1971: In Kindergarten, you participate in a “talent show” where you and Brian Clark lip-synch to Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” and the Beach Boy’s version of “Sloop John B.” You remember wondering at the time how much talent it takes to do such a thing, but somehow, you come in first. You also remember finding the words to “Joy to the World” ridiculous. Why would anyone have a bullfrog named Jeremiah who was “a very good friend of mine”? And how could that possibly relate to the world’s joy? Also, in thinking about “Sloop John B,” you, later that night, (after lip-synching to the line, “I threw up all of my grits”) ask your mother what grits are.

She tells you they’re something southern people eat.

“Yes,” you say, “but what are they?”

“They are a food,” she says. “A southern food.”

A food that makes you throw up, you think and you decide to avoid these grits if you ever have to encounter them.

A side note: While watching “Match Game 73” a couple of years later, you see the short guy, Paul Williams who sits next to Fannie Flagg and your sister says, “That’s the guy who wrote that stupid bullfrog song you like.” Actually, it was Hoyt Axton, but you don’t know that at the time, so you can’t correct your sister.

1986: You are with a dancer from New York named Janine. She’s beautiful. A dancer’s body—the first you’ve ever seen this closely. Ever felt. Out of your league, at least to your mind. She dances with some professional troupe in New York. She gets paid to dance. This seems beyond exotic to you. Where you’re from, people get paid to drive bread trucks and work in factories. She’s in town visiting her friend Heather, and the two of you meet at a party at Heather’s apartment and you and Janine end up fucking on Heather’s living room couch after the party’s over.

You make out for what seems like hours before clothes start coming off. One of you—you can’t remember if it was you or Janine—has put on side one of the 3rd Velvet Underground album and lifted the “repeat” arm. You have no idea how many times that side of the record plays, but you do remember hearing, several times, “Pale Blue Eyes” and “Candy Says.” You are very drunk. You are also very high on some really wet and good hash that Janine brought from New York. You also smoked some opium with a friend earlier that night. You go down on Janine long enough to hear the same side of the record three times. This is after all the heavy petting that preceded the oral sex. The two of you may be setting a record for playing one side of a Velvet Underground album the most times in a row.

The record reaches the end, yet again. You hear the scratches at the end of the vinyl. The arm goes back to the start and the first track, “Candy Says” begins for what could be the twenty-fifth time that night. Heather comes out of her bedroom while Janine is going down on you. Your eyes are closed. You right hand is on the most finely-muscled bicep you have ever felt.

Heather screams, “I can put up with the sound of you two fucking all night, but if I hear one more fucking SECOND of the Velvet Underground, I’m going to kill someone!”

1975: You are nine years old. You have saved your money from allowance and mowing lawns and picking potatoes underage at Polaski’s Farm, and you have purchased Bruce Springsteen’s BORN TO RUN at the Sam Goody at the Mall (two towns over and impossible to get to on bike—but your father needed to go to Sears to buy some tools, so you got lucky and got to go to Sam Goody).

You look at the cover. Bruce Springsteen is cool. He’s got a guitar. Guitar players are cool—even at nine years old you know that much. And he’s dressed “like a homeless fucking hippie” according to your dad, who is a Narcotics Officer. By nine, you have already decided which way your judgment leans on the “homeless fucking hippie” vs. “narcotics officer” cool chart.

You take the album out of its plastic. You look at the sleeve, checking both sides. You see that Springsteen, on the front cover, is leaning on a chunky black guy you later find out is Clarence Clemons, his sax player.

You put the album on. Your sister—two years older and, by definition as a result, cooler than you—accuses you of going “straight to the hit.” What she means is that you ignore the track listing and you always go straight to the song you know and love from the radio. Which is true. You are guilty of this. But, this time, the hit, the title track, just happens to BE the first cut on the album. So you say to your sister, “No! I started the album on the first song. I didn’t go straight to the hit.”

She says, “The hit IS the first song. You would have gone to it first if it was the third song.”

She is correct. You would have. But you don’t admit this.

Later, while the sax solo on “Jungleland” plays, your dad walks through the room, where you sit cross-legged, listening to the album for the third time through as loud as your mother will allow. He stops for a second, listening. He says, “This guy’s sax player sounds like a cross between King Curtis and Duane Eddy’s sax player.”

You have no idea what he’s talking about. “I don’t think so,” you say, convinced that your father can’t possibly know anything about rock and roll.

He goes downstairs, grabs HAVE TWANGY GUITAR, WILL TRAVEL by Duane Eddy, and some record by “King Curtis and his All-Stars.”

“Listen,” he says. “This guy sounds just like them.”

You don’t want to give your dad, the Narc, the satisfaction. But later, while he’s working on a car down in the garage, you put on this King Curtis. Your father, you hate to admit, is right. Cool Bruce Springsteen’s sax player sounds a LOT like someone in your father’s record collection. This seems wrong.

Then you put on “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy. It’s one of the greatest sounds you’ve ever heard. How the hell does your dad know about this?

1976: Your parents, you will much later realize, actually have pretty good taste in music—especially compared to your Perry Como and Pat Boone loving friends’ parents. They have a lot of Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Phil Ocks, Eric Anderson and a bunch of great comedy albums, as well.

Plus, they have all of Carly Simon albums. You don’t listen to these, but you jerk off while looking at the covers several times a day whenever possible. NO SECRETS and PLAYING POSSUM being recurrent favorites.

Summer, 1986: Every Sunday morning (or whenever you wake up, which may not actually BE morning), you are hung-over and you listen to Van Morrison’s ASTRAL WEEKS. You are hung-over every morning of the week, but for some reason, Sunday morning is the only time you listen to ASTRAL WEEKS. It seems like the perfect Sunday hung-over music. If you have any coke left, you snort a line and smoke cigarettes and drink coffee, while ASTRAL WEEKS plays in the background. You do this until Winter. The snow falls, the streets are white and fluffy at first, and then everything grows gray and gloomy and dull slush sits in the alley where you enter your basement apartment on Marlboro Street. Some Sundays, you play your guitar, which may or may not still have all six strings left from the night before’s show. Every Sunday, you listen to Van Morrison.

1981: A friend of your dad’s from college is visiting. He’s sleeping in your living room on the floor and your mother, clearly, hates him. It’s an awkward visit, as your dad is trying to talk his friend, who has just gotten divorced, into rehab. Your father’s friend has served in Viet Nam and did time in jail. He calls jail “the joint.”

You are listening to Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers’ LIVE AT THE SPEAKEASY. Your dad is in the garage working on a car and you and the friend are alone at the kitchen table.

Your father’s friend says, in a gravelly deep voice that kind of scares you, “What is this fucking noise?”

“It’s Punk,” you say.

“Punk?” he says, smoking the first hand-rolled cigarette you have ever seen in your life. “This is Punk?”

“Punk music,” you say. “They’re a Punk band.”

“Is your band a Punk band?”

You say yes.

“In the joint a punk is someone who takes it up the ass.” He laughs. “You take it up the ass, kid?”

The thought has never occurred to you. You’re fifteen and a slow developer. You’ve barely done more than make out with anyone. But you pick up on what the right answer for the scary man is. “No,” you say.

“Then don’t go calling yourself a punk. Punks take it up the ass. You tell the wrong person you’re a punk and you’ll be getting fucked in the ass, understand me, kid?”

Your dad walks in during the friend’s last sentence. “What the fuck are you talking to my kid about?”

The friend shrugs. “Some life advice.” He winks at you.

Years later, another band of yours plays a bar called The Joint. That night is also the first night (though it’s entirely a coincidence—the name of the bar and what happens next) a woman ever fucks you with a strap-on. She is the bartender at The Joint, and she drives you to her place while the band shares a room at some shit motel near the highway. She wears a vintage dress, fishnets and Chuck Taylors, none of which she has taken off, while you are naked in front of her.

Just as she starts to fuck you, you think about what your father’s friend said, you think of having met this woman in “The Joint” and that you are in a band that gets labeled in the press as “Cow-Punk”…you are a punk and you hear that gravelly voice say, “a punk is someone who takes it up the ass, kid”…you think of all these things and you start to laugh.

The bartender stops for a moment. “Are you ok?”

You are drunk. You try to stop laughing, as it seems inappropriate at the moment. “I’m fine,” you say, still trying to stop laughing. “Sorry.”

1973: For “Show and Tell” in 3rd grade, you bring in your father’s copy of Redd Foxx’s YOU GOT TO WASH YO ASS!You lip-synch to his performance (hey, it worked so well in Kindergarten). You get suspended.

The next week, you bring Tom Waits’ SMALL CHANGE album, which has a stripper with pasties on the cover. You are suspended again.

Your favorite song this year is “Everyone’s Talkin’” from THE MIDNIGHT COWBOY soundtrack. So you go to the public library and read about the movie. You like the name of the character Ratso Rizzo. There is a picture of Dustin Hoffman as Ratso. He looks cool.

For school, in the third-grade Halloween costume party, you dress as Ratso Rizzo. You slick your hair back with soap and your father’s VO5. You wear your dad’s raincoat with nothing on underneath. You walk around, hitting other student’s desks, the walls, the lockers, screaming “I’m walkin’ here!” in what you guess is a Ratso Rizzo voice (you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve only read about the scene, so you have no idea).

When the Principal asks you why you are naked under the coat, you say you thought that’s how perverts dressed.

He shakes his head. “Perverts?” he says. “A pervert costume?” He’s still shaking his head as he dials what you assume is one of your parents’ phone numbers.

1986: You are living in Holland and you’ve developed a Dilaudid habit. You can, most days, get enough to keep you high from a corrupt dentist your girlfriend Monique knows.

You spend day after day, nodding in bed, listening to a cassette tape that has The Dream Syndicate’s THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES on one side and The Velvet Underground’s eponymous third album the other side. They may be two of the only perfect albums you’ve ever heard. They are, without a doubt, two of the most perfect albums to nod in bed to on Dilaudid.

This goes on, you and Monique alone in your room with this one cassette and your drugs, for maybe a month. When you finally leave your bed, you end up going to a party at some post-hippie commune some friends of Monique’s are having.

You black out. You have no idea what happens, but you wake up in the morning with no memory of the night before. There’s a guy from Brazil named Tony standing at the foot of your bed with an acoustic guitar, singing Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” in a thick Brazilian accent. You turn to your left and realize you are in bed with Anne—Monique’s best friend. This is a VERY bad habit of yours during these years. You sleep with a lot of your friends’ girlfriends. A lot of your girlfriends’ best friends. You have yet to learn that, even in an “open relationship” fucking the best friend never seems to end well.

Tony from Brazil keeps singing at the foot of the bed. Anne decides that this is, for some reason unknown to you, a good time to go down on you. You have a hard time getting into it, with this Brazilian guy singing and looking at you while your girlfriend’s best friend is going down on your semi-hard cock.

Anne stops for a second. She pukes all over your cock and then, with a groan, rolls on her side and falls back asleep. Tony keeps playing the Springsteen song. The puke is warm, but starts to grow cool on your shrinking cock and your thighs. It pools in your navel.

You are nineteen years old. You are starting to realize you have a taste for some sexual fetishes that many people think are weird. You are learning about things you enjoy that six months before you had no idea existed. You realize quickly, however, that having someone puke on your cock is not one of your new fetishes.

1984: Your freshman year of college. You have a dorm room with your own bed, but you end up sleeping with Melissa B. every night for a few months. Sleeping with—but not having sex. Melissa is a lesbian. But she’s single. You start as a friend who helps her with her guitar. You’re a better guitar player than she is, but she is a much better songwriter and singer than you are. She opens her mouth to sing and other people’s jaws drop.

At night, the two of you drink and play guitar. She’s a Beatles fanatic. You teach her all the early singles. You teach her the dual lead harmony parts on “And Your Bird Can Sing.”

With the lights out, you drink and smoke cigarettes and hold each other while the rain patters down on the roof of your dorm. You are young—you know nothing—and you wonder, sometimes, if the power of pure love (because that’s what you’re pretty sure you’re feeling) could make Melissa love you the way you love her. You will live many years beyond this and you may never have in your life fallen asleep in someone’s arms and woken up in someone’s arms as often as you do with Melissa. You’ll sleep with people and next to people, but you will never again this often fall asleep holding onto someone and waking up still holding them the next morning.

You know the smell of her hair. The pace of her breathing. The way her right hand tremors for no known reason while she’s deep in sleep. She lets you kiss her eyelids, but not her lips.

“We don’t want to get confused here,” she says. And you think, but don’t say, too late.

You play in a band called Junkyard—Junkyard sounds like every member in the band fell in love with the same Johnny Thunders records. Which is pretty much true. Even your originals sound like covers. Melissa plays in a band of four women who all dress in black and pale makeup and they call themselves The Bell Jars. Their originals sound great and even their covers sound original. They are the real deal, while Junkyard is not.

The Bell Jars have a show coming up at the Rat—a major club in Boston’s Kenmore Square. Melissa is worried about her guitar playing.

“You should play guitar for us,” she says.

You’ve thought of this. Her band is better than yours, but you could make their songs better with your guitar. You figure, without saying so, that the fact that the band is all-women could be a problem for you. “I wish I could,” you say.

“Seriously,” Melissa says. “Some labels and some A&R clowns are supposed to be at the Rat and I want us to sound our best.” She smiles. “You play the main guitar parts and I can front the band and focus on my singing.”

You feel enormously flattered.

“You’d have to dress in drag, though,” she says.

You’re drunk. Not seeing any repercussions of this. Plus, it’s for Melissa. You shrug. Say, “what the hell?”

“You’d play a set with us in drag?”

“Why not?”

The band goes for the idea. And so you do it. The night of the show, Melissa shaves what little facial hair you have. She sits on your lap while she does your lips and eyes and cheeks. She tells you what a pretty girl you are and you blush. She dyes your hair black and cuts it hard along the bangs like the rest of The Bell Jars.

For your outfit, she picks a short black dress with black stockings and a black, one-piece girdle with garters for the black stockings. Your cock starts to get hard when she’s dressing you but if she notices it, she doesn’t say anything. At the time, you’re five foot eight and a hundred and thirty pounds. You’re skinny, though you remember thinking you were fat at the time.

You’ve played a few practices with the band (thankfully, dressed like yourself) and the sound is good. They ARE probably the best band in town, but you seem to make them even better. That night at the Rat, the show smokes. You feel weird, playing in heels, feeling the slip of the stockings in the shoes, the pull of the garters on the stockings, but it all seems to be going well and you have to admit, it’s kind of sexy getting to be all dressed up on stage next to Melissa, who you may or may not be madly in love with.

After the show, you break down your gear and you have to piss. You pause for a moment between the Women’s and the Men’s room, and you choose the Men’s room. You piss at a urinal—difficult around your girdle-styled garter belt, but you make it. As you start to walk out of the Men’s room a huge skinhead punk looks down on you and says, “Faggot!” He punches you to the floor. The bathroom tiles are cold. You have passed out on these tiles before (though never this well dressed)—they are filled with water and soap and piss and dirt. You get up slowly, your nose bleeding.

That night, at Melissa’s apartment, you are sill dressed up while she gently puts ice on your broken nose. She buys more liquor than you would have needed on a normal night, but you are in pain. Your nose is broken (this is your 5th broken nose—you know what a broken nose feels like and you have learned to fix them yourself in front of a mirror, which is what you do that night in her bathroom). After you straighten your nose, you nearly pass out. You can’t breathe through the nose–it’s too swollen to snort the blow that would help with the pain, but Melissa doesn’t use needles, so that’s out. She gives you her last three Percodans and she puts the ice on your nose and kisses your forehead several times, saying, “My poor, poor, pretty baby,” over and over.

There is talk, among the band, of having you join The Bell Jars. The talk ends with the review of the show in FORCED EXPOSURE, the most important underground ‘Zine at the time:

“Boston’s The Bell Jar’s are the real thing, thanks mostlyto frontwoman Melissa B’s incredible charisma and vocals and her songs that bring to mind if Joni Mitchell rocked like Paul Westerberg. She’s one-of-a-kind in a city of carbon-copy bands, and because of her, The Bell Jars may be Boston’s NEXT BIG THING.

“On the down side, it doesn’t help this band that their best looking chick is the dude who plays guitar in Junkyard.”

This doesn’t exactly ease your way into the band. Melissa still wants you, but the rest of the band vetoes her. The talk of you joining stops.

One night, holding hands in bed, listening to the rain outside and the Beatles on the stereo, you say, “I love you.”

She snuggles closer to you. You have slept together every night for the last 3 months, every night, except when one of you is on tour. There is a trust. A comfort you have never known. “I love you, too,” she says.

“No,” you say. “I mean I love you. Like in love.”

Rain. Music quietly under the rain. You hear her take a couple of deep breaths. “You know who I am,” she says. “What I am.”

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Don’t be sorry,” she says. You are holding her but now she’s turned away. “I love you more than I’ve loved anyone else. Can’t that be enough?”

And you could say, no, that’s not enough, because that’s what you’re feeling. But you feel like you’ve already stepped over some line. You lean your head into her shoulder blade. “That’s enough,” you say.

Not long after that, Melissa decides to take off for LA after the Bell Jars break up. She asks you if you want to come, but you’re scared. You’d only know one person, and that person would, you’re sure, be a star in a year or so. You’re afraid of being in a city you’ve never seen. A big city where you could be alone. And she doesn’t love you—not the way you love her. So, you stay.

One of the last things you do is teach her the Beatles’ guitar part on “Her Majesty.”

Around six months later—this is before the internet, before cell phones and email—someone says to you, “Did you hear what happened to Melissa?”

You expect to be told she signed a major label deal. “No,” you say.

And he tells you that she was raped and murdered in an alley after playing a show in LA, not long after moving there. You find out six months after it happened. You don’t know, nor will you ever know any of the details. Who did it. Where it happened. What exactly happened. You can’t believe she’s been gone six months and you had no idea.

There is no funeral you can go to. This will bother you forever.

You still can’t hear the Beatles for too long without thinking of her. You still leave the room whenever “Her Majesty” comes on.

You live your life in music. People ask you all the time: Beatles or Stones? Who would you rather listen to? You tell them, Stones—no contest—but you never really tell them why.

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ROB ROBERGE Rob Roberge's fourth book, the novel The Cost of Living, was released in Spring 2013 on Other Voices Books. Previous books include the story collection Working Backwards From the Worst Moment of My Life (2010) and the novels More Than They Could Chew (2005) and Drive (2001). He’s a core faculty member at UCR/Palm Desert’s MFA and has taught at several universities including University of California Riverside’s main campus MFA, Antioch, Los Angeles’ MFA program and the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where he received the Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing in 2003. He’s a frequent question writer and lecturer and has judged, among others, the Red Hen Story Prize and the University of Ohio/Athens PhD writing award. Currently, he is serving as the advisor for the PEN Mark program. His stories and essays have appeared in numerous journals and have been widely anthologized. He plays guitar and sings with the LA bands The Danbury Shakes and The Urinals.

44 responses to “Your Life in Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll #1”

  1. Joe Daly says:

    Well done. Nice musical pedigree there- very organically driven, and I like the way you provide context with each stage in your musical odyssey.

    Brutal, but beautiful ending. What an unimaginable horror. Glad you chose to process it as you have. The ending is perfect.

  2. Jessica Blau says:

    You know, I just woke up and I have a million things to get done today but once I’d read the first line, I couldn’t help but read the rest of this. BRAVO!

    I laughed out loud a few times (third-grader dressed as a “pervert” for Halloween wearing nothing but a trench coat and talking like Ratzo Rizzo yelling, “I’m walking here,” is about one of the funniest things I’ve ever read!). Have a few questions, too. (What is Dilaudid? Did it feel good to get it U.T.A. from . . . can’t remember her name? Whatever happened to that friend of your dad’s?)

    Also, I must say I’m rather impressed that you went down on that dancer long enough to hear the same side of one album THREE times. That’s, like, ninety minutes. OMG.

    This is one of my favorite posts this year! Seems to me you could take each entry, expand it into a full chapter, and there you have it, an amazing book. Send me a draft!

    • Rob Roberge says:

      Many thanks, Jessica-

      Your Q’s, in order:

      1) Dilaudid is a very strong opiate (most of what I’ve always read/heard puts it at about 6-7 times stronger than Morphine). It’s an incredible drug…the only downside it has is that it ends up destroying your life. Other than that, it’s perfect.

      2)…it took me AGES to figure out what “U.T.A” meant…then I realized it was “up the ass” (I think). I have VERY little recollection of that night (since it happened between 1985 and 1993, which I barely remember)…but, later, with people who knew what they were doing, yes, it feels good.

      3) That friend of my dad’s disappeared in the 80’s. No one ever heard from him again. My father assumes he’s dead.

      And, just to be clear…3 times of one side of an album is probably closer to 60 minutes (LP albums being in the neighborhood of 38-45 minutes, so half would fall, ballpark in the 20 minute range).

      Thanks much for the nice words…as for a book…not sure I have a book, but I do have about 60 pages of this thing…

  3. So happy to see this here this morning, Rob. I’m with Jessica: a book. That’s the problem with you–you’re just too good, everything you write ends up wanting to be a book!

    Speaking of Dilaudid, Jessica, while Rob can give you a more clinical explanation of what it is, let’s just say that it is something I could really freaking use right now, since my back has been out all week.

    I can’t wait to read more of these, Rob. Just beautiful. And could only be written by someone who wanted to be Ratzo Rizzo for Halloween.

    • Rob Roberge says:

      Thanks, Gina 🙂

      But PLENTY of what I write ends up not only not being good enough to be a book, but not good enough to even be a short piece…I just try to keep those from getting out in the world…

      Sorry about the back. Feel better asap.

    • Jessica Blau says:

      Oh, man, Gina, I’m so sorry to hear about your back! I’m sending you thoughts for a strong healthy back. And, Rob, can’t you share some of those Dilaudids with her? The girl has a NEED!

      • Rob Roberge says:

        Jessica–while I’d happy help Gina in any way possible, I’m not (and she’s aware of this) not allowed anywhere near Dilaudids anymore (see the above note about their bad side-effect of destroying one’s life 🙂 )

        • Yep, since Rob was inconsiderate enough to become a raging junkie and almost wreck his life, I’m afraid I’ve had to suffer through with just Flexiril and Norco . . . gee, thanks, Rob! (Back is doing better, btw. My ego, on the other hand, still suffering a little . . .)

        • rob roberge says:

          Sorry…I should have thought ahead…that was inconsiderate of me…it would be nice if I still had some to give you, as that would mean I still had some 🙂

          Though ‘raging junkie’ is strong…I know people who were raging junkies and they would be annoyed at my lightweight ass being lumped in with them (love ya, P!)…as far as ‘almost wreck his life’, I plead guilty.

          Your ego is in trouble? That’s ridiculous! You’re fabulous…and you’re on the Cult’s best books of 2010–congrats!

        • That Cult thing IS helping a little!

          Contemplating future arthritic debilitation, however, while flat on my back for nearly a week, is more than a little humbling.

          Especially since I’ve spent most of the past 5 years, since Giovanni’s birth, telling myself that I should “start working out more again,” and now kind of have to face the fact that–after five fucking years–it’s more like I should just plain “start working out” and the “again” applies to back when I was in my mid-30s, and that was a damn long time ago, and going to a yoga class every few weeks when I can be bothered to get off my computer or take my nose out of a book doesn’t really count as being “in shape.”

          Especially when I cannot actually . . . you know . . . walk.

          Q: So have I been to exercise since getting back on my feet?

          A: Of course not. I’m too busy on my computer, with my nose in a book, or on my new Kindle. (Reading my former editor, Lidia Yuknavitch’s, new memoir right now–fun, smart, racy. Though I’m finding Patti Smith’s Just Kids less stunning than all the hype suggested–it’s written in this extremely flowery way that, in my opinion, fails to say much that’s actually specific.)

          Apparently my shortage of Dilaudid is the least of my worries. I guess I’ll be a very well-read bedridden person . . . fuck.

  4. jmblaine says:

    People love to read
    about memories
    & music
    but it’s hard to get that tone
    but you really got it right here.
    I agree, you can shop this
    & – wait –
    Junkyard as in the Def Jam
    Reagan gave the Pentagon
    our food stamp money?
    That Junkyard?

    • Rob Roberge says:

      The Junkyard I played with was a shitty punk band in Boston in the 80’s…so, I’m guessing this is a different Junkyard. We sucked…and luckily there is no recorded evidence of how badly we sucked.

  5. zoe zolbrod says:

    What a wonderfully written piece and a devastating turn of events.

  6. Beautiful. An onslaught of memories and life with a soundtrack.

  7. gordon lee johnson says:

    I could put your words into my pipe and smoke em. The details rock…

  8. Oh, Rob. I loved this. I want to read more & more.

  9. John Schimmel says:

    a) This is so beyond gorgeous, one of those rare pieces that actually defines fine writing. As for a book, part of what makes these pieces so great is their compactness – they hit and leave the reader to bask in the afterglow. You’d probably need a lot of these, instead of a more of each, to get to book length and you’d probably be dead if you had a lot more of these experiences. So maybe it’s a good thing there’s no book…
    b) You repair vintage amps? I have an Ampeg B-15 from the ’50s I’d love to talk to you about… Beat to shit but sounded amazing until a transformer blew out…

    • Rob Roberge says:

      John–great to see you here!

      a) Thanks so much. I agree about the length of the individual pieces…I have another 50 pages or so (and I should, by the odds of such things, be dead…but it’s a strange world…I know plenty of people who did less than me who dies…and I know a bunch, some of whom are great friends, who were more out of control than me and made it out alive)…but I wonder about expanding the little sections themselves…most of the 60 pages I have are well under a page each. I like the brevity of many of them…the ending section, with Melissa, is the 2nd longest of any of the sections thus far…Maybe it’ll end up being a little 60 page e-book or something.

      Also, I wonder if 2nd person could sustain 100+ pages. There’s something wonderful about that POV for shorter work for me…but I’m not sure it works for longer stuff…it’s a POV with a sprinter’s stride, in a way.

      b) Are you SURE it’s a blown tranny on the B-15 (those are GREAT amps)? There are many things that can mimic a blown transformer that are less serious. But if you are sure, is it the power or output transformer? Maybe you should email me about the amp stuff.

      Thanks for reading!

  10. Rob Roberge says:

    Many thanks, Patrick, Gordon and Wendy–

    Wendy, like I said (somewhere here), I have about 60 pages of this, so be careful what you wish for-ha! There will be more to read.

    Though, as far as expanding what I have (much as I’m flattered that some people said to do it) I’m with John…expanding sections would sort of go against its DNA…I have another 50 pages of short ones like this.

    I don’t (in good ways for life, but bad ways for narrative) have such sad ways to end such every excerpt…the Melissa section being one of the tougher ones in the narrative.

    It may end up being one of those weird length pieces once I collect it all in one place…in the 50-60 page range. It’s a fine length for everything except marketing.

    Thanks everyone, for taking the time to read this.

  11. As others have said, this piece is astonishing. From the expertly-shuffled chronology to the portraits of people you can almost hear breathing through the text to the lodestar of a concluding line “One of the last things you do is teach her the Beatles’ guitar part on “Her Majesty.””

    Thanks for offering up such a fine read.

  12. Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

    I use the word “beautiful” too often when commenting but after reading this twice, it’s the only word I can come up with. Beautiful. And alarming. And sad.

    I’m sorry about your friend.

    I’m with everyone else, your story should be in book form.

  13. Greg Olear says:

    Wow, is this excellent. Funny, revealing, and ultimately heartbreaking.

    I can’t believe you dressed up as Ratso Rizzo!

    • rob roberge says:

      Sorry I missed your comment, Greg. Thanks so much.

      And, yeah. My wife got a hell of a kick out of the Ratso Rizzo story when I told it to her way back when we met…we were talking about our best/worst Halloween costumes…As I recall, she said, “Now a lot of things about you make more sense.”

  14. Dana says:

    Amazing fluidity. This piece is magic. A collection of short pieces sounds like the perfect way to showcase this type of work. I also think you’re exactly right that 2nd person is best in small doses. It can be tiring and downright annoying if carried too far.

    Heather screams, “I can put up with the sound of you two fucking all night, but if I hear one more fucking SECOND of the Velvet Underground, I’m going to kill someone!” Hilarious! (and impressive too!)

    and this:
    You still leave the room whenever “Her Majesty” comes on. Heartrending.

    Btw, you can try grits if you want (personally I think they’re nasty) but the cook THREW AWAY the grits, he didn’t throw them up.

    • rob roberge says:


      Wow…you’re so right about the line in Sloop John B…how did we ever win that talent contest, not even knowing the words? Ack! Sorry about that. Good catch. The cook got the fits…and threw away the grits…I knew that, but it wasn’t how I remembered it as a kid. Ha! Shows what good memory is.

      I did end up eating plenty of grits when I lived in the South…ended up loving them.

      Thanks so much!

  15. Tom Hansen says:

    Brilliant piece Rob. Love the structure, the connection of time periods via some detail. Very nicely done. I was in a similar situation once, totally ripped on acid and in bed with a young Mexican chick, having sex all night but unable to get out of bed and cross the room to turn off the record player, which had been playing side 2 of Deep Purple’s Machine Head all night long.

    Sorry about missing the show the other night. The mind of Tom has not been functioning properly at all lately

  16. What a relentless and amazing piece. Reminds me a lot of Adderall Diaries, but even faster-paced.

    My dad went to college with Chuck Negron, of Three Dog Night. I think their Greatest Hits album was the only CD he ever owned…

  17. J. Ryan Stradal says:


    This is staggeringly beautiful and moving writing.

    These aren’t easy stories to tell, and you do so with clarity, humor, and a humanism that’s somehow devoid of sentimentality (a difficult balance). Your characters are real, sympathetic, and unforgettable.

    You have my wild and unmitigated admiration.

    More, please.

    J. R.

    • rob roberge says:


      Be careful what you ask for–I have about 60 more pages of this…will be posting as I go along and decide what goes where. But thanks so much for the good words. Means a lot coming from you.

  18. Gloria Harrison says:

    This is gorgeous. I wish I’d read this days ago. Your writing is fluid, your imagery is clear, and the story is gripping from beginning to end. I’ve already shared it with a good friend. Really, wow.

  19. Lorrie Kazan says:

    Rob, your writing is always captivating. Ratso Rizzo is certainly priceless and endearing. I posted it on my facebook page.
    btw, dilaudid was Lenny Bruce’s drug of choice, or so I’ve read. You refer to yourself as a “light weight…” I met you back then and if my memory isn’t faulty, I remember being afraid you were going to die. I think I prayed for you too…but I could be making that up. You certainly had too much talent to waste.

    • rob roberge says:

      Thanks SO much, Lorrie. And thanks for posting it along on yr Facebook page. Didn’t know about Lenny Bruce and the Dilaudid–knew he like his opiates, but didn’t know he liked that one.

      I guess you’re right about me way back when–you’d be in a better position to judge how I was back then, since, as you know, I wasn’t always that conscious those days…thanks, odd as it may sound, for being worried that I’d die. Glad to come out the other side.

      Thanks again for the kind words–then and now 🙂

  20. Damn, brother, that’s some wild times. Makes my memoir seem rather PG-13. Fascinating stuff, I’ve been meaning to read WORKING BACKWARDS for awhile now, thanks to the kind words that Caleb Ross has given it.

    Gina, so glad that The Cult gave you some love. I had a list of books up there of reviews I was (and am) working on, and I mentioned your book, Slut Lullabies. Mirka saw that, was digging my reviews here, and checked it out. So cool how that happens. And FWIW I haven’t forgotten you or SL. Just slammed with my MFA thesis, and work and life, etc. Better late than never?

  21. Ruth says:

    Rob, Teacher,

    My arms still have that fucking rain stick sensation from the ending here. I read through all of the comments suspending a sob, holding gut-filled hope that I’d learn this piece is fiction.

    I’m so sorry about Melissa.

    I know my reaction is, in part (too large a part?) a projection of the loss I’m going through: an incredibly important lover of mine died almost 7 months ago. His funeral was in a distant country. So I can imagine, kind of, what you mean about how not being there matters.

    p.s. Good work with the writing, but that’s no surprise.

  22. Emily Rapp says:


    This is just — well, fucking genius. Just another reason to love you (not that I needed one), but it’s SO FUN to see your nonfiction! And of course, hello, a book. Haven’t I been ragging on you about that for, like, years??? =)

  23. Nicole Perry says:

    I am so glad I have discovered your writing because it is absolutely incredible. In addition to being well-written, your story is honest, hilarious, and heartbreaking. I loved it.

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