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“Losing My Religion,” by REM

There were the religion classes I was forced to attend in my Catholic high school.

Operation Desert Storm was a month old. I was a senior and attending protests against the war. I had lost my religion, literally, several years before. I used to read the Bible, to silently call to God for wishes, for rescue, until just before I met the junior high teacher who would become my lover.

For publishers, authors, and agents, coming up with the perfect book title causes great consternation. In some cases, hundreds of titles are suggested, batted about, and batted down months before a book’s official publication date. The highly volatile selection process often results in finger-pointing, idle threats, lollygagging, and, in some rare cases, irritable bowl syndrome. Sadly, like many of my colleagues in publishing, I’ve experienced this aggravating process firsthand.

1. “Supernatural Superserious” – R.E.M.

It starts like this: the immediate slash and burn of guitar. And a voice reminding us that there was once a time in our lives when we were ghosts, so supernatural/superserious in the face of this occasionally cruel world. Pasts we can hide from, pasts we can ignore, rediscover, reinvent, or simply embrace and accept as they are. As we are.


It was me on drums. Jim on bass. David on guitar. We were three ragtag guys from San Francisco, collectively known as Blue Movie. Our sound was like The Violent Femmes and Husker Du engaged in a threesome with R.E.M.

It was February, the dead of winter. We’d already been touring for two months. We were sick as dogs. We’d chugged so much NyQuil, and had downed so many over-the-counter cold remedies that our stomachs had turned into drug stores.

 

That night we were set to play a small college bar in New London, Connecticut. For three sets of music, the bar was paying us twenty-five bucks and a case of beer.

Seeing as we were all out-of-our minds sick, the band needed to stay sober. One sip of beer added to our already dazed and confused NyQuil haze, and we wouldn’t have been able to pick up our instruments.

So we came up with a plan. We’d simply give away the beer.

But before I tell you about that, I should tell you about my dad.

He and my mom married young. Shortly thereafter, they had my brother and me to take care of. That forced my dad to get very responsible very fast. As I grew older, and became more and more a daydreamer, my personality did not mix well with my father’s ultra-responsible 9-to-5 mentality. For years we simply didn’t get along. Yet when I graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Advertising & Public Relations, that’s when my father saw the perfect opportunity for me to finally redeem myself.

The day after graduation, he told me: “Let’s go to J.C. Penney and get you that interview suit so you can get a job in New York City.”

That wasn’t happening. All I wanted to do was to move out to California and play music.

And so I did. And so for a good couple years my father and I rarely spoke. And when we did, our conversations always ended with him saying: “When are you gonna move back east and get serious about life?”

Each and every time, I’d respond: “I am serious about life. I’m in a band. We work hard. And people like us.”

Fast forward to my band recording and going out on tour.

 

My father saw us at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. From the very first song, he couldn’t stop dancing and cheering. Maybe his excitement was due to seeing me on stage for the very first time, or that his own dad had been a musician. Whatever the case, he was hooked. That night my dad became my #1 fan. And the band’s #1 fan, too. He even rearranged his work schedule so that he could follow us as we toured the Northeast. He cheered for us in New York City, Boston, and Providence. Show after show, he’d use his work credit card to buy us meals and hotel rooms.

Now back to that case of beer give away…

My father was at that New London, Connecticut show that night. It was the last show he’d be able to see before having to head back to Jersey.

Just before the band started playing, I got my dad wasted. That wasn’t difficult. He wasn’t a big drinker. Just two beers and he was loopier than a troop of diabetic Girl Scouts in a taffy factory.

After polishing off those beers, my dad looked at me with big shiny anime eyes. “What are you gonna do with the rest of the beer?” he said.

That was a no-brainer. My bandmates and I had already decided to ask the audience beer questions. It was our mission to get rid of the case before we left the club. We’d already had enough problems with cops during our two months on the road. No way did we want to make matters worse by driving around in a NyQuil haze with a bunch of Budweisers in tow.

And so we began our first set…

 

Stay tuned for Part Two:

Just Three Guys On The Road, Playing Music, Chugging NyQuil, and Giving Away Beer (aka: How I Finally Made Peace With My Dad)



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Picture the scene.

It was the early 90’s.

REM was singing about losing their religion.

President Bill Clinton had appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show, playing sax with the band.

The “Rachel” Friends-style haircut was on the way in.

The mullet haircut was on the way out.

I was on the way out, too.

At that point in my life my San Francisco band and love relationship had crash-and-burned simultaneously.

In response my personal Magnetic North had spun completely out of whack.

My up was down. My down was sideways and backwards.

I was feeling just like the title of that REM album: Out of Time.

I hastily devised escape routes: I’d move to Boston. No. Austin. No. Seattle. No. Athens, Georgia. No.Norman, Oklahoma.

Prior to this time I’d made a few musical connections in LA.

One of those people suggested that before leaving the west coast I check out LA.

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I decided to give it a year. If it worked: great. If not: Anywhere USA here I come.

Very soon I realized the City of Angels was way too sprawling and disconnected for my liking.

I had a hard time making friends.
Had a hard time connecting with musicians.
My car eventually was rear-ended and totaled by a UPS truck on the freeway.

I’d only lasted seven-and-a-half months and already I was screwed. I wanted out. Way out.

The same friend who’d advised me to come to LA now told me she had a friend in London that might be willing to put me up if I wanted out. Way out.

I did.

A few phone calls were made and before I knew it I’d purchased a one-way ticket to London.

Screw America, I thought.

I’d been giving it my heart and soul for years.

Now was time to do the expat thing. Be just like Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders.

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Say goodbye to the states, get a band together in London. Then have Uncle Sam get down on his knees to beg me back.

Before I left my homeland for good I hopped a Greyhound back to the East Coast to visit family and friends.

The night before I left for London I visited an old college buddy in New York City.

We proceeded to get seriously wasted.

While stumbling through the East Village, we began spotting these business cards strewn about. They were in gutters, pinned under windshield wipers, pried into doorjambs.

The cards advertised a 1-900 sex phone line.

Each card had a different model on it.

One was African-American. Another Puerto Rican. Still another: Corn-fed White Girl.

They all had pillowy lips and come-hither looks.

Each card had a saying on it.

Something like:

“Sex without the hang-ups.” Or, “Cum closer to hear sex the way it should really be.”

My buddy and I thought the cards were hilarious. We began picking them up, stuffing them into our pockets.

By the end of the evening, I could barely find my money on account of all the sex cards I’d jammed into my jacket.

The next morning I got up early and grabbed my flight out of Newark.

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From there it was expat rock and roll stardom here I come.

On the flight I ended up sitting next to some guy. He was decked-out in a rumpled white button-up shirt with stains beneath the armpits. His glasses were taped across the bridge of his nose. He sported one of those pocket protectors jam-packed with pens and such. His forehead was sweat shiny. His hair was short, greasy and slightly unkempt.

About an hour into our flight he offered to buy me a drink.

I politely declined.

About a half hour later he asked again.

This time I figured what the hell. If I don’t say yes, he’ll just keep bugging me the whole trip. Besides, he seemed harmless enough—albeit a little weird in that Dungeons and Dragons, computer nerd, holed-up recluse kind of way.

The first J.D. and Coke went down nicely.

The second even better.

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That’s when my seatmate really began talking.

He leaned into me, whispered into my ear:

“Kill one person and you’re called a Murderer. Kill a million people and you’re called a King. Kill everyone on Earth and you’re called a God…”

That one had me practically spitting out my third drink.

“Excuse me?” I said.

His eyes grew wide with delight. “Ever heard of white magic?”

I gulped. “Is that anything like black magic?”

He began spouting out phrases like The Witchcraft Act in 1951; Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; neo-paganism; Earth religions; magical religions, pentagrams and the like.

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My head was reeling. I wasn’t sure if it was due to the alcohol, or the fact that I’d been stuck on a Trans-Atlantic flight next to the bastard child of Aleister Crowley.

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“Here,” he said, “check this out.”

From his pocket protector he discretely slipped out a tiny stone dagger.

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“Pretty cool. Huh?”

I nodded. I wasn’t sure whether that nod was due to genuine curiosity or the fact that I didn’t want to upset a guy who had a knife pointed at me.

“How did you get it past security?” I asked.

He tapped it against my knee.

“It’s stone. Goes right through metal detectors.”

“What are you gonna do with it?” I said. “Use it in some kind of white magic ritual?”

He smiled a wicked smile.

Now things were getting kind of interesting.

“You ever sacrifice anyone?” I said.

He flashed another smile. “Want another drink?”

That was the last thing I needed at that point. If I had any more, I thought, I might risk passing out.

The next thing I knew I’d wake up dead from having my throat slit by a stone dagger.

“That’s cool,” I said. “I’m fine.”

We didn’t talk much after that.

It was only when we’d reached Heathrow that he said as we were deplaning:

“You know, the funny thing is, the way you’re looking like some kind of hippy, and with me looking like I am, I’ll sail right through security, but you won’t.”

At first I thought, Screw You. You’re Full of Shit.

But soon I realized he was right.

Just as we’d reached Heathrow security he was allowed to pass. But I was stopped for interrogation and inspection.

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Up ahead, I noticed him glance back over his shoulder, and flash one of those I Told You So looks.

Part of me wanted to rat him out.

But another part of me thought fine. This already messed-up world won’t be much different with another white magic nerd lurking about.

The security guards gave me the once over.

They scrutinized my long hair, my straw hat, sleepy eyes, rumpled clothes, and guitar slung over my shoulder.

“Empty your pockets,” one of them said.

Without thinking, I dug down deep, pulled out a wad of something and threw it across the counter.

Tons of those sex cards spilled out.

Puerto Rican girls. Corn-fed White girls. African American girls.

They were everywhere.

Their pillowly lips and come-hither looks were telling one and all to call that 1-900 number for a good time.

The guards scoped out the cards then checked out each other.

“Empty your other pockets,” the same guard said.

More sex cards spilled out.

Asian girls. Hispanic girls. Russian girls.

Now I was really screwed. I’d never make it into London.

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Thinking fast, I said:

“Oh those cards. Pretty crazy, huh? We Americans are pretty silly.”

I went on to explain how I was a student writing a paper on the commercialization of sex in the U.S.

I’m not sure whether they bought it, or if they just felt sorry for me, or if they just wanted to get rid of me so they could gather up those cards and start making some long distance booty calls.

Either way, they let me go.

I was officially off American soil and had my whole expat rock-and-roll fantasy waiting for me just beyond those airport doors.

But I was minus about sixty sexy girls in tow.


Authors Note: I’d like thank fellow TNB writer Jen Burke for her keen observations and editorial assistance while creating this post.