office hours. I thought about the benefits of putting-down my guitar and picking-up golf clubs.
I thought about Dad, the guardian angel of my youth.
“Why, Gregor?” Dad liked to ask while I was growing-up and struggling to fit-in. “Why would you ever want to be somewhere you’re clearly not wanted?”
I got to work at 7:04AM, late. I opened the deli. I worked at the cash register until the cashier arrived. Then I sat down and wrote Malinda an email about a class I’d been hearing about at the Old Town School of Music, “Finish Your Damn Songs,” a class in Songwriting.
I asked Malinda what she thought about me taking Songwriting instead of Glam.
Then I took it further, I asked Malinda what she thought about me taking both classes, seeing as part of your job is learning how to navigate the easy joyfulness of collaborating with new people off-set by the innocuous weirdness of maintaining existing relationships, albeit strained relationships, so you can recalibrate your goals, which is the natural process of learning how to work within the confines of other people’s expectations while living-up to your own personal ambition.
Malinda said it was a “no brainer.” Do both.
After all of these years, I’ve finally arrived at the answer to Dad’s question about why you’d want to be somewhere you’re not wanted. It’s easy, in so far as the hardest part of developing stamina is learning how to get over yourself.
And to forgive reaching too far, too fast. And smudging your nail polish.