Rolling Stone reviews “True Love Scars” in a recent issue (Taylor Swift on the cover).
(If you want to buy “True Love Scars,” use the handy link in the right hand column.)
Here’s the Rolling Stone review:
Getting Lost in the ‘Real’ Sixties
A veteran rock writer explores the crazy side of Sixties nostalgia
True Love Scars, Michael Goldberg (Neumu Press)
If Lester Bangs had ever published a novel, it might have read something like this frothing debut by longtime music journalist Michael Goldberg. (It’s part one of a series called The Freak Scene Dream Trilogy.)
The year is 1972, and the book’s chatterbox narrator, 19-year-old Michael Stein, is the kind of Sixties-besotted college kid who shaves his hair off because John Lennon and Yoko Ono did it. His quandary: trying to figure out how to reclaim the “authentic real” spirit of the 1960s as the decade fades into memory. Stein spends most of the book flashing back to one sex-and-drugs-steeped Sixties misadventure after another.
If you’ve ever obsessed over bootlegs or argued with your friends late into the night about which Beatles or Bob Dylan album is the best, True Love Scars will hit home.
Goldberg’s style recalls the rush of the earliest rock criticism. He was a senior writer at ROLLING STONE during the Eighties, and he founded Addicted to Noise, an important online music publication, in 1994. His intimacy with the classic records Stein fetishizes comes through again and again. Yet, unlike his protagonist, Goldberg doesn’t idealize the Sixties. Instead, he’s fascinated by the ways in which we crave authenticity.
Readers from any musical era will come away with a deeper appreciation of how nostalgia can shape our lives, for better and for worse. COLIN FLEMING
True Love Scars made four best-of lists in 2014.
• Perfect Sound Forever publisher Jason Gross included True Love Scars in his best books of 2014 list.
• Triple R Radio host/ Addicted To Noise Australia publisher Brian Wise included True Love Scars in his ten best books of 2014 list.
• Former Billboard magazine columnist/ current Trakin Care Of Business columnist Roy Trakin included True Love Scars in his best books of 2014 list.
• StompBeast blogger Matthew Duersten included True Love Scars in his “notable books” of 2014 list.
True Love Scars, and the Freak Scene Dream Trilogy:
I completed the Freak Scene Dream trilogy in early 2014. The Freak Scene Dream Trilogy consists of “True Love Scars,” “The Flowers Lied” and “The Moon & The Stars.” The trilogy is a rock ‘n’ roll/coming-of-age story set in the late ’60s and early ’70s. On one level, it’s about two young men, Michael Stein and Jim Costello, and the difficulties they face in their relationships with women at a time when feminism was on the rise. On another level it’s about the death of the ’60s. And it’s a rock ‘n’ roll novel — music seeps through on nearly every page. The narrator tells his story in a slang voice appropriate for the times, and everything is refracted through music, film, art or literature. There’s loads of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. The book is a wild ride — at times exhilarating, at times nightmarish. I’m certain you’ve never read anything like it. The second book. The Flowers Lied, will be available in October 2015.
The latest news about readings and other True Love Scars related stuff is here.
A few of the blurbs that are on the back cover:
“Michael Goldberg is comparable to Kerouac in a 21st century way, someone trying to use that language and energy and find a new way of doing it.”
— MARK MORDUE, author of “Dastgah: Diary of a Head Trip”
“Radioactive as Godzilla.”
— RICHARD MELTZER, author of “The Aesthetics of Rock”
“True Love Scars reads like a fever dream from the dying days of the Summer of Love. Keyed to a soundtrack of love and apocalypse, Writerman pitches headlong into a haze of drugs, sex and confusion in search of what no high can bring: his own redemption. Read it and be transformed.”
— ALINA SIMONE, musician, author of “Note to Self” and “You Must Go and Win”
Your books are so amazing… I wrote a long-winded quote about what your books did for me. Michael Goldberg reminds us of the difficulties of remaining true to our own visions amidst the powerful exigencies of young adulthood. He paints crazy intimate portraits of the excesses and eccentricities of the sexual revolution. And he speaks to us in the voice and language of the brave microculture of his youth. In this, he opens a door to the rough adolescence of our own ‘grown up’ disillusioned macroculture. All the dreams and wishes and bright energy buried therein is still brawling for a release. Our inner teenager still wonders what the fuck we think we are doing. To hear a voice from this realm is a blessing. Goldberg makes of himself a channel from that forbidden country. Through his recounting, we can be inspired to remember how we learned to love, how we learned to listen, and how we learned to do whatever it is we do best.
— JOLIE HOLLAND, recording artist, whose albums include Catalpa, Escondida and The Living and the Dead
Watch this arty video excerpted from a Super8 film I made in college. The audio is me reading from the first chapter of True Love Scars.
Below you can read the first chapter.
You can listen to some of the music referenced in the book here at the True Love Scars soundtrack page.
Let me know what you think.
True Love Scars — The first of the Freak Scene Dream Trilogy
CHAPTER ONE: LORD JIM
The day I meet Lord Jim is the day I begin to remember who I am. The who-I-am I was before Sweet Sarah told me it was over. Writerman and Sweet Sarah, over, then and forever.
That day I meet Lord Jim, that was the day.
Crazy-beautiful perfect, that day. Crazy-beautiful perfect, sun overhead, bright yellow fireball floats in the sky. Crisp pale turquoise sky, crisp white cloud wisps float across pale turquoise sky, and I walk, and I walk, and I walk.
I walk down the dirt path, the meadow spreading out to my right turned a luminous dark green from first fall rains, crunch of dirt and pine needles and tree leaves beneath my Keith Richards snakeskin boots, and rising up, rising on my left, rising, between the path and the road, crazy-beautiful coast redwoods and Douglas firs and coast live oaks, all the crazy-beautiful wild nature, the glory, the glory, almost enough to make me believe in a crazy-beautiful wild nature God, all the glory, only I’m absolute-positive-almost-for-certain there isn’t. God. No God. No God stand by while a freakster bro crash and burn how I did. How I would.
Across the meadow two deer trot fast and gone baby gone, gone lost in the trees. And that’s the crazy-wild nature brought me here, and the innocence, the innocence, man, try to get some of it back, the innocence I lost when I betrayed my Visions of Johanna chick, you know, Sweet Sarah. Study amidst the forest, beneath the sky, on the soft dirt and flat needles, my back against the tree trunk, one of those towering sky high redwoods, read Faulkner or Hemingway or Joyce. Fuck yeah, read the Big Men. And try to remember who I am.
A wind comes up off the Pacific. I can’t see the ocean as I walk but I know it’s there in the distance, down the hill, University-built-on hill, down past Liquor King and down some more, past the Raven’s Woods Mansion, past the far side of downtown, what everyone calls Loserville, the pawn shops and pay-by-the-hour hotels and the porn theater, and further out, past the Boardwalk and Giant Dipper and the Great Ferris Wheel. On a day like this I know it’s shimmering beneath the bright bright sun. Forever Infinite Pacific.
Sometimes I figure that wind comes down the coast from far as Canada, down past Point Reyes and San Francisco and Half Moon Bay on down to our scene. Other times I figure maybe it blows up from L.A., up past Big Sur and Esalen with the spirit of Kerouac and Ferlinghetti and Henry Miller. Probably isn’t true, but it’s what I thought. You know, when all this gone down.
Walk onto the Arts College quad, faint wind in my hair, smell of salt water and the redwoods, and stop at one side of the cobblestone courtyard, my dorm towering behind me. Stand there, look around, not a soul. No one. Don’t matter, ’cause if there been a one. A someone. I don’t know ’em.
I’m back at The University. Nineteen, yeah. Supposed to be my chance to start over. After Sweet Sarah, and the total bust of freshman year. Well forget about it. Not so easy to get a new life going. Me, I drove the gotaway car. Gotaway from home, and Sweet Sarah, and my friends. Left my past for the promise of a new life. The New Trip.
And as I stand there, out in front of me stretches my future, and if my future is gonna amount to anything, I gotta recover the elusive of who-I-am. ’Cause the sad-ass truth of it, when I lost Sweet Sarah, I didn’t only lose my Visions of Johanna chick. I lost the sense of self I had when she was my old lady. So easy to misunderstand. I thought the last freakster bro standing, guns a-blaze, crazy-wild freakster bro, was me. Well it was a reflection. And when Sweet Sarah was gone, the mirror was gone.
So lost, man, so lost.
Let me stop a minute, we’ll pause from the scene I’m laying down so I can speak to you. That year, 1972, I was starting over at The University. This was to be a new beginning, and first and foremost I had to find my Visions of Johanna – and fall in love all over again. So let me explain.
Ahab got the whale, which is a huge symbol for some unreachable mammoth goal we yearn for, and Columbus gotta prove the world’s not flat, which is mammoth too, and he runs right into America, and if that’s not mammoth, nothing is. And Gatsby got Daisy, who’s pretty much the same deal as the whale and America. No disrespect to Daisy, but she’s a symbol too. Well daunting as any of those three might be are my trials regards my Visions of Johanna. I needed a chick bad that fall day. And I’m not talking about getting laid. This was way deeper. I was searching for the key to the rest of my life. If only I could find my Visions of Johanna chick, she’d do for me what Sweet Sarah once did, mirror back to me who I am, and once again I would stand tall. Once again I would be the last freakster bro standing, guns a-blaze.
Yeah, I was so starry-eyes back then.
The quad’s empty. Huge expanse of cobblestones. New old cobblestones. As if you could throw money at new construction and make an old campus. Two dorm buildings. Well nothing old regards them. Sheer flat cement walls broken up by rows of glass windows. Three stories high. Each dorm shaped same as the letter “u.” One behind me, with some of the meadow behind it, my new home.
Well I can’t go back to that dorm room. Lie on my bed alone. Feel the ache of my scars. My two scars. Goddamn sophomore year. Gonna be the same lonesome deal. How it was before Sweet Sarah, and how it been ever since. And right then, as I’m about to write off the New Trip as No Trip, I hear him.
And everything changes.
Lord Jim, and he makes his grand entrance. Lord Jim being Lord Jim. Man, Thee Freakster Bro lets you know he arrived. Don’t go gentle into that good night, or however Dylan Thomas wrote it.
Thee Freakster Bro.
Me and my buddy back home, Rock ’n’ Roll Frankie, and even my loser friend Big Man Bobby, we’re all freakster bros, but Lord Jim, he’s Thee Freakster Bro. Just the way it is, and nothing more to say about it. Only when I hear that voice in the quad I haven’t met him yet. He isn’t Thee Freakster Bro. Isn’t Lord Jim either. He don’t get that name until after he falls for Jaded, and neither of us have met that chick. Yet.
Too loud too too loud voice. Crazy-ass freakster bro walks fast across the quad, yells more than sings. Out of tune missing the melody, but still.
And from his mouth comes a line from “Honky Tonk Women,” the one about screwing a divorcée in New York.
Thee Freakster Bro having himself the best of times total overwhelming oblivious, he’s maybe halfway between one side of the quad and the other, bunch of smoke from his mouth, hand holding the cigarette drops to his side, and I can’t keep away a smile. Hear the Yo-ho-ho-and-a-bottle-of-rum exuberance in his voice, and I want some too.
Yeah, I want some.
And I shout, “Why’d you have to go all the way to New Yawk? Haven’t you heard of ‘California Girls,’ man?”
He stops, looks around. Oh man, now what?
He’s one scruffed-out freak, tall as me but his body a pudge. Sees me, and he’s walkin’ this way, my way, aiming for where I stand. His bird’s nest hair outta control, mirrored shades set on a bulbous-wide nose, ragged cut-offs, and grody leather sandals long past done. His stained orange t-shirt—Black Sabbath in jagged lightning bolts.
Black Sabbath!? Oh come on, man. Dylan, sure. Lennon, of course. Jagger, yeah. But hellfuck Black Sabbath?
Mid-day, and no one but us two in the quad. Up above somewhere, someone shuts their window. Not everyone digs a freakster bro shouting out “Honky Tonk Women” loud as they can shout it. Closer he gets, and funky he is, same as those hairy cats in The Mothers of Invention.
Ghost of ’lectricity. Yeah, that’s what I call it. When I’m gone baby gone. My body still standing there but the present vanishes. A memory. Or a vision. What could happen or would happen or never happen. Ghost of ’lectricity.
This time a memory, 1967, Summer of Love summer, my shitty suburban bedroom. Black and purple album cover; The Mothers’ Freak Out! And the ugly men on that cover sure not pretty freaks. Black vinyl spins on my crappy Zenith stereo. “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” and “Who Are the Brain Police?” and the hard sarcasm of Zappa’s Watts riot blues, “Trouble Every Day,” and I haven’t heard of the Watts riot. Still a kid trying to figure it out, what the ugly men on that Freak Out! album got to say. Trouble. Every. Day.
I got that one nailed. I know trouble.
Another memory, 1971, my dark bedroom, another day I play The Mothers. I’m 17, stonered and skinny-ass naked and losing my mind. Mattress on the floor, dirty clothes and unsleeved records and too many magazines and the books. Goddamn obstacle course to get from the door to my mattress. Sweet Sarah so young lies there. So young pink tits, so young and fresh and perfect and no one’s touched her except me. I was her first and she was mine. A beginning, and an end. Fuck her as that crude “Mud Shark” song plays. And no joy. No Forever Infinite Ecstatic. Just wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. Oh God-who-don’t-exist, what have I done. What have I done. And my conscience gonna explode.
I stand there in the quad shaking, man. Try to shake away the ghost of electricity. I don’t want nothing to do with the darkness. Only it won’t. Shake away. Some things you can’t never shake away.
Lord Jim takes a slow drag, head back, smoke rings float, and the faint breeze stretches them same as a Dali clock, melting into the pale turquoise.
“Got something to say to me, old sport?”
Old sport? What’s that about? Understand it’s one of Lord Jim’s affectations. Same as how he sometimes speaks in an affected formal manner and the deal with his cigarette, holds it between his thumb and index so it juts out, and the smoke rings, and there’s the cane, only I don’t know any of it, not that day.
And he don’t have the cane. Yet.
We exchange first words, and I let it pass. Freakster bro wants to cop language off Gatsby, let the freakster bro cop away. Nothing to do with me, and anyway, that’s when I get a clue. Under his right arm he’s carrying a mess of albums.
“What are you into, man?” I say.
“Got the new Sabbath,” he says. “I’m reviewing it.”
There’s two freakster bros at The University who write record reviews for The Paper. There’s me, and a guy I haven’t met. Only I guess I have. Old sport. Yeah, let’s see how hip to shit Thee Freakster Bro is.
“Yair,” I say.
“Faulkner,” Lord Jim says. “Right on, brother,” and maybe we’re tuned to the same station. We’ll see. So I lay some language from Kerouac on him, something Dean Moriarty said.
“Well now—ah—ahem—yes, of course,” I say.
Lord Jim takes off his shades, sticks ’em in the bird’s nest so they sit on his head, and his bloodshot reefer eyes got the freakster bro dotted-lines to my eyes.
The freakster bro dotted-lines eyes.
From then on it’s a way of him looking at me and me looking at him. I mean there were ways I used to look into Sweet Sarah’s eyes, ways I’d look into Rock ’n’ Roll Frankie’s eyes, and later, Beat-Chick Elise’s eyes, but nothing same as that freakster bro dotted-lines eyes look. It’s a look where me and him stone cold connect. The look says we’re on the same page. Although not always. Sometimes it says, hold on bro, even if you don’t get it, soon enough you will. Hear me out, and dig the authentic real of what I say. Dotted-lines eyes, flexible to the extreme. And yeah, he knew Kerouac, didn’t say a word, but yeah, yeah.
“Costello, man,” I say. “James Costello, right?”
His weight on his left leg, then his right, back and forth, left, right, left, right.
“It’s Jim,” he says. “How’d you know?”
Gets his mirrored shades back on, and looking into ’em I see me twice reflected. Gaunt angular face, Dad’s big boney Jewish nose, high forehead and my own crazy-wild curly hair, only mine’s parted in the middle, Lennon-style, and I got the round wire-frame Lennon specs. Wanted so bad to look same as Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, which I don’t, but I’ll take Lennon, how he looks in that Avedon photo, The White Album, and if you squint, I kinda do.
Something about me, let me pull you aside. That September day, first day sophomore year, skinny-ass freakster bro, 6 feet tall weigh 146 pounds. Black cowboy shirt with the white pearl snap buttons, and the threadbare bellbottom jeans, and the Keith Richards snakeskin boots. Righteous, those boots. Same kinda boots Keith wore during the ’69 tour, and Altamont, and at Muscle Shoals recording “Wild Horses.”
But all that’s the surface of the surface. You could see the truth in my face if you looked close, when I didn’t have that phony-ass grin going, the one I flashed at a freakster bro or chick in hopes they’d tell me everything was OK. When my lips were closed and I was the serious deal, and the way I held myself, stood tall, head up, yeah even at 19 I’d experienced the heavy shit.
A few things might help. Kid years I did the competitive swimmer deal, won a lot of races, and if you don’t believe, well my mom still got the trophies. She could show you. Has my Eagle Scout medal too, framed, on her dresser. So she’d remember. Before. When things were groovy and I was her do-no-wrong golden boy. Before I go weird on her. Before my freak-out. Just trying to clue you in.
Teenage years I was cool. Me and Sweet Sarah. Fifteen with a chick same as that. Crazy-beautiful virgin chick. And she let me touch her. My hand on her tit, my mouth on her lipstick-free lips.
Just trying to clue you in.
Now I got your attention. Me and Big Man Bobby, we’re 16, walking along the side of the road toward Polanski’s dad’s mansion on Mt. Tam. OK, Polanski is really Rodney. I call Rodney Polanski ’cause he’s so into the young chicks. But anyway. Jerry Garcia at the top of the driveway, and it was me, not Bobby, who talked him into it. An interview. For our fanzine.
Yeah, I know. Jerry Garcia.
And more. Maybe you wonder about how I speak. Middle-class freakster bro same as me. Starts the day I go to Village Music and ask John Goddard, he’s the owner, why “Hi Di Ho” is printed on his Village Music bags. He tells me about the hipster slang of the jazzbos, and the way blues men talk. I mean already I hear Jagger sing how he can’t get no satisfaction, and that’s not what they teach in school. And Jagger’s a rock star, and those English teachers are loser chumps. And what about Dylan? He’s a middle-class Jew no different than me and he talks like an Okie. And I read Salinger, and Holden sure don’t talk same as Mom and Dad, read Kerouac, and that blows it wide open.
Well Lord Jim looks kinda same as William Blake, if Blake were 19 and had crazy bird’s nest hair and a thick brown mustache and a wild-ass matted beard and dressed same as a beach bum into Black Sabbath.
“You write for The Paper,” I say.
Smells of weed, Lord Jim, barely 1 p.m., already he smells of weed.
“Me too,” I say.
Heard me, Lord Jim did. Me, a freakster bro who takes him serious as a writer, and he stops the back forth, stands tall. That’s what happens when you acknowledge a person for who they are. Give them respect. If we all did that, this world would be a total different deal.
“You read my shit?”
“Dug the Bowie review,” I say. “You write kinda same as Meltzer.”
Yeah we’re on the same page. The Stones. Faulkner. Kerouac.
“Beautiful,” Lord Jim says.
You know Meltzer, right? R. Meltzer, who wrote “The Aesthetics of Rock.” Everyone says it’s brilliant and the best, but no one can get through it. I mean anyone writing music reviews got it lying around with a bookmark at page 6. Lester copped his whole trip off the cat. Meltzer wrote the hippest reviews in Creem, and in the early days he wrote for Crawdaddy and Fusion and Rock, all the music mags, but the far-out grooviest trip of his scene, he writes lyrics for the Blue Öyster Cult. “Harvester of Eyes,” which has to be the best song title ever, right?, and “Stairway to the Stars” and there’s others.
Meltzer’s not same as all the other wannabe rock stars doing the rock critic deal as a poor substitute. No man, what the Blue Öyster Cult put on record, Meltzer’s part of the trip. His lyrics speak in tongues. “Stairway to the Stars,” written from the point of view of a rock star, and still to this day I dig it the most.
You can drive my motorcar, it’s insured to thirty thou, kill them all if you wish.
You know when someone tells you something, and it’s not funny or meaningful or any of that, and they say, well, I guess you had to be there. That Blue Öyster Cult lyric, yeah, well, I guess you had to be there.
Lord Jim takes a hit of his Pall Mall, and that’s the first time cigarette smoke smells groovy.
“I’m gonna write an opus on Black Sabbath Vol. 4,” he says.
“I’m not into Sabbath,” I say. “But I’ll dig to read it.”
“Maybe you’ll get to. If it gets past that bastard Roth’s dreaded red pen.”
“You mean King Editor?” I say, and we get a laugh outta that one.
Larry Roth, editor of The Paper. Already I left a review of Clear Spot at his office, you know, the Beefheart album. You’re hip to Captain Beefheart, right? Well if not, I’ll clue you in. Later.
“I’m Michael, Michael Stein,” I say. “But people call me Writerman. I reviewed the Pet Sounds reissue.”
Pet Sounds. Brian Wilson’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” his “Tender Is the Night,” his “Citizen Kane.” That record was The End. The Beach Boys never made another album can touch Pet Sounds. All that acid put Brian out of commission. If the Beach Boys is a person, that person is brain dead.
All the heaviest critics reviewed Pet Sounds in ’66. Everything that can be said been said when I was 13. Greil Marcus finds all that’s romantic and lost in Pet Sounds, an America that might have been. Robert Christgau, New York tough guy, compares it to Aftermath, grudgingly gives Pet Sounds the one up. Ellen Willis with her post-Feminist deconstruction of Pet Sounds’ pre-Feminist sensibility. Cosmic tripster Paul Williams gone off on it as “a metaphor for the rise and fall of a youth culture in flux.” The Sausalito Cowboy, man, such an innovator back then, wrote a short story about Brian’s secret life. For his review. A short story. And Meltzer, contrary as ever, dismisses it as “the unholy cluster fuck of sentimentality, melodrama and the 101 Strings Orchestra, in other words, a total piece of shit.” He said anyone with a brain would get more out of letting the needle grind away on the turntable platter sans rubber mat, volume jacked full-bore to 10. I dig Meltzer the most.
Lord Jim sings a line from “Caroline, No,” my favorite song on Pet Sounds. His voice soft, tries to hit a high octave, mimics Brian. Sings that heartbreaking line where he wonders what happened to her long hair, and to the girl he used to know.
And that song captures so perfect when it was over, when me and Sweet Sarah can’t make it no more. Could have cried, only I never cry—that’s something you oughta know about me—well, pretty much never. You know the scene in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” when it’s raining and Holly leaves Cat in the alley? Every time that movie plays late night on the TV, and it gets to that scene, I’m bawling, man.
Lord Jim tells me he read my review. “Beautiful,” he says, and sings another melancholy line.
Yeah well back then so many songs remind me. Of her.
Ghost of electricity. Spring, 1971, Sweet Sarah in my room buttoning her white Peruvian blouse, turning away, gone. It was after she cut her crazy-wild brown hair, hair so long it touched her ass, the thick, silky hair I got lost in, that I betrayed her, and she lost faith. In me. In life. Everything gone wrong. Black. The crushed souls.
Lord Jim sings Brian Wilson’s sad words, and my stained memory of Sweet Sarah, my guilt and regret, all that in seconds, and it’s over, and me and him standing in the Arts College quad, bright bright fireball sun up high.
“Fuckin’ chicks,” I say.
“Fuckin’ chicks,” Lord Jim says.
We give each other the dotted-lines eyes, and we laugh, in on the joke, not even sure what the joke is, and we’re two freakster bros, bros-in-arms, man, even if we don’t know that either.
Snap of the fingers, Lord Jim. Cool cat speaking hipster rhythm. Like “Hey,” pause, big emphasis, “bartender.” Now he’s testing me, and I don’t get it. Freakster bro grins, shifts his weight again. Man, I don’t know. Hey, bartender? I give him the sage nod. Of course I understand. Yeah, sure.
“Got this collection of jump blues,” Lord Jim says. “Beautiful thing, old sport.”
Snaps his fingers again, and his whole body snaps to the rhythm.
“Gotta hear that song!” freakster bro says. “It’ll TRIP. YOU. OUT.”
And he looks over, quizzical, and what’s that look like? The look of mixed-up confusion, look of uncertainty, look of what’s-going-on-here? He tenses his forehead, head tilted to one side and his face kinda weird and fucked-up, his nose wrinkled, or one eye partial closed, and the mouth open, awkward. Some of those facial quirks, maybe all of them, or maybe others too. Quizzical, how Lord Jim looks at me.
“Or you heard it already?”
“The song, old sport,” he says. “The song.”
“Oh, yeah, well, no.”
Hesitation, and Lord Jim don’t look same as a freakster bro at all. And that was it.
Un moment decisif.
There’s always a decisive moment. Always. First I hear of it is when I read about Henri Cartier-Bresson. The photographer. You know him, right? Yeah, same as you know Meltzer. And Beefheart. What Cartier-Bresson said was photography gets down to one thing. Click the shutter at the right moment. Un moment decisif. When everything comes together in the frame. I figured it was Cartier-Bresson’s idea for the longest time, and his language: un moment decisif. I mean it’s his trademark. Only it’s not his idea. Yeah, every artist is a thief, what Picasso said. Trust me. Cartier-Bresson got his big idea from Cardinal de Retz.
Rien dans ce monde n’a son instant décisif, de Retz wrote about 300 years before Cartier-Bresson shows up on the scene. Yeah well, if you don’t speak French, too bad. You’re out of luck. Go buy a French-English dictionary. Just kidding. I mean I don’t even know French. Anyway, what Cardinal de Retz wrote: There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.
For me and Lord Jim, the moment has arrived. When time waits for no one, and you gotta make a choice. Take the first drink, or leave the bottle on the shelf. Pull her to you, or say goodnight. In, or out. Same as Lord Jim. What he said. That he wants to play “Hey, Bartender.” For me. Yeah, Lord Jim’s made his decision. He’s in. Same as Lord Jim, man. Un moment decisif. And what happens in the moment?
“Uh, I could play it for you,” Lord Jim says. “That is, if you were interested.”
The moment. Friends for life, or we both walk away. And then, ’cause Lord Jim can’t help himself. “You got to hear it!”
I’m not sure, and he knows. That melancholy deal again, as if my hesitation triggers in him memories being the odd guy out. And how desperate am I? How bad do I need a freakster bro? Act out of desperation, and be doomed. The moment. It has arrived. In, or out? I have to make a decision.
Un moment decisif.
Fuck it. And if I’m deciding when to click the shutter, waiting to get Lord Jim just right in the frame, well I click it. I’m in.
“Yeah, sure man,” I say. “Let’s go.”
“Beautiful,” he says, and the moment begins to stretch, ’cause that’s what happens. When you say yeah. And now we’re both in the moment, me and Lord Jim, and we’ll find out if we’re right, if there is something here, some kinda connection. And I hear the blue melody of “Caroline, No.” Again.
Ghost of electricity. Early spring, 1970. Me and Sweet Sarah going too far in her third floor bedroom, and the wind, wild-ass wild, shaking the leaves of the huge oak outside her windows, and one limb cracks, and it dangles above the backyard same as some tree creature’s broken arm, and I should’ve known. The wild-ass wild wind. The crack of the branch. The tree creature’s broken arm. That was the day Sweet Sarah got pregnant, and we didn’t even fuck.
I stand there jerking my head back forth as if I can shake that shit away, and has Lord Jim noticed? No man, he’s sucked into his own internal. He adjusts his shades tries to be the cool scene.
“You know my serious writing, old sport?” he says. “Well, I’m a poet.”
I laugh ’cause in those days everyone was a poet. I mean there was a time I thought I was a poet, and I’m no no poet. Turns out Lord Jim is an authentic real poet, only he don’t know it that day. He says he’s a poet, but in his heart he don’t know. And what do I know, man, freakster bro I meet in the quad says he’s a poet. Yeah, right.
“You mean same as Ferlinghetti?” I say. “And Ginsberg and e. e. cummings?”
We walk toward the north entrance of the West dorm, me and him, dig on the scene of no longer being alone.
“Post-Beat,” Lord Jim says.
“Stream of conscious?” I say.
Man, those days, sometimes we don’t know what the fuck we’re talking about.
I live in the West dorm too, on the third floor, Penthouse West they call it. Lord Jim’s room is on the second floor, Middle Earth, and whereas I’m on the south wing of Penthouse West, Lord Jim is on the north wing of Middle Earth. He bounces up the stairs giddy. Gotta hustle to keep up.
“You shootin’ to make a living as a rock critic?” I say. “When you graduate?”
“You’re pulling my leg, right?” he says. “Writing reviews is a pastime. Like Updike. A lark. Something to keep the muscles in shape between books. Face up to the truth, old sport. Rock critics are parasites living on the backs of the musicians. Sucking their blood and writing about how it tastes. To be a writer you have to create something new. Something of your own. Bleed your own truth.”
Well that was the wake-up, the Buddhist deal, Bodhi, ’cause I’d never thought about it that way before but soon as he says it I know it’s the authentic real.
“I got a novel going,” I say. “I toss King Editor the occasional review but it’s not my main trip either. Yeah, a lark.”
Well that’s a lie. I don’t got no novel. And I never thought of my reviews as any lark. But that’s gonna change. If I’m gonna be a real writer, I gotta take it serious. A novel. The New Trip.
“So, old sport, Mike or Michael?”
“Michael! Goddamn parents call me Mike. I hate it.”
“Well, OK then, Michael it is.”
“Or call me Writerman.”
Ghost of ’lectricity. Fall, 1967. I’d been up all night reading “The Great Gatsby,” and next day at the break, this is freshman year at Tam High, I see my good buddy Big Man Bobby, we were real tight back then, sitting on the steps of the amphitheater, back of the school where we always hung out. Where everyone went to get stoned or cop a smoke. Tell him I got my destiny all figured.
“Gonna be a writer, man,” I say.
“Writerman?” Big Man Bobby says, and he laughs that truncated smirk laugh he does, almost a cough but it’s a laugh. “Is that like Batman or Superman? Writerman can speed-write a book in a single day? Leap tall pencil sharpeners in a single bound?”
“No, man, I’m gonna be a writer. This is important.”
After that it stuck, so I’m Writerman. Then and forever.
Lord Jim pauses on the outside dorm stairs, and will he cede that to me? It’s heavy if you’re the freakster bro everyone calls Writerman, ’cause, well, they start to think of you as The Writer. Maybe Lord Jim don’t wanna think of me as The Writer. Well it don’t matter if he does or he don’t.
“Writerman,” Lord Jim says. “Well, OK then.”
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