In the later Spring of 1997 the glow of gritty, punk-infested grunge rock paired with experimental art rock began to fade into a glimmer. A new type of “pop-alternative” began to invade the charts. Bands like The Verve Pipe with their hit “The Freshmen” and Third Eye Blind with their hit “Semi-Charmed Life” (a song about snorting meth-amphetamines… a metaphor veiled by upbeat pop riffs) began to take things over. Alternative music had reached its pinnacle of commercialism.
Mitchell, Duane and I still called ourselves Mulberry Tree. We were getting into Pink Floyd’s early records with Syd Barrett, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (1967) and “Saucerful of Secrets” (1968). The LSD infused songs would prove to be foreshadowing of things to come…
We were also into Primus and other strange art rock. Most of the music we did was either highly philosophical or a deep cynical mockery-melody. I know it’s a lot to say for 15 and 16 year-old sophomores in high school, but we were awfully pretentious for our age.
I decided go after Harmony’s friend Laila, to see if she would go out with me. “Going out” was a statement we used to say that we were going to feign exclusivity with each other, as if we were pseudo-adults. Laila reciprocated interest in me and we began to “go out”. She was certainly cute and I dug her. I would often go and meet her at her house. We’d go for long walks and smoke cigarettes. We’d occasionally stop to make out. I began to fall for her.
I just wasn’t the kind of kid that would go on with something like this half way. It was easy for me to substitute my feelings for Harmony with feelings for Laila. I mean, after all, Harmony was going out with my good friend and bass player Mitchell, and they were hitting it off! I might as well move on.
Of course I went to extremes. I wrote poems for Laila. I even wrote a 10 minute opus called “Stir” for her- a song of my naïve love. She seemed to dig it and all was well. Our relationship continued to move forward. Every chance I got, I would tout that fact in Harmony’s face. Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? (Prov. 27:4)
Marijuana was still a normal part of life, as was booze. They almost seemed to be a peripheral addition to our little soap opera version of Rock n’ Roll High School. I got high whenever I felt like it. Mitchell, Duane, Laila, Harmony and I, and others who made up our little group of dissidents would often acquire liquor or beer for the weekends, and mix it with dope, cigarettes and caffeine. Some of us would end up making out at the end of the night, and then we’d figure out lies to tell our parents about where we were.
In reality we existed in the cornucopian underground of our little microcosm of society. We partied with Juniors and Seniors in High School. We were beginning to make acquaintances with people in college. It seemed as our tolerance for inebriation grew, we began to be accepted into some sort of secret bohemian society. We would end up in various dark basements, smoking bud and talking wild philosophy. We’d jam with various musicians. We’d speculate on whether or not the earth was some sort of vortex into the next dimension, or upper plane of existence beyond us. Or if we were living in a nihilistic wasteland that had no eternity beyond, trudging around aimlessly like lumps of scientific goo towards no destination.
This all led into the next years’ Rock Fest. Just like the year before, Rock Fest was a collection of the bands in our High School. It was a chance for us to express our music live. In traditional fashion, me and the boys in our band Mulberry Tree went up to the upstairs bathroom and preceded our performance with a shared cigarette in a dark bathroom after school hours. We had a wild show planned. It was full of deeply aggressive music. I was sure to blow my voice out. It was also filled with sentimental songs. I hoped that my cigarette and dope blown vocal cords would hold out.
We did the show in aggressive fashion, sweating our brains out, bashing our heads into cymbals, jumping into the air and putting on a spectacle. As expected, my voice blew out, so I just yelled most of the lyrics for the songs into the microphone, imitating one of my musical hero frontmen- Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.
We played a number which was co-written by my cool Wiccan hippie girl friend Elysia. It was one of our personal favorites and the crowd really dug it. Laila was jealous though. I assured her that I only had feelings for her but she didn’t believe me. We got in a fight about it in the parking lot and she was really spooked. Maybe it was the fact that she was so serious about me and we were so young. I was serious about her too. I hoped things would work out.
After us, a band of some friends of ours went on to play who called themselves “Discordant”. Their name described their communal habit of drinking an excessive amount of beer at a religious rate. Of course, they played all the latest hits on the radio including “The Freshmen” by the Verve Pipe. We had only played covers that no one knew, like “Corporal Clegg” by Pink Floyd, which amused us, but not many others. Discordant was a hit. They had become a household name at the High School, replacing us in our perceived pop stardom. Of course in our callow High School minds we despised them thoroughly. All the more reason to slip deeper into addiction and “stick it to the man”.
Rock Fest had gone well, and the party after is a blur in my memory.
A week later I got the news from Harmony on the phone. Laila had cheated on me with Jimmy Snarks. She had done something far heavier than we had ever done physically with him in the woods at Colony Park in Hudson, Ohio. I was crushed to the core. I wrote songs about it. I resolved never to be messed around with again like that. My ego started to inflate. It was nearing the summer of 1997, and my G.P.A. cumulative was about a 2.13, a C minus average. I was on a quest to get over on Laila. I wanted to shed off the status of virginity, which my classmates saw as a handicap to man-hood. I was ready to party harder than ever, abandon my scruples more than ever, and slip into a focused destruction more than ever.
Looking back I see the downward spiral so clearly. If I knew then what I know now I may have caught myself ahead of time. Yet most nights, I was left to myself. It was as if alluring eidolons were encircling me, inspiring me to write dismal poetry and spurring me on to the next level of neurosis. I buried my feelings for Harmony even more deeply inside of me.
Harmony and Mitchell began to tire of each other. She was a hippie girl and Mitchell was an athlete. They just didn’t have enough in common. When they broke up I forced myself to be intentionally disinterested. I wasn’t going to risk my heart to her. The lyrics of late Nirvana member Dave Grohl described what I felt toward Harmony, as well as my own wrecking, in his song “Monkey Wrench”:
What have we done with innocence?
It disappeared with time
It never made much sense.
Wasting another night on planning my revenge.