There are fights that happen along the road. There is times when it gets all too real, all too difficult. We had been living in the parking lot of a Walmart in Olympia, Wa. Billy’s cheques had gone awol, we didn’t have enough money for camping, we barely had enough for food and gas. I hadn’t been out of Japan very long, and Charming was hot on my tail. I didn’t even dare look to see if I had warrants out. I didn’t dare look to see if the children were reported ‘missing’, I didn’t dare look back. Don’t look back. Never look back. I had gone silent, my line was dead. My phone was off the hook. Life was off the hook and I was on it, twisting and swinging in the wind. Change was everything. Girl in her delicate sweet way that she had when she was younger, was glued to me, was enjoying being out, being free. I could see the wind blowing through her mind, opening up possibilities, opening up dangers. The Boy, as usual, quietly watching and waiting, waiting and watching and holding on. Ever felt like the people you save are dragging you under the surface? I would willingly have gone under for them, for all of them. I needed this. I needed this change so deep in my bones, that if I hadn’t have tried to escape I fear my soul, not just my body, would have died, strangled by a man who sought to reprimand, to control, to adjust my psyche to his grip, to take out his anger at life, at his choices, at Fate, on me. Whipping boy. Trainable bitch. Woof. Charming’s dog, every time he rang the bell, his goal was to get me doing exactly what he wanted. Some MK Ultra goat staring had nothing on a man who sought to create his ideal punching bag with fear, with love for the children, with pain, with distress, and me stuck there, tied by my heartstrings to Boy and Girl.
I found Out of Time in a goodwill store, the sleeve was missing, the cd jewel case was cracked, but the CD was good and playable. “A hotline. A wanted ad. It’s crazy what you could have had.” Michael sang out on Country Feedback, his voice with that fragile crack as he lets rip. That vox humana. That passion in the break. That absolute commitment to the feedback. As we drove along away from the coast into the heat, on towards the burning sun of Auburn, away from the relief of the coast, harried and hounded, I screamed along with him. I screamed “I need this” so desperately I lost my voice by the time we made it from Aberdeen to Olympia. Nothing sounds as good as Out Of Time on the road. It is the perfect song, from that em, c, d, progression, to the delicate acoustic lead line, the leaden heaviness of the minor chord anchoring the song (the Neil Young/REM live version shows just how heavy this song is, with its almost clock-like tick tock foot stamp of the beat and chord progression, when Neil lets rip, Michael driven to his heels, to the floor, back to the audience, head bowed under the brilliance of the creation of the band as the hits some perfect note, as powerful a moment in its own right as Patti Smith bending over exorcist backwards, blown back by Gloria), the light of the melody, the impact of the words. Sweet Jane might be the most perfect song in history, but Country Feedback is nipping at its heels, and sometimes you need ‘maddening loops’ and ‘scorched flowers’ and not Studz Bearcats and women rolling their eyes.
The song runs through a series of images, hands hold bones, flowers are burnt in poppy-dragon chasing vapors or sweet weed smoke signals that something is wrong, the film runs on a loop, the clothes hang loosely on bodies, ‘bones’ (slang for joint…I’ve sometimes heard it used for a smack laced reefer – total waste of good drugs, scorches that poppy..I mean the smoker will get a little high, but why bother wasting shit, huh…rock stars and poppies/banknotes to burn, I guess) are held in hands as the offender presents themselves and Michael is blaming himself. Michael has had enough, and so had I. This is a song of having been pushed to the limits. This is a song of screaming “I NEED this” and seeing the blank eyes of the person standing opposite saying they do too, and there ain’t enough to share.
Those conversations about wasted lives: “It’s CRAZY WHAT YOU COULD HAVE HAD!” Michael implores into the microphone and the crowds in the stands, reliving the conversations that go on in ‘maddening loops’, replying to his pleading with the full stop. The end of the conversation. Sometimes the end of the world with: ” I need this. I need this. I need this.” Ain’t that the way it always goes? Michael is listing the things they have been through, him and the object of his pleading: “Fake-a-break-down….EST…Psychics. Fuck off.” Reeling off the useless attempts to help, to save, to put the breaks on the breakdown. To give some good old home spun wisdom, some ‘country feedback’. In the end all it does it wear you and ‘them’ out. Michael starts the song with ‘these clothes don’t fit us right, and I’m to blame” – he is not letting himself off lightly. He is not looking into the situation from without, but right in the middle of the maelstrom, and shouldering the blame, bravely, wrongly, desperately on his shoulders. Anything, anything to save the junkie – even psychics, even self help books, even electric shock treatment – the EST of the song. It is fuck all in the end, when you ‘lose (your) head.’ “paperweight. Junk garage.” I want to reach through the screen and tell the boys, how much it means to those of us left in the garage on the junk, huddled in rags, falling out, going under, holding onto the puke buckets, brushing away the bottle flies of death that start buzzing round your living corpse that is only alive if you have what you need. Human paperweight, light and nothing on the pillow, the Fat Mattress vibe, but a dead fucking weight in the hands of those that love you and want to keep you breathing. Glass. Shatter. Heavy.
The first time I ever heard the words “I was central, I had control” I was agreeing. I was indeed in control, I was in the center, not the smack, not the pills, not the tabs, the flowers, the leaves, the chemical soups, not the e’s not the peyote buttons, not the booze. Not any of it. Me. I was in the
I had control.
The very next line out of my mouth, (and Michael’s) remained the same: “I need this.” No one is central, no one has control for very long. Control is the illusion at the center of it all. Control is the lie, the joke, the impossible pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A controlled habit. No. It never works. A baby wannabe junkie bleated it to me just days ago. “I want a controlled habit. I just want to do it now and again. I am in control. I am central. Just to get me through this.” I sent him away to listen to Country Feedback, and reconsider. They never really listen until they live it.
Michael is singing in my ear that ‘you come to me with your hair curled tight’, as I smile and remember that conversation between Dylan and Lennon in a taxi cab in London back in ’66:
Lennon: Bicycle, bicycle. Do you suffer from sore eyes, groovy foreheads, or curly hair? Take Zimdon!
Pennebaker: Zimdon? Dr. Mento! What do you see? What do you see, Dr. Mento?
Dylan: Aw, don’t do it – no, man. Just wait for a minute.
Lennon: Come, come, boy, it’s only a film. Come, come, pull yourself together. Have a few dollars, eh?
That’ll get your head up. Come on, come on, money, money!
I smile at the small in joke, and wonder what the smacked out Dylan, puking in the cab, Pennebaker and Lennon would have made of Michael singing about his friend, his beloved coming to him ‘with their hair curled tight.” …Coming to him too high, coming to him and Michael, worn out and screaming into the microphone while Young on a mandolin adds the exclamation points to the drive.
In the end, my ‘Michael’ was screaming at me, “it is crazy what you could have had’ and I’m left screaming back, “I need this.” and round and round we go in a wild goose chase hunt for a cure. There is no cure. There is no easy way out. Once you have the bad knowledge, once relief is scored and put to music, once it is sung across eyelids that it the end. The rest is a fight. The cure is only ever what you do when you really want to live. When you decide you are going to live that country feedback, that you are done. That you hate yourself and everything around you, and you want to live, however much too late it might be to be anything To be anyone. To make a mark, to imprint that heavy E minor chord damage on life. However much too late it might be, there is always Michael, sitting on his heels, bowed down by some righteous melody line that sings the “it’s crazy’ line to the desperation of the fact that it is all too late for that. It is too late to turn your back to the audience, it is too late to find comfort, to find succor, but nevertheless living is all you can do. All you can do as you run doing 7- down the Washington coast highway, screaming as you hope that the person that all drugs go to, doesn’t find the bag of pills, out of sight, tucked into the lining of your purse.
The Velvets’ Heroin? Greatest smack song written by a speed freak. Country Feedback? A song of love and exasperation, of love and desperation. Of love and need. Of love and looking back and realizing all the damage love can cause when you both love something, or someone, else too. I don’t know who had the smack problem, it doesn’t matter, cause when someone comes to you with ‘excuses’ that wear you out, with ‘positions’, with a series of actions that cause those you love to scream at you, while you scream back “I need this! I need this! I need THIS….and all the lovers ‘have been tagged’, marked, and set aside, the winners ring is empty because no one wins this game in the end. It is all a honey pot of painless drifting.
Forget Neil’s inferior Needle and the Damage Done whining about how the guy that made the sound of Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere upped and died, like others of his friends. Heck, Whitten probably even has to share the song with other junkies, doesn’t even get his own musical obituary. Poor Danny. (Danny Whitten. That guitar particular sound that was so innovative, so unique, so new and special, some of those vocals with that hillbilly high pitched hiccup, that GRIND, that is Whitten, sent away with $50 bucks, to his fucking death while Neil Young, plays Jack Kerouac to Whitten’s Cassady, and steals the beat and sound, the idea, the creativity and goes on to success…and not only that, then goes on to write the most irritating drug song in history about the whole thing. Diddums. Poor Neil. I love Neil. I hate Neil. Doesn’t matter. Neil don’t care. He’s Neil).
I guess we had been there six weeks or so, in the carpark when early in the morning, at 6am or so, there was a heavy banging on the door. We were being rousted. Security from the Walmart was throwing all the campers living there out. There was no where to go. There was nowhere to go, but all the shitty little trailers and campers were not even allowed to park on the concrete, out the way, staying silent and grateful. We had to move on. We always had to move on. Can’t stay here, can’t sleep here, can’t even catch your breath for a moment, can’t stop for two minutes, or an hour, can’t do it. Can’t ever stop moving. Bang! Bang! Bang! GET OUT! You can’t stay here! Get out!
We will call the cops.
So we threw everything around, to try and stop life from smacking us in the head as we drove, and we moved, barely any gas, barely a hope, barely a fucking cent. We moved with the kids scared and crying, with Charming on my tail. If he found me I was dead. If he found me, I would never see Boy or Girl again. I would go to jail. I would be deported. Fuck it, why can’t people ever cut me a break, damnit. “All the lovers have been tagged. A hotline. A WANTED AD.” Please no. Not a wanted ad, like some modern day dead or alive poster. My face on there. Abductress of her own children to try and save both them and herself. Hung drawn and quartered by social media and the press. Please no. I would die in some pull out of a trailer in Washington on shitty black tar heroin before I would get hauled off by the cops. I would jump into the ocean. I would launch myself off a building. I needed my time. I needed space for me. No apologies, not a word of justification, damnit. I need this. I need this. I put Michael on the stereo as we got out of town, wordlesslessly pulling The Doors out of the CD player “never so broke I couldn’t leave town” I let Jim sing, and flipped forwards to track 10 and screamed so loud I felt faint, I felt like puking over life. I felt like grabbing hold of REM, of the fragile but solid Michael as we sang desperation together. If I was going down, I would go down listening to Out of TIme. Can you imagine the world ending? I suppose after the virus more people can understand that feeling. The feeling that damn it, you should have lived, you don’t want the trip to end, you want to go on, down the road to the next destination. That you need more blue yonder, more roads, more blacktop, more experience, more sounds. More times to listen to REM, damnit. I played Country Feedback three times, and not spent, still existing in fury and fear, I pulled Radio Ethiopia out of the cardboard meat box that sat behind my chair, and I hung out with Patti until I had lost my voice, spent and finally crying. Pissing in a River. Me in Honey. Poppies? Country Feedback.
“Billy. Help me. Im drowning.” I croaked.
“Man, I should have recorded that. Best punk vocals I ever heard you do.”
I pulled my shirt around me, drew my legs up onto the chair as he drove, my ripped up passenger seat with the Mexican serape over the foam, and tipped my engineers hat over my eyes. My life was not a performance. I was suffering. I was scared, and that is all he could say. That was all he had to offer.
I reached into my bag, feeling around for the slit in the fabric, and pulled out the bag of vicodin and codine. “You had better look after this,” I told him, as he grabbed it off me. He was furious. Not because I needed that, not because I had been cheating with fake poppy shit from some trailer park dealer, not because I had spent money, not because I had hidden money. Not because I had lapsed. No. None of that. He was angry because I hadn’t given it ALL to him immediately. All drugs go to Billy. He was angry because I had had my share. He was mad because I had had his. He was angry because I hadn’t been a good female drug buddy and given the man everything for him to dole out, because I had taken care of myself first. There was no sadness. No ‘well done, baby.’
I was central. I had control. What it meant to me at that point, to have my descent halted by a song, by the compassion of a man I would never know, but that I felt I knew as a friend in some weird fangirl ridiculousness, I cannot tell. I can’t explain.
I looked down at the pile of Patti Smith discs in my lap. Patti in white. I swear she winked at me. A trick of the light in the burning sun and heat and glow of a desperate Olympia afternoon.