Author Archives: Benjamin Bradford White

About Benjamin Bradford White

I write about spirituality, candid stories of my addiction and redemption, current and retro pop culture, religious controversy and unity, and global issues...

God, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll

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Abstract Art, Dubai

Abstract Art, Dubai (Photo credit: Virtual BCM-Bobb & Company Marketing)

I had taken a dose of LSD that he couldn’t handle in the Summer of 1998.  The effects of the LSD went completely haywire.  I was in a dark fantasy world of which  had no control, nor escape. The people I saw contorted into minions…  the very air I breathed seemed to be filled with acidic poison.  The back of my brain felt like it was melting off of my head.  I didn’t know then that LSD physically made my brain hemorrhage.  I only felt completely out of control.  I remembered reading of Mephistopheles in the legend of Faust.  Had I been overcome by some dark angel like him?  Would I ever make it out of this state of mind, or was I doomed to wear a straightjacket in a little white room for the rest of my life?

The profound, dark thoughts seemed to overcome my mind like a swarm of wasps…  

A year before, I was smoking weed every day and getting drunk on weekends.  Two years before I was dabbling with pot and alcohol.  Three years before it was just cigarettes and an occasional shot of alcohol.  All that to say, what started as a mildly mischievous juvenile pursuit, had turned into an obvious problem.

There were reasons why I did the things I did, and reasons why I shouldn’t have done them.

Analogously, there are reasons why we all do the things we do.  Some of them are justified, and some are selfish.  We’re all products of the nature and nurture that we’ve been handed.  In one sense we’re all victims, and yet in another sense we’re all completely responsible for our actions.  Jerry Cantrell wrote words in song to his bandmate, Layne Staley in the song “No Excuses” in 1994;

Everyday
Something hits me all so cold
Find me sitting by myself
No excuses that I know

Every addict finds themselves sitting alone with no excuses left at some point in their addiction… usually numerous times. Layne Staley died from a mixture of heroin and cocaine…  Laboratory results determined the singer died April 5, 2002, according to a spokesperson for the King County medical examiner’s office, the same day fellow grunge pioneer Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994. Staley was found dead two weeks later, surrounded by intravenous drug paraphernalia in his Seattle apartment.  The death certificate reads Staley’s death resulted from “an acute intoxication due to the combined effects of opiate (heroin) and cocaine.” The death was classified as “accidental.” (http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1453818/staley-died-from-mix-heroin-cocaine.jhtml)

I was and am not a famous musician like Staley, though I’ve had delusions of grandeur wishing I would be, and my story did not end like Staley’s, or so many other forgotten phantoms who never got national publicity for their overdose.  (In 2010, there were 25 overdose deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S. (www.popsci.com))  My story of addiction ended with redemption.  My story ended with a life completely enraptured with the presence, sacrifice, and teachings of Jesus Christ.  It hasn’t made life easier, or like some Ned Flanders, cornucopian, utopian day-dream.  But it has made it clearer and more beautiful.

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. (Eccl.  1:14)

But we must ask the question…  are drugs a channel for spirituality?  A lot of people would hear this question and easily dismiss it- of course drugs aren’t “spiritual”!  Other people would go to the other extreme and say “they are the only channel into the spiritual!”  The fact is, drugs are spiritual.  The real quandary is whether or not the spirituality they induce has a positive or negative effect.  Do they uncover an insidious darkness or a utopian dream-world?  Are they gateways into true consciousness and the other unused ninety-percent of our brains, or are they toxic poisons that cause irreparable damage to our sanity and physical health?

I was raised by parents who were basically agnostic, and they encouraged me all of my life to expand my horizons and search for enlightened creativity, individual expression, and freedom.

Much like my Father, whose spiritual search led him down a road of using drugs and playing in the Cleveland rock and roll scene of the 1970’s.  I spent a lot of my youth listening to the BeatlesPink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and played music.  I began to believe that experimenting with drugs would lead me to a higher plane of enlightenment, and give me greater creativity.  I was writing songs at the age of 12, and began using drugs at the age of 14.  I really did approach using them on a spiritual level, and felt that somehow they would give me a greater connection to the mystical.

But in the story that will follow, we will see how that journey ended up hitting some very serious dead-ends, and eventually I was at the end of my rope, and miraculously stumbled into a real, vibrant relationship with God that changed my life completely.

Van Halen Cassette tapes, Kindergarten Underpants, Atari 2600, and the Awesome Hippie Babysitter

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Atari2600wood4

Atari2600wood4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rock and roll was the background music to my life from a very early age.  I initiated this obsessed love with two cassette tapes.

The first was “Purple Rain” by Prince.  I had that when I was about 4 years old.  My Dad bought it because he thought it was a killer album.  My Dad always had an ear out for what the best music on the scene was, a practice that I tried to pick up on.

The second was “1984″ by Van Halen.  I had that when I was about 5 years old.  I loved the song “Jump“, and also loved “Panama”.  I memorized the lyrics to “Jump” and used to sing them to my classmates in Kindergarten.  They looked at me like some sort of space alien.

My Dad was really into music.  When I was in my Mother’s womb my Dad’s drummer, Rodney Psyka nicknamed me “BB” (pronounced “Bee, Bee”), which is why my parents named me “Benjamin Bradford White” a little bit of a reference to BB King, but a never ending reminder that my identity was carved out in the middle of a bar gig.

I had no idea when I was a little man that my Dad had been heavily into the 60′s and 70′s drug scene. Nor did I have any idea that the members of Van Halen had probably indulged in their fair share of booze and drugs (especially old Diamond David Lee Roth!).  I just knew that I loved the sound of music pumping in my ear-drums.  Something about it felt familiar to me.

When I was a kid, my Dad smoked Barclay 100′s cigarettes.  I remember being 4 and 5 years old, and my Dad would be blowing that mellow blue smoke into the air.  I would be wafting it away from my face, trying not to breathe it in.  I always yelled at him saying, “Dad!  Smoking is so gross!  I hate it!” My Dad would just laugh and light up another, at times apologizing for smoking.  My mom would give my Father the dirty look that she often gave him.

I didn’t grow up under any sort of religious instruction.  The basic religion that my parents seemed to feed me was love, tolerance and compassion, coupled with BeatlesJoni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young records.  As a child I looked to musicians as being a certain breed of sage or prophet. I felt that their chords and melodies contained some sort of mystic power.  I was drawn to it.  It was the most spiritual experience that I encountered in my formative years.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I did pretty well.  They had me in a couple of advanced classes and I was basically a geek.  I was a different kind of geek though, because I had a variety of friends.  I was somewhat of a “socially adjusted geek”.

I had an appetite for trouble as well!  Once in Kindergarden I pulled my pants down in front of the class when my teacher had left for a short time, trusting that we the students would behave ourselves. We found after that she had left to join a small group of people that were observing their class behind glass with a one-sided mirror.  It was a behavioral experiment done by the Montessori School we were part of at the time.  They wanted to see if kindergarten kids could behave themselves in a large group without adult supervision.  I led the kids into a mini riot when I dropped my drawers and thwarted their experiment…

My parents later thought it would be a good idea to put me in public school, to give me more structure and rules.  It ended up working well.  I became a good student, and more well behaved.

In the meantime my Dad worked for John Hancock, an insurance company that was doing well in the 80′s.  He was at work often but he was also a good Father.  In many senses he was more of a friend to me than a disciplinary force.  I could always talk him out of punishments.  For example, after the pant-less fiasco my Dad tried to take away my Atari 2600 for a month…  and I talked him down to 2 weeks of Atari-absence.

Then there was the first time I witnessed my Dad get drunk.  He didn’t do it often, especially in front of me, and he definitely wasn’t an angry drunk, more of a slap-happy drunk.  We were at a wedding once when I was 10 years old and he had a little too much whiskey.  He had a lot of wild conversations with random people, basically being the life of the party in an extreme sort of way. While I, on the other hand, didn’t get it.  I cried and cried on the way home telling him how wrong it was.  After all, I was taught in school that these exploits were wrong.  Something in my young conscience felt horrible about it.

My Dad reassured me that he wouldn’t do it again.  He was generally good to his word throughout the rest of my pre-adolescent years.  He wasn’t an alcoholic, just a social partier.  He communicated to me that his position as a Father was more important than his party life.  He did a good job of keeping those two worlds separate before my eyes for quite a time. 

I had a babysitter named Laina who talked often of going outside to “get a fresh of breath air”.  I had found out that she smoked Camel cigarettes, and thought that maybe she was going outside to toke. I thought that was true because she used to come back from the “breath of fresh air” in an erratic mood and feed me some wild snacks, like Tato Skin potato chips, marshmallows and Coca-Cola Classic.  Then I hit the age of 13 and found that all hormones of either gender make one erratic. Nonetheless, it was safe to say I began to get a little chubby and crazy on this munchie food towards the end of my Elementary School days.

During this time I also got a guitar for Christmas.  My Dad had the guitar amp wrapped up and under the tree, and I had opened up all of my presents including the amp, but no guitar was to be found.  Then my Dad pulled a kamikaze move and grabbed the guitar out of his closet.  I was thrilled.  It was a black Fender Squier Stratocaster with white inlays.

Laina, my babysitter, was really proud of me for chasing after rock and roll.  She got me into the DoorsAerosmith and Led Zeppelin.  I listened to Zeppelin II for the first time, and it blew my world apart.  Jimmy Page’s riffs made me want to learn how to tear it up just like him.  Laina even helped me write a song, and we called it “Death Theater”.  She was really bummed when I made the lyrics a naive version of an anti-drug rant.

But Laina and I became pretty good buds.  She took me downtown in Hudson, Ohio during the annual shaving cream fight that all the middle schoolers and high schoolers used to go to.  It made me feel pretty cool to say the least, especially for a 4th grader!  Laina helped me figure out a little bit more of who I thought I was, and turned me on to rock and roll that turned my world upside down.

Pre-Pubescent Rock n’ Roll

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Play

Play (Photo credit: Homini:))

In the midst of a 5th Grade Birthday party where the whole point was to play in basketball tournaments and win basketball cards, I encountered my first collaborative musical friend.  After a day of shooting hoops in the hot sun and having a great time, we congregated down in the basement of the old ranch house where I spent my pre-adolescence.  My Dad broke out a guitar and started playing tunes.  He invited any or all of my friends to step in and jam too.  I picked up a guitar and started strumming along as best I could.  A lot of my friends tried to sing, but only one could really pull it off. This is when I found out that my friend, an acquaintance at the time, Percy, could seriously lay down the mouth harp.

After that, my friends and I went on to consume serious amounts of Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper, have intense pillow fights in a tent, and play Sega Genesis all night.  But amidst all the juvenile version of revelry something in both Percy and I’s life had significantly changed.  Our love for music had gone to a new level.

Shortly after that Percy and I got together from time to time to see if we could figure out songs or jam.  The first song we wrote was based on what we wanted our band name to be “The Babies”.  I don’t remember much of the song, but I do remember the chorus, which rang out in great lyrical poetry; “We are the babies, we’re here to rattle rattle rattle rattle rock you!”  We quickly canned the name when we found out that a cheesy late 70′s band had the same name.  You can check them out here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjU50ow95aM

So amidst sports and the pressures of 6th grade social advancement we didn’t really do much after our little stint as “the Babies”.  Percy and I did have one thing in common though, a hunger for trouble and aversion to good grades and behavior.  After a 6th Grade year where I scored about a 1.9 cumulative GPA, they announced that they would have their annual talent show at the end of the year.  Percy and I got amped about the idea of playing our music in front of the 6th, 7th and 8th Grade, some of whom were peers, some heroes and some enemies.  We definitely thought it would make girls dig us, and Percy had a better chance than me because the aftermath of marshmallows and RC Cola hadn’t worn off of my obliques yet.

So we found a drummer named Dan.  Before long we had figured out a song to play called “The Joker” by Steve Miller Band.  I vividly remember playing the song in Dan’s basement as he smashed on the drums and I twanged my dinky Fender Squier.  Percy sang the lyrics really well and decided to throw in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk as a special move- a real show stopper!  In the middle of all this noise Dan’s Mom stormed down to the basement and gave us the death glare, calling us upstairs in what seemed to be a fit of anger.

Dan’s Mom went on to say that she wouldn’t allow us to sing “The Joker” by Steve Miller, especially because of the lyrics about being a smoker and a toker, and the line about “really love your peaches want to shake your tree.”  Percy and I glanced at each other in laughter as she repeated this line over and over to us in anger.  At some point she told us that we were part of the anti-Christ for putting on this display of apparently Beelzebubian evil.

Percy and I laughed about this for a long time after.  Percy had grown up Catholic and I had no religious background.  This was really one of my first exposures to Christians, and it certainly confounded me.  Obviously Dan’s Mom had never heard Maurice Irvin’s quote; Syracuse Senior Pastor, once said, “People come to God through Christ.  But they come to Christ through us.  We must be careful not to erect any barriers they must climb over to get to Jesus.”  Maybe she even felt that she was truly leading us to know this angry Jesus that she believed in.  We felt like Dan’s mom was a little extreme. Maybe now she would even say that she was at the time.  We convinced Dan to play the song anyways and somehow he pulled it off despite her protests.

The talent show went great.  I paraded around like a clown in my Umbro nylon shorts, t-shirt and black and neon yellow Reebok pumps with my guitar, and Percy dressed up in a Roger Daltrey fringed sleeveless leather cloak, and did the moonwalk, driving the 7th and 8th grade girls wild.  Dan would pull out random drum solos in the middle of the song, and then we’d pick it back up.  I think Dan got a kiss from who we thought was one of the hottest girls in the 7th grade.  From then on, we became “Joker’s Wild” (I really had no idea until recently that David Gilmour of Pink Floyd was once in a band called Joker’s Wild- you can check them out here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbBjhW-OFcc&feature=related).

The addiction to that feeling of being on stage began, and we were noticed for it.  Throughout the 6th grade summer and into 7th grade we became very popular.  We tasted the recognition that someone gets from playing music.  We also began to taste the ego trip that comes with wielding this power over people.  The people I once considered my friends began to be labeled in my clouded mind as “nerdy”, and I was willing to do whatever it took to maintain my image.

Middle School Drinking and Its Aftermath

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Dead Drunk

Dead Drunk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My friend Edan and I somehow got caught up in the quest for cool rebellion.  It was an electric summer for the music scene in 1993.  Riding the coattails of gritty, raw bands like The Cult, the Pixies and Guns n’ RosesNirvana‘s Nevermind had already wrecked the glam rock of the late eighties, and other bands were coming out of the wood work that rode Kurt Cobain‘s trail of mayhem, including Pearl JamSoul AsylumAlice in ChainsBlind Melon and Soundgarden.

Edan and I were listening to all of this new music, and coming of age as well.  Puberty was figuratively smacking us in the face.  Girls were becoming more and more of an irresistible enigma, and we were starting to develop heroes apart from our parents and the basketball icon Michael Jordan.

Our heroes were found in the ringing loudness of cassette tapes, and a new invention that was starting become common in home sound systems- Compact Discs.  Kurt Cobain sang of a world we deeply wanted to understand.  We began to be fascinated with the idea of being intoxicated, because we knew all of these guys constantly were.  And since I played music I somehow believed that intoxication would enhance my music, and in many ways that’s what I cared about the most- playing and writing good music.

We started by rolling up green oak leaves and stealing my Dad’s lighter.  We’d go out into in my backyard and sit in an oak tree (where else???) and smoke oak leaves!  We definitely didn’t inhale, but we got the adrenaline rush that came with doing something we knew our parents would think was wrong (or maybe really, just stupid and weird!)

From there it moved on to smoking cinnamon sticks, which weren’t very good at all.  It was amazing how silly we were doing these things.

Then we got the hunger to begin trying something truly illegal, smoking cigarettes while we were still only 12 years old.  We used to wait by the entrance of a grocery store in town.  People would walk in and put their cigarettes in the ash tray outside, some of them still mostly full.  We would take the cigarettes and smoke them!  Man, looking back I’m glad we didn’t get some sort of Hepatitis!

Edan’s 13th birthday was coming up.  It was the end of summer, the beginning of our 7th grade year in school.  Nirvana’s “In Utero” had just hit the CD racks in music stores, and we bought it up immediately.  With this music as our background soundtrack, we decided to steal a bunch of booze from Edan’s Dad.  We stole a couple of beers, we took little plastic bottles and filled them with whiskey, then rum, and then vodka.  I paid a 7th Grader about 3 bucks for a pack of cigarettes that was half empty (that would be a cheap price now, but then it was a rip-off!).  So we had gathered up what we saw as the most trouble we could get ourselves into to prepare for Eric’s 13th birthday bash.

Edan invited a number of his and my friends to the party.  After an evening of walking around on the dirt of an undeveloped area of his neighborhood and smoking cigarettes in the cool Fall evening, we headed back to his house.

When his parents were asleep, we broke out all of the alcohol.  I treaded carefully and drank little sips, pretending to be more and more intoxicated, when I was really faking it.  One of our friends, Nathan, refused to participate in the drinking.  He actually became the prophet of morality for the night.  We made fun of him for standing out.  I look back and realize it took a lot of courage to do.  As a thirty-two-year old man who has been sober for thirteen years, I know that I would be the one to stand out now.  Of course, I’d do it without condemning the people that are partying.  But then, I was much different, and much more easily persuaded to follow my id.

The night went on, and everyone seemed to be faking it like they were drunk.  We all winded down and Edan seemed to get crazier.  I suppose he drank a whole lot more than most of us, because a lot of us were just scared to do it.  Edan started getting violent and cynical.  He came after a few of us physically.  I remembered Nathan wrestling him and throwing him to the ground one time.  I think the alcohol just got a hold of Edan in a way he couldn’t handle (I mean, what 12 year old kid could?).  The night ended with Edan hugging the toilet and vomiting for quite awhile.

We woke up the next morning and I was too naive to understand what had happened.  I was seriously mad at Edan for acting that way and didn’t realize how much the alcohol had taken hold of him.  Regretfully I shunned Edan after that.  It was another step in my quest for popularity, and I was willing to mow anyone down to get there.  I turned other people against him and spread vicious rumors about him.  And it wasn’t until my eleventh grade year of High School that I came to tell him how sorry I was for that.

Junior High School is a cold, Darwinian arena where “survival of the fittest”, or maybe “coolest” or “meanest” can be the only rule.  Those who create the rumor mill and oppress the honest and vulnerable come to prominence.  Those who forthrightly navigate their way through the wilderness of confusion get left behind in a trail of smoke.  Some of these realities come alive in adulthood, where consumers subversively gnaw and tear at each other’s souls, and bosses subversively undercut and demoralize their employees.  Hopefully, we learn from these errors and seek to love our friends, neighbors and enemies, fueled by unconditional love from above.  Yet it is the lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools. (Prov. 15:7)  Our very nature is to spread calamity, but rising above it is possible through surrender.

I didn’t realize these things at the naive age of twelve.  I would have many years of infamy before being driven towards true assertion.

Busted With a Pack of Marlboros at the age of 12

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English: Marlboro cigarettes pack

English: Marlboro cigarettes pack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amidst the shunning of what used to be good friends, and rising popularity as a middle school musician (which in hindsight is completely ridiculous!), my own hunger for defying authority and a moral compass continued.

One time, a friend named Kalen and I hit our own personal jackpot.  It was early on in my 7th Grade year and the frost of winter was settling into the October winds.  Kalen and I figured out that a lady at a local gas station was sympathetic to young people taking on a nicotine habit.  Word about this lady spread amongst the miscreants in our grade and above, and got to us.  We went to the gas station and put together about $1.50 between us, because back in 1993 that was honestly the price for a pack of cigarettes!

After some pensiveness on both of our parts I opted to be the one to go in and ask her for cigarettes.  My heart was probably beating at 165 beats per minute and my palms were sweating like a gooey sponge that has been left in the kitchen sink for weeks.  I walked up to her and whispered in grave nervousness; “uh… uh… can can can I have a uh…  pack of Marlboro Reds please?”

I couldn’t believe what she did next.  She whispered back; “Sure honey, just slide the money onto the counter and I’m going to slip the pack behind this rack.  You go ahead and grab it, because there are cameras in here.”  I pocketed the pack in what I perceived to be some sort of great victory over fear.  It was crazy though.  This lady was selling me cigarettes, and I wasn’t even far enough into puberty for my voice to change yet!  In hindsight I realize that if I was in her shoes today, I would have never done what she did, and not only to avoid the punishment of the law, but out of principle alone!

So Kalen and I jumped on our bikes and rode victoriously to the baseball fields by our houses.  We lived close to each other and this neighborhood park was a frequented hang-out spot for all sorts of vandalism, idleness and also some great times of playing baseball and football.

Nobody was around, and we nervously broke out the cigarettes.  We both lit one up and puffed on it, feigning James Dean-like coolness and having no idea what we were doing.  Kalen had to get home, so he left, and for some wild reason I stayed and had another by myself.  I always had this weird independence about me that made me want to experience things in isolation.  Maybe it was because I was an only child, or maybe it was just a strange curiosity deep within me to find myself alone with conscience annihilation and silence.

Whatever it was, I finished what I was doing and put the pack in my front jacket pocket, which made it stick out like 3 wallets stuffed into the pockets of tight disco pants.  I biked home to face my Mother at the front door.  I had no plan for a lie, and just thought I could walk in the door with my arms awkwardly covering my pelvic area where the pack of Marlboros was concealed so wonderfully.

Obviously my Mom cornered me and asked me what was in my pocket.  I nervously replied; “Nothing!”  And scurried into my room, frantically opening my closet door and shoving the pack into an old binocular case that my Grandfather had given me.

My Mom knocked on the door and I let her in, acting sheepishly innocent.  She asked me why I smelled like smoke and if I had a pack of cigarettes, to which I of course replied “No!” with some measure of defensive anger.  She went right for the jugular and opened the side of my closet where the pack was hidden.  After a thorough investigation, which lasted about 10 seconds, she found the pack of Marlboros.

I had one thing to my advantage in all my hunger for mischief.  I was a bad liar.

Riding the Tailwind of Kurt Cobain’s Suicide

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kurt cobain and frances bean

kurt cobain and frances bean (Photo credit: seattlewhat)

Electric “Grunge” Rock filled the soundwaves of 1993 and 1994.  We could talk about the hits by Mariah Carey, Ace of Base and Boyz II Men that filled the radio stations those years, but my friends and I were fueled by the gritty sounds of Nirvana, as well as the Doors, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.  Seventh grade became a year of great defiance and anger for me, and my new clan of friends.  They were years of rollerblading around Hudson Ohio and stealing “chromies” off of cars.  Chromies were the term we used for really shiny or novelty tire air cap covers.  We used to fly around on our blades, unscrewing them off of cars, and at times getting caught by the car owners and flying off on a cement getaway.

We were into vandalism also.  Kalen and I used to smash windows, and use BB guns to blow out gas meters.  We would fill balloons with maple or chocolate syrup and throw them at parked cars.  We would walk the train tracks to golf courses and shoot geese with our BB guns, as well as tearing up the greens with our shoes.  Once, Percy and I raided a vacant high-school prep dorm room and coated the walls and carpet with fire extinguisher foam, escaping after out of where else?  The fire escape!

We spent plenty of afternoons after school walking downtown to Hudson and finding underground spots to hide our misdemeanor crimes.  We would go to a spot called “the ribs”, which was hidden in the forest underneath a little bridge by a creek.  It was a hot spot for kids to go who drank and smoked.  There would even be times when groups of seventh graders would just be walking openly on the sidewalks smoking cigarettes.  We employed a method of hiding them called “cupping” where we’d keep the cigarettes cupped in our hands as if nobody would notice the trail of smoke we had in our wake.

Amidst all this pursuit of a bad boy image my friends and I grew in popularity and infamy amongst our peers at school.  Younger or less arrogant kids would duck away from us, because they knew they’d be thrown against a locker if they looked at us the wrong way.  Somehow our ability to be mean gained us a certain measure of respect.  Something in me knew how awful it was, but I enjoyed the power trip and respect that bullying brought me.  But it is undeniable that the violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is just. (Prov. 21:7)  I had no idea of the size of the garbage pile that I was accumulating- a garbage pile filled with consequence and regret.

This popularity even got the attention of a few girls for me, which was new.  Maybe the rollerblading had burned off some of the baby fat, and the everlasting scowl that I wore on my face warranted me some attention as a “bad boy”.  Nevertheless, I was looked at in a different light than the days of chubby nerdy-ness.  Popular girls started to notice me.  This fed my hunger for notoriety even more.

It all came to a climax at the seventh grade talent show.  We had by no means practiced to the point of being professional, but our band “Joker’s Wild” had become somewhat of an in-house enigma to fellow schoolmates.

Kurt Cobain had committed suicide by blowing his head off with a shotgun on April 5th in the Spring of 1994.  In his suicide note he even wrote about his wife, Courtney Love of the band “Hole”, and their daughter, Frances Bean.  He wrote;

I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what i used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become. (http://kurtcobainssuicidenote.com/kurt_cobains_suicide_note.html)

So Kurt Cobain had become a rock n’ roll casualty.  He had chased after the life we so desperately aimed for and it ended in terrible misery, even reflecting on the innocence of his little child and being overcome with his own self-destruction.

We paid homage to Kurt in our seventh grade talent show performance, doing a naïve but nonetheless distorted and angst-ridden version of “All Apologies”.  Percy sang out the melodies as if they cut through to his very own heart, and I picked out the dirty guitar riff on my cherry red Gibson Les Paul as if it was the song of my life.  We had about 5 people in our band at that point, including our good friend Jaden who had picked up the bass guitar a couple months earlier and worked his butt off to learn the parts.

Our version of All Apologies lit the young crowd of our peers up, and they cheered for an encore, which we had pre-meditated (we had put a bunch of our friends up to yelling “ENCORE, ENCORE”!).  Our song of acclamation was a grunge rock version of “Day Tripper” by the Beatles, which lit the crowd up even more because of it’s upbeat vibe.  The crowd cheered and we felt as if we were now legends.  If girls liked us a little bit before, they liked us even more then.  In so many ways, no matter how many people we had mowed down to get there, we felt as if we were at the top of the world.  Percy and I were the creative force behind what we believed would be a lifetime career- to be the next huge band to change the world with music.  We had no idea how naive we really were, but who does in the utopia of seventh grade?

True Childhood Friends

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three young friends on the beach

three young friends on the beach (Photo credit: deflam)

While riding the high of the Middle School Talent show, Percy and I began to plan our big push for adolescent fame.  We played a couple of parties at our friends houses, and I even sang a bad rendition of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.  I didn’t know how to sing and I remember everyone looking at me funny, as I turned purple trying to sing it.  I didn’t know how to breathe correctly when singing back then.

The summer of 1994 was filled with careless freedom.  Groups of friends would get together and watch horror movies all night.  We’d sneak into the local parks at dusk and smoke cigarettes.

I even remember being with a huge group of friends at what was then called “Geauga Lake”- a little amusement park that smelled like urine and had cheesy roller coasters.  Even at the age of 12, I had never ridden a roller coaster in my life.  I made up a tough image to make all my friends think I just thought roller coasters were stupid.  Percy made me aware during this trip that Alicia, who was one of the hottest girls in our grade, actually liked me.  At one point a big group of people went to ride “The Raging Wolf Bobs”, which was the biggest roller coaster there.  Percy convinced Alicia to stay behind and hang out with me.  I just sat sheepishly on that amusement park bench with her as the others rode the coaster.  She asked me; “Why aren’t you riding with everyone?”  And I replied with an air of toughness; “Roller coasters are just stupid”.

And as Middle School crushes go, Alicia fell in love with someone else about a week later.  I kicked myself for not making the move with her earlier, but the whole world of girls was new to me.

One time, Percy and I were invited to a pool party with all of the popular kids in our grade.  This was a truly self-conscious experience for me because no matter how much I rollerbladed I couldn’t shed the large quantities of Cheetos and Dr. Pepper off of my miniature man breasts and oblique side flappers.  I again came up with a great ploy to hide my chunkiness.  I decided to jump into the pool with all of my clothes on, Chuck Taylor shoes included.  Percy had a way of sympathizing with me and jumped in with all of his clothes on too.  We even dragged another buddy, Drake, into the mayhem.  We all had chuck taylor shoes on and were jumping in the pool with all of our clothes, until the kid’s parents who owned the pool warned us to stop.  That was Percy’s way of looking out for me.  He knew I felt like a fat kid and wanted to back me up.  Either that, or he just liked the idea of causing a ruckus at the pool party.  It was probably a combination of both!

At one point I remember Percy being over at my house, and the cops showed up at my door!  I’ll never forget when they were there and they grabbed a hold of him and took him away as he cried out to my Mom; “Don’t let them take me away, Mrs. White!”  We found out that he had gotten into someone’s house with some other vandals and lit their drapes on fire.  Obviously, I could have been incarcerated for many such antics…

Once when I was hanging with some friends and lighting off little rolled up balls of gun powder, I had the brilliant idea to lean down with a cigarette in my mouth and suck on it to light some black powder off that had spilled on a ledge.  I was blown backwards like Yosemite Sam in a Warner Brothers cartoon.  It had blown a huge chunk of my hair off, singed off my eyebrows and eyelashes, and scarred me with second degree burns.  Fortunately I didn’t have third degree burns.  I remember when my Mom saw me, she cried out of relief that I wasn’t scarred for life.

Later that summer a dark cloud seemed to be cast over the little town of Hudson, Ohio as I heard some rough news.  Percy was going to move to Connecticut.  His Dad had gotten some job as a dean at a prep school, and they were going to send Percy to boarding school.

In the Middle of Percy and I’s quest for Middle School rock stardom my G.P.A. for 7th grade year had fallen to a 1.9 average, which was a D+.  Percy’s had fallen to about a 0.5, which was an F.  Only in talking with him later did I realize that his parents thought that rock and roll was ruining his life.  He once was one of the best football and lacrosse players in our grade, and he’d dropped out of sports, let his grades sink and gotten into a lot of trouble since we had started the band.  I guess they thought that shipping him to boarding school would do him right, though I’m not sure what it really did for him.

I had no religious obligations as a kid.  Sunday was a day where we slept in and ate a late breakfast.  I never understood why Percy would have to leave so early in the mornings when he slept over on Saturday nights.  His parents would make him go to the Catholic Church in town every Sunday.  I think he began to hate it.  He was caught in a rock in a hard place, a rebel personality and really intelligent, but bored.  He felt that all the constructs put on him were stifling him, and I think he was dying to have his own version of creative expression.  Within the highly religious world of the Catholic Church and the pressure of being expected to play sports and be a good student, Percy fell through the cracks.

Percy wouldn’t get to have his creative expression yet.  He was leaving town.  There was nothing I could do about it.  Though I made sure to have him over to spend the night about 3 times a week as the time for him to leave drew near.  He was my best friend, my band-mate, and as John Lennon would say “my song brother”.

And then came the day when he was leaving.  It was a mild and sunny summer day.  I rolled my butt out of bed and on my bike that morning earlier than I ever would have on a summer day, at about 9am.  I rode the 5 miles to his house and knocked on the door.  His family was putting together the last of their stuff, and the moving van was outside.  I still remember him coming outside and yelling, “Benjamin!” and giving me a hug.  I didn’t know what to say except that I would miss him, and I hoped that maybe we’d keep in touch.  Maybe I could even visit him out there sometime.  We said our goodbyes.  He had to get going anyways.

As I rode my bike home I do remember feeling the wind in my face on that mild sunny day.  I thought of all the good memories Percy and I had, and mourned the thought of keeping the band going without him.  Tears began to stream down my face.  I had said goodbye to him in person, and on my own I was saying goodbye to him in my heart as well.

There is something about the naïve and innocent love that a young kid can have for a dear friend that understands him. Within it may even lurk a divine whisper of the unconditional.

When Percy left town, somehow the gap had to be filled for a new lead singer of our band “Joker’s Wild”.  I had enough experience writing songs with the help of my Dad from age 10 until 13, and nobody else in our group sang often, except our bass player, Jaden.  Since I was the one who sang the most and I was the most assertive about it they let me be the new lead singer.

This is when the creative process really began for me.  All of a sudden I realized that I was going to be the front man for the band, so I began to write songs like I never had before.  My first songs were as cheesy as you could imagine.  We had a Casio keyboard and I would play the pre-packaged drum beats into my Fostex 4-Track Cassette recorder on track one, and then track 2 would have the guitar, track 3 would have the bass, and track 4 would have my vocals.

Songs began to dump out of me like sweat out of my pores.  I wrote songs about my experiences travelling with my parents to various cities, I wrote songs about girls I was digging at the time, and I wrote songs about my juvenile philosophies of life.

I also wrote songs criticizing my peers.  I had a big mouth and couldn’t keep it shut about what the true meaning of them was, so I began to become a bit of a social misfit.  Some kind of anger continued to brew in me, and I didn’t understand it.  All I knew is that my parents were fighting more than usual in the midst of their busy work lives, and I always felt put in the middle of their fights.  I continued to get chubbier and meaner during my 8th grade year from 1994 to 1995.

I’ll never forget the moment when I marginalized myself early on in 8th grade.  Jokers Wild was playing at a party, and all the popular kids were there.  We played a set of tunes and people were into it, but during our break a bunch of people started to mess around with our equipment.  I got all ticked off and told them off, yelling loudly in the microphone for everyone to hear.  That was the beginning of a downfall away from popularity for me.

A period of self-examination followed where I realized that people can be hollow and flighty, but there are true friends that never seem to leave you behind.  One friend like that to me was Kaden.  He was one of the few people that didn’t seem to care what the majority of people thought about my controversial reputation in Middle School.

But with this self exploration came a more inwardly focused life.  I wrote music often, and isolated myself from what appeared to be the mainstream of people around me more and more.  During this period of time I really moved away from habits I had developed before like smoking cigarettes and drinking.  Though I would occasionally partake of things like that.  My hunger for partying during this time was sparse.  If the company I was with were smoking or drinking I would join them, but I didn’t have any deep personal aspirations to develop any addictions.