Boys

By Stephanie Austin

Essay

 

Image

 

My first sexual experience happened with a popular neighborhood boy when I was five and he was six. We huddled under the covers of my twin bed. He goes, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” He showed me. I showed him. After, we went back to what we did in 1983, which was listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller on a record player and running back and forth across the room. My poor mother downstairs watching a Dennis Quaid movie unaware of her daughter involved in a glorious right-of-passage cliché.

Discovery of a boy’s attention. Discovery of the body. Discovery of worthiness.

Before Cars on BainbridgeWe all know Dave Grohl’s story. Drummed for Nirvana. Played on Nevermind. After Kurt Cobain died, he switched to guitar and started Foo Fighters, then proceeded to win Grammys and sell millions of records.

But what of Nirvana’s previous percussionist, Chad Channing? The one who left the band before it became huge, the one who toiled in obscure clubs; who cut a swath through Europe; who helped bring Seattle music to the world; who played on Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach. What of him?

[Above photo: Before Cars, 2013. From left: Chad Channing, Andy Miller, Paul Burback, Justine Jeanotte.]

Rock of Ages

By Gloria Harrison

Notes

I’m three years old. My parents call me outside one day and point at the sky, from which water is falling onto the hard, dirt-packed floor of the Mojave. I can’t imagine where this water is coming from, but it’s everywhere, making the air smell like wet earth. I’m amazed. Later, I’m playing outside, digging earthworms out of the dirt with a spoon, when I spot the biggest earthworm I’ve ever seen. I’m thunderstruck with joy, but as I try to approach, my dog and my best friend, a cockapoo named Gnome, jumps in front of the worm, barking like he’s crazy. I keep approaching when, suddenly, the giant worm lashes out and bites Gnome, who yelps and falls to the ground. The worm rattles off. I run inside to get my mom, to tell her that a worm just bit the dog. She gets to him just in time to take him to the vet and save his life, as he has just done mine. My mom holds me on her lap and we sing my favorite song. “Say, say little playmate – come out and play with me. We’ll climb up my apple tree.” I think about how I wish I had an apple tree with rainbow slides and branches brimming with playmates.

“Nevermind will forever be remembered as a vehicle for ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and its subversive effect on mainstream culture. It’s periodically brilliant, but half of the material on Nevermind is filler.”

-Chuck Klosterman

Okay. So. Part III.

One rule I set out for myself on my quest to vindicate Cobain from the evil clutches of Klosterman: I will not use the “you had to be there” argument to justify any of my feelings for Nevermind. Yes, much of the greatness of Nevermind lies in its social context, and especially its relationship to music that came before it like The Youngbloods, Aerosmith, Husker Du and so many more. But there is enough musical greatness within its contents not to need to resort to arguments relating to Nevermind’s “subversive effect on mainstream culture.” This is not a post about culture. It’s a reassessment of a great album 20 years later to see–with all of that other stuff out of the way–how great it really is, especially in relation to Appetite for Destruction, which I examined at length in Part II.

One who has control over the mind is tranquil in heat and cold, in pleasure and pain, and in honor and dishonor, and is ever steadfast with the Supreme Self.” -Bhagavad Gita

 

It is Monday morning and I am pulling on the smooth wooden handle of the sauna door at the North Boulder Rec Center. My eyes adjust to the dim light and I step inside under the watchful gaze of two men sitting at opposite sides of the bench facing the door. I smile without meeting either of their eyes and take a seat at the small bench next to the stove on the right. The bench burns the undersides of my thighs and I fidget under the sting of heat and male eyes above me. In a rush, I make for the empty, high bench opposite me, turn backwards and boost myself up with my palms so that I can sit with my back to the men and my eyes to the door as if we are in an elevator conceived in the mind of a man named Bikram.

I breathe in slowly.

I am out of practice with saunas, having spent the last few years of my life with a baby on one hip. Even so, I like to think of myself as one who enjoys the all-encompassing heat. I like the mental exercise—the progression of thoughts that branch in my mind.

My first thoughts, of course, spider toward Hell. But despite my evangelical roots, it’s not a particularly biblical image of Hell, favoring instead the imagination of Dante or Bosch. Demons goad. Bare breasted women with rotted out mouths taunt. Unshaven men limp from chamber to chamber with various impalements. All pathways are circular.

My next thought is that I don’t believe in Hell anymore.

After this, I remind myself that I enjoy heat. That I was born in the middle of a Sacramento summer. That I was born for this.

I remind myself that heat is a test of endurance. That surviving it—choosing to stay in it when easier air is only four feet away—is a matter of resolve.

My next thought is of a story Scott once told me about a massage parlor he visited in Hong Kong. There was a stretch of hot pebbles on which people were meant to walk in order to increase their sex life. Every minute on the rocks was an equivalent increase to one’s sex life. He said he watched one little, old man walk back and forth on the rocks the entire time he was there. Back and forth. Back and forth.

I remind myself that I can and must handle anything.

I remind myself that I am as strong as I will allow myself to be.

I breathe slowly, savoring the sensation that my nostril hairs are being singed.

I think of ovens. Crispy Peking duck. The witch in Hansel and Gretel. Jeffrey Dahmer.

I have had enough.

In spite of the fact that I have already traveled from Sacramento to Hong Kong with a stopover in Hell, in human terms I have only been in the sauna of the North Boulder Rec Center for about 45 seconds. I am just out of practice, I excuse myself weakly. I have had babies. Babies do not mix well with extreme heat. It says so quite clearly in the Operating Instructions. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was something like: “Saunas: No babies.” Behind me, the older man shifts his weight and lets out a deep sigh.

I study my legs pulled up in front of me to an upside down V. Since it’s dark, I don’t notice all of the imperfections I normally obsess over. Uneven color. Nicks from the razor. Little blue veins. I am wearing a steel gray swimsuit. It is a two-piece that covers my tummy and has halter straps that tie around the back of my neck. It says to anybody who is looking too hard or thoughtfully at it: I have had babies. Babies who don’t belong in the sauna.

And please stop looking at my tummy.

The bench behind me crackles and groans and the older man appears in my peripheral vision. He exits the sauna in a rush of air. The air feels like life.

When the door closes, I sit as still as the wooden planks surrounding me. I am aware that the water from the pool has evaporated from my body and I have commenced a slow bake. I wonder when I will begin to sweat. I long for this release.

Behind me, the young man pushes off the bench. I expect him to leave like the older man, but instead he stops, facing the door. I wait. From his lithe back, I surmise he is in his late twenties. His skin is tanned the color of the wood door and he has long Jesus hair, which tickles his back as his shoulders rise and fall once. He turns abruptly and hangs a light blue towel on the rail in front of the stove as if he intends to dry it out faster. I wonder if he is stupid.

He stands with his sweat drenched back to me and fills his lungs with air. From my place on the scorching planks I watch as his chiseled back expands with his breath. He stares at the door, blocking my entrance to it.

Sauna etiquette is not much different than elevator etiquette. No talking. No eye contact. Face the door. If you cough, you say, excuse me. If someone else coughs, you wait a full minute before bailing so it doesn’t appear you are leaving on account of them and their diseased lungs. Having never met this person before, I am fully prepared to play by the rules. I sit perched on the high bench, flanking him at 3 o’clock. When he turns around, I drop my eyes as if I don’t see him. As if I am so consumed with my own world of razor burn and the sex drive of little, old men that I don’t even register that he is there.

To our left, the stones hiss as he empties a ladleful of water over them. He turns toward 9 o’clock and stretches his back left and right. He exhales the slow leak of a loud, aspirated ‘h’.

Not stupid, I realize then. Enlightened.

Watching him over my shoulder, I realize I have made a mistake entering the sauna. The truth is, I don’t really enjoy the heat. That was something I just told myself when I was fresh out of the water and the thought of detoxing my pores appealed to me. I may have mentioned this before, but I am a lightweight. Babies and all.

Just then he drops his torso forward and reaches down for his toes, releasing as he does this a yogic groan that not only aligns his chakras, but mine as well.

I want to leave but also fully realize that my departure at this point might be considered rude. We’re in Boulder, after all. What he is doing isn’t that strange. Everyone does yoga here. The organic produce section of Whole Foods alone is practically filled with people doing yoga. Mountain pose to reach the salad sprinkles. Warrior pose to reach the kiwi and mango simultaneously. Triangle to procure cucumber. Would I make him feel uncomfortable if I left? Would he feel bad knowing he drove a fellow sauna sitter away? Would it set back his progress toward enlightenment?

I consider my possible responses and their effect on his dying ego. And if I leave now, what does that say about me? That I’m squeamish? Insecure? A Republican? He rights himself and turns back in my direction. My eyes snap to the door. Certainly I can handle a minor chakrasm alone in a sauna with a hippy version of Adonis himself.

When I lived in Hong Kong, there was a small English style pub I used to visit. There was only one bathroom in the pub, inside which was a toilet and a urinal separated by a curtain. There was no lock on the main bathroom door. Once I had just ducked into the toilet when the door swung wide and some guy walked in to use the urinal on the other side of the curtain beside me. I couldn’t do it. I stood up, zipped up, and left. Behind me, the man apologized profusely through the door insisting that we could somehow work it out between us. I don’t mind, he kept repeating. Come back!

He is now facing the back of the sauna. With arms raised, he bends his torso right then left. If I raised my left arm, my fingers would leave a trail through the sweat up his side. The closed door beckons me. He is slowly rolling his shoulders now and commencing pranayama. In my peripheral vision I watch as he fills his abdomen, then lungs; then he empties his lungs, then abdomen. He does this eleven times.

I am confused. I want to leave, but I no longer know how to do so gracefully. Clearly he has a regimen. From the looks of his slick and hollowed-out face, I estimate he has been in the sauna for at least three hours. If I leave now, he will understand. He will know it is not simply because I was made to feel uncomfortable or because he has detracted from my own karma with his practice. I may not have ridden it out to the lengths of, say, a Libertarian, but maybe at least to that of a Democrat. It would be all right. We have an African American president. I have simply had enough of the sauna. I will leave at the final emptying of his abdomen so as not to interrupt his Nirvana.

Without warning, he begins to make sharp, even bursts with his nose. I turn to look and see that his forehead is slightly bent forward and his eyes are closed. He increases in tempo until he is performing nearly three breaths per second. I have missed my opportunity. I wait for him to finish this respiratory miracle in the midst of the oppressive heat. My head is swirling now, having mastered nearly four whole minutes in the sauna of the North Boulder Rec Center. I wait for a pause in which to make my exit. But the pause doesn’t come. When he finishes his Breath of Fire, he pitches forward and umbrellas his Jesus hair over his toes. He groans with pleasure.

Not enlightened, I realize then. Asshole.

The thought alights on my shoulders like a lotus petal caught and fallen in the morning breeze. I can not believe I did not see it earlier. He wants me to leave. The entire time he has been trying to make me uncomfortable so that he can be alone. So that he can have the sauna of the North Boulder Rec Center all to himself. Right on cue, he begins gyrating his hips in slow, large circles with his head now thrown back to get a better look at eternity through the planks in the ceiling.

I hold my eyelids open with effort and watch him as he stirs the heat slowly with his kundalini. Suddenly he stops and looks my way. I look back at the door.

All this time I have been secretly admiring his lack of ego—his ability to break the social mores of the sauna-elevator classification—when in reality he is trying to drive me out of the sauna. His sauna.

I continue to stare at the door as his egoless ego bores a prana-shaped hole into my psyche. He has declared war.

It is enough. All at once, I give in to the heat and let my eyelids fall like a tankini over a stretched out stomach. I lean my head back against the wall for support—for when the unconsciousness will soon overtake me—and smile, just as somewhere in the background, the elevator musak switches tunes to that of a desperate om.

Tommy Stinson, former bass player of the Replacements and also Axl Rose’s bass player-for-hire, once told reporters that Axl Rose is much easier to work with than Replacements’ lead singer Paul Westerberg, to which Westerberg’s responded, “Wouldn’t Van Gogh be more difficult than Norman Rockwell?”

I’m reminded of this dig whenever I see more evidence of what’s becoming a decade-long trend in rock lit to laud Axl Rose at the expense of Kurt Cobain.

Two of my favs, Steve Almond and Chuck Klosterman, are guilty of this charge.

The Supergroup.  That mythical entity that carries such soaring expectations that it is remarkable that any of the bands ever make it into the studio.  It’s like the Honors Society kid who letters in three sports, dates a cheerleader, and is a top flight boxer- how can he fail, right?  Until it’s ten years later and the sheriff is tucking the eviction notice into the pocket of his work shirt while he’s passed out on the trailer floor with a needle in his arm.

What’s a Supergroup?  A gaggle of well-known musicians from different bands (and often different genres) who come together to form a new musical entity.

Just like the Honors kids, Supergroups start out with great pedigrees, lots of breaks, and doors swinging widely before them, but that doesn’t always mean that these advantages translate into something memorable.  But when they do click it can be one of the most exciting spectacles in music.

Supergroups are the embodiment of our musical fantasies come true.  “What if?” becomes reality.  This is the stuff that even casual music fans stop to ponder.  Die hard musos can come to blows over them.  Somewhere in the world right now, there is an intense, late night, cocaine-fueled debate raging about the ultimate Supergroup.

kurt suicide scene

A despairing friend called late one night to say that he was looking at a photo of himself as a toddler holding his father’s rifle.

“I have an appointment with that rifle,” he told me. “I’ve always known I was going to end my life with it.”

He’s fine now, thank God, but his remark brought to mind a journal entry I made as a teenager, in which I said that I was sure I was going to kill myself one day; it was only a matter of how and when.

Does Nick Cave know about my love life?

I found out my wife was cheating on me. Not the greatest feeling in the world after a decade of marriage. I admit, there were times when I met another attractive woman and thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could just…but I put that thought right out of my mind and went home a committed guy.

Not that sex was the only thing to the petit mess that our marriage was. There was me, the writer, and what she thought the writing life style would bring her.

When we dated, I was the quirky artist guy. She thought listening to Nirvana made her alternative and Nora Roberts was literature. We’d go to my place and make out to Tom Waits on the turntable and I’d send her home with a Bukowski book. Did I mention we were Jehovah’s Witnesses? A woman who read anything other than a Watchtower publication was pretty alternative in my universe as a 25-year-old virgin. I was seen as quite a threat to the congregation elders for not keeping up in my bible reading and spending many nights at the public library reading Burroughs and educating myself in the world of literature. Unfortunately the belief system of God’s day of judgment entangled the synapse of my brain, so I had to keep my alternative reading and music cravings on the down low in those days.

A couple of years into our marriage I made a lot of money in the computer industry, which in turn paid to kickstart her career. I gave up the job early enough, before it sucked my soul, to pursue writing. The computer career only worked because I was smart and understood operating systems, not because I actually pursued it in school or anything. I had a tendency of disappearing from my cubicle for an hour reading Tolstoy in the bathroom or sneaking out to Gregg Araki’s latest film. I was excellent at my job at a hands on level, but not a corporate guy who really gave a crap about the future of Sun Microsystems.

In my ex-wife’s mind, my decision to become a writer meant that we would frolic with Danielle Steele at society events. I would make Stephen King caliber money and the film adaptations would pay for her shoe-buying habit. We’d both survive the upcoming apocalypse because I’d write under a pen name.

Let’s back up.

Our first date was a Nick Cave show…don’t tell the elders. There was a silence in the crowd when I yelled for Nick to play one of my favorite songs, Hard On For Love.

“What?” Nick turned around to our side of the stage and walked in our direction.

“Play Hard On For Love!”

“We have our set taken care of, thank you,” Nick replied and hearts spilled out of my eyes and onto the floor. Nick Cave was my favorite musician and I had just had a conversation with him.

From there:

  • Marriage. Sex. Wow, it’s warm in there.
  • I keep writing and taking the wife to see live bands. Don’t tell the elders.
  • I make more money than I ever make in my life and she spends it well.
  • I drop out of the religion, she freaks out and double times as a Jehovah’s Witness to get us both through Armageddon.
  • I go to Nick Cave shows alone.
  • She hides my “worldly” books and places Watchtowers on the table when her mom comes around.
  • I write a novel loosely based on my experience growing up a Jehovah’s Witness teenager. Scared that her gay fashion friends will find out she’s a JW she wanted me to use a pen name. Uh, no.
  • She cheats on me.
  • She repents to the congregation elders for her adultery. They understand. I was such a bad influence.
  • She does her best to take everything monetary.

After three months of grieving, utter shock, weeping in cafes while trying to write, and drinking myself into a stupor, I finally gave it a go with a girl in bed.

Wow, it’s warm in there.

Nick Cave was scheduled for two shows at the Warfield and they were in three months. I made calculations of the women I had been seeing, kissing, dating, and really enjoying. I picked a few to test and see if they were Nick-Cave-date-worthy. We would dance and sing up front and touch Nick’s hand as he’d sweat on us. Oh, the glory of all that is Nick Cave.

I scored an interview with Nick at his hotel since I’ve been a writer and covering the entertainment scene for years. Nick Cave. My favorite singer and me at his hotel.

I interviewed him over the phone before, but never in person. I didn’t tell him about my divorce. Or how I held a personal contest to win a date with me and go to a Nick Cave show. I did tell him I asked him to play Hard On For Love years before at one of his shows.

“What did I say?” Nick asked.

“Our set’s taken care of, thank you,” I replied, remembering every word, every smell of our history together. I told him I stopped yelling out songs at his other shows because I didn’t want to interrupt.

“We probably just didn’t know how to play it,” he said and told me how the version they had in their set for the tour is a lot harder than the recorded version.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds hadn’t played Hard On For Love at any show for twenty years. They wouldn’t play it when I was with my ex-wife, and it took him until 2008 to put it in his set.

None of the ladies were Nick-Cave-date-worthy. I went to the show alone. Dateless.

Inside the Warfield I saw some friends at the front of the stage and stood behind Lia, a girl I had been a friend with for a while. We danced and we sang and Nick Cave sweated on us.


Then, Nick said, “This next song is for you in the hat.” I was wearing a hat and he pointed in my direction in front of everybody at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco. I pointed at myself and said, “Me?”

“Yeah, you with the facial condition,” referencing my bushy mustache.

The girls next to my friend in front of me yelled, “His name is Tony, His name is Tony.”  They didn’t know I interviewed him earlier and we talked about Hard On For Love, giving the illusion that Nick and I were really tight. The band went into the song and my friend Lia held my hand and everything flashed before my eyes.

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • Marriage. Betrayal. Divorce.
  • The animal drive in my life that craves literature, music and film.
  • Holding hands with Lia. It’s not a date, but a great person to share the moment with.

Lia and I hung out a lot after that show. Still high on Nick Cave. Bar hopping and meeting up as buddies until one night it hits me…..there’s more to us than friends. She’s smart, she’s beautiful, she’s strong and I wasn’t used to someone like her. I messed up our friendship, but she agreed to mess it up as well and now she’s my girlfriend.

I reflect on how Nick Cave wouldn’t play my request for Hard On For Love when I was with my ex-wife. How he never played it through my whole marriage. Then, when I’m there with the right girl…whom I didn’t even know was in the romantic running, let alone the perfect date for a Nick Cave show….then, not only does Nick Cave perform the song, he dedicates it to me.

I am the fiend hid in her skirt
And it’s as hot as hell in here
Coming at her as I am from above
Hard On For Love.

Hard On For Love performed in Croatia on YouTube