Best Worst Year: Episode 96 (Or, My Own Private Revolution Summer)

When history is written by publicists and Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inductees, crumbs come easy off the table. Friday night in record stores instead of bars–late nights flipping sides over a Fisher turntable–you divine your kind with a single-mindedness reserved for the truly devoted or the the utterly alone. At sixteen, one can be mistaken for the other. Twenty-plus years later, such distinctions are harder to reconcile. Yet, there are kindred spirits rising off dusty grooves who will tell you otherwise. You have committed the lives of your saints to an apocryphal text, written by the glow of computer monitor. At best, Robyn Hitchcock described you as a “love letter lost in the mail for thirty years.” And who are you to argue? If the legend is true, somewhere in Memphis there is a warehouse full of your proof, still tied to escrow by a bad debt between a distributor and your supposed saviour. Sealed in plastic, there are ripples of promise held in your starless circle of sky.

Blood in the treeline
violet bruise of
sunset

The rejection form letter is a genre all its own. Be it job or submission, there is a sense of world-weariness to them. It’s as if they are as tired as you are at saying/hearing “no.” The best ones are still personal–some glimmer of promise in the coal-stark pit of dismissal. You know it is never anything more than business–the constraints of time and respect are a premium. Occasionally, there will be a sting to your pride. It’s okay. You remind yourself it is okay to be hurt. Being professional between the lines of email is key, but you can still allow disappointment to catch you staring at it in the bathroom mirror. You fill the sink with cold water and wash your face. Without your glasses, you’re nearly blind.  You pat your face dry with a white towel and forget where you put your Warby Parkers.

One hit wonder
Alex Chilton
drives a cab in New Orleans

Gatefold sleeves span an arc of years, barely rising above the polluted rivers of slowly dying rust belt towns. Before hardcore kids could legally buy beer, before all ages shows gave way to cover bands at local watering holes, before merch tables gave way to branding, before local bands became national acts you didn’t even know anymore, before buying records became selling possessions for drug money. Before and after doubt, there was you and headphones. It’s amazing what value gets assigned to pieces of memory–etched in pressed PVC. There is so much neglect and only a precious amount of justice to dole out in revisiting. You remember seeing guys like you, years ago in the back of an American Legion, and there was something about their wallflowering which was as disquieting as it was comforting. It made you think of Uatu–the Watcher–in Marvel Comics. Ever present but never interfering, Uatu was there to bear witness. Here, in the heart of Pennsylvania, there was a denim clad equivalent. The Misfits Fiend Club tee betraying years of McDonald’s and PBR, a hairline hidden under dirty Phillies caps, arms folded in quiet judgement. They had seen your seven-inch heroes in person, and were here to document the next wave for no one but themselves. It wasn’t the passion for the music which unsettled you, but the passive lives they seemingly led. Either they had put down their art long ago or they had never had the courage to find their own voice, reciting lines of leaders as gospel. What decision caused them to stop moving forward, pushed them to the back of the hall? What early rejection paralyzed them; made them private historians?

permission
budding leaves
before first frost

Your headphones and Jeff Buckley invite you into a quiet parenthetical space. Before crowds or coffee shops, before empty or full pages, before workshops or publications, before or after paychecks. Before you know what you’ll say and after you step away from a microphone. There are countless records swimming in the ocean of your chest, counting themselves among the heard–as long as you keep writing. It has never been enough to own a record collection, or go to a show, or be a silent witness.

A nameless poet in the countless nights of open mic poetry readings once declared “You must love five things more than poetry” in order to be a poet. What you think he meant was you must risk your love of five things in order to not stand still.

echo of speakers no one gets lost anymore

_____

Jim Warner is the former Assistant Director of Graduate Writing Programs at Wilkes University. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, New South, No Tokens, and The Minnesota Review. He is a contributing editor for Quiddity. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.

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