Tag Archives: Joni Mitchell

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.

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Rockstar Daydreamer

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Rock star baby, Rock star.

Rock star baby, Rock star. (Photo credit: fmgbain)

Someday he’s gonna make it to the top
And be a juke box hero, got stars in his eyes~ Foreigner

I’ll never forget when I played my first gig in a bar.  I was 14 years old and our band Mulberry Tree got a gig at a dive called “Europe Gyro” in Kent, Ohio.  We got there to set up and the stench of alcohol, cigarette smoke and urine had filled the air.  A couple bands were playing with us and treated us like second class citizens, so of course we went on last.  It was a Sunday night before school on Monday.  We went on at 10:30 pm to an audience of one black man, drunk out of his mind and yelling out, “play some Jackson 5 man!”  My Dad had set up the gig for us.  At one point I dropped my pick in the middle of a song and was deeply embarrassed when he picked it up off the ground and handed it to me.  I think the microphone picked up my words, “get away Dad!  Get away!”

Not long before this, we had our first experience in an amateur recording studio.  The man who recorded us was a total throwback to the 70’s and 80’s.  He had a wild long pony-tail down to his butt cheeks.  He played the saxophone.  We recorded all our Mulberry Tree Songs live, and then I did the vocals.  We finished a whole album of 7 songs in 12 hours.  We laughed at Duane, our drummer, because we had to duct tape headphones to his skull, they kept slipping off because he banged his head to the beat while drumming.

All of this led to the pinnacle for us.  We had a chance to play in front of our peers in High School at what Hudson High School in Ohio called “Rock Fest”.  It was 1996.  Hits like “Stupid Girl” by Garbage and “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins were on the radio.  Duane, Mitchell and I were nervous before the show.  We snuck into a bathroom upstairs in the High School and turned off the lights.  We lit up a cigarette and shared it.  We hopped up and down pumping ourselves full of adrenaline before the show.  Then the moment came.  We were on.  I stepped up to the mike, plugged in my Cherry Red Sunburst Gibson Les Paul, and wiped away the hair hanging over my eyes.  We played our first song, and through the whole show the crowd stayed into it.  We were deeply hooked on the accolades we got from the masses of peers looking onward.

And afterwards, we were able to sell our album to all of our friends.  It was on cassette tape.  I had to make copies myself on my high-speed audio dub recorder, and we gave some weed to a friend of ours for making our “high-tech” album art on his 95′ PC Computer.

But after the show, Mitchell’s Father cornered me.  He proceeded to tell me that “red flags” were going off in his mind, because in one of our songs I had a lyric that sang “smoke it up, toke it up, drink it up, gulp it on down”.  He was sure that I was singing from personal experience.  I assured him that I was writing fictionally, and felt bad for all of the poor people who were caught up in the mess of addiction.  After a lot of interrogation, Mitchell’s Father backed off.

I came up to Duane and Mitchell and they were asking me; “What did he say? What did he say???”  I told them that he tried to get me to admit I was doing drugs and drinking, and that I was sure I pulled one over on him.

I was becoming a liar.  I certainly struggled with lying to my parents, because we had such an open, transparent relationship.  Nonetheless, somehow, lying became a new weapon that I felt I could use to protect the things I did in darkness…  I began lying to many people, including my parents and some of my close friends.  I began to abandon my conscience and step into a whirlwind of hedonistic freedom of which I had not experienced yet.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Teenage Sadness

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Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Winter and Spring of 1997 I have hazy memories of the subconscious of which I do not recall, nor understand.  I sit here now in Conway, New Hampshire on my day off, sipping strong coffee and writing of these vague memories.  My wife Sarah just reminded me of how great a memory I have, and how difficult it is for her to remember half the things in her past that I am able to conjure!  However, I’m the type of person that struggles with letting things go and nostalgia, and always have to intentionally seek divine grace in matters of forgiveness.

But the Winter of 1997 is a fog to me.  I’m certain I had gotten to the point during this time where marijuana had entirely engulfed my mind and existence.  I slipped into a deep depression.  I had a longing for the first love I had ever known, my ex-girlfriend and then best friend Harmony.  I dreamed about her in vague daydreams, mystified by scattered thoughts, tears and the abyss of abeyance.  I smoked my mind away and poured my broken heart into songs of longing.  My parents had bought me an Ovation 12-string guitar with an electric pick-up.  This guitar became my vehicle of inner expression.  I would spend nights up until 3am alone…  puffing and inhaling away on pack after pack of Camel Lights, and smoking pot in a pipe of my own that I had gotten through an older teenage dope-head.  You see, dope pipes were sold in regular stores under the veil of being used for tobacco only.  One would even have to sign a waiver stating that this was their intention, though it obviously wasn’t.

This was a great era of music.  The Winter of 1997 brought about a post-grunge era of deep expression fused with electronica.  The popular alternative songs were a soundtrack for my unspoken, lonely misery.  The Smashing Pumpkins had an anthem of woebegone called “Thirty-Three”.  When I listened to it again today through the eyes of my 15-year old self, it actually brought tears to my eyes.  Maybe it lingers as a subconscious memory of the desperate love and despair I felt back then.  The song croons with despondency the words:

“I know I’ll make it, love can last forever,

Graceful swans of never topple to the earth.

And you can make it last, forever you

You can make it last, forever you

And for a moment I lose myself

Wrapped up in the pleasures of the world

I’ve journeyed here and there and back again

But in the same old haunts I still find my friends…”

This song was certainly an anthem that rang in my mind.  Would Harmony and I ever be back together again?  We would talk some nights until the late hours, sharing our heart and soul with each other, but she always seemed to have a love interest in someone else…  I felt that she could truly “make it last forever…”  This love that existed in my heart for her seemed infinite, though looking back I know it was just the piercing strength of my post-adolescent emotion that paralleled the longing within all of us to taste eternal love.  We all try to find this love in every corner of our soul…  For what can be known about God is plain to us, because God has shown it to us, and anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (Rom. 1:19; 1 John 4:8)  I suppose the real question is; “What is real, sacrificial, true love?”  I’m convinced that that question can be fully answered in 1 John 4:7-21, but that is a discussion for another forum.

“In the same old haunts I still found my friends.”  Mitchell played bass and Duane played drums in our band, Mulberry Tree.  Our music seemed to get more and more powerful.  It was as if we were living inside of our songs and performances as we worked harder on our sound.  We were close friends and band-mates.  I often shared my heartbreak and struggles with Duane, because he was an introspective poetry writer and cynic like me.  I shared feelings with Mitchell as well, but tried much harder to appear manly to him, because he was an athlete as well as a rock n’ roller.

Duane was definitely a great poetry writer.  His poems consisted of dark corners in the spiritual realm.  He was raised a Catholic and had become a self-proclaimed atheist.  These shadows of anger came out in his poetry and his abstract drumming.  Him and I would always spend time smoking cigarettes and pouring our thoughts out to each other.  He inspired me to write poetry as well, and it helped me to deal with the emotions I was facing, as well as strengthen my song lyrics.

Mitchell was a great bassist and songwriter to be sure, but he had another aspect of his personality.  He was the type of guy that thrived in the world of sports and athletic vigor.  It was quite amazing, really.  He could spend a weekend with us smoking dope and drinking, and then go right back to lifting weights, eating creatine, and beating the garbage out of other huge dudes his size on the wrestling mat.  As his muscles grew, so did his appeal with the high school ladies.

Harmony began to gain an interest in Mitchell.  I couldn’t have been more devastated at the thought.  But I loved both of my friends so much, and I was put in the middle.  One night Harmony and I were talking and she asked me the fatal question, “So…  Can you ask Mitchell if he likes me or not?  He’s SOOOO hot!!”

I would call Mitchell not long after and ask him.  Of course he liked her back, because she was obviously the most beautiful girl in the world to me.  He made sure to ask me, “Is it ok though Ben?  Is it alright that I ask her out?  I mean, I know you like her and stuff.”  To which I bluffed, “No, no man.  I don’t like her anymore bro.  Go for it buddy!  What more could I ask for than two of my best friends to get together?”  I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth.  Was I insane?  How could I bear this all to happen?

And yet it was inevitable that Harmony and Mitchell would become a thing.  My songs would delve into so deep a sorrow that they became anthems of hard rock anger.  The way I really felt was akin to Gwen Stefani of No Doubt in their #1 hit “Don’t Speak”:

You and me

We used to be together

Everyday together always

I really feel

That I’m losing my best friend

I can’t believe

This could be the end

It looks as though you’re letting go

And if it’s real

Well I don’t want to know

As a way of escape I delved into marijuana use in a whole new way, and pretended that I was happy for my friends getting together.  But there had to be a way for me to get back at Harmony somehow…  She had friends!  That’s right!  She had friends that were good looking.  Maybe if I dated one of them I could make her jealous.  She had a curly haired friend named Laila who I thought was attractive.  I began my ploy to see if we could get together.  And of course I would use Harmony as my “middle-woman” to orchestrate the whole fiasco.

Maybe I should have listened to the lyrics in the song “Discotheque” from U2’s “Pop” album to set me straight.  I realize now that they could have spoken truth to me when they claimed a universal reality:

You’re looking for the one

But you know you’re somewhere else instead

You want to be the song

Be the song that you hear in your head

Love…

(You want heaven in your heart)

(Heaven in your heart)

(The sun, the moon, and the stars)

As much as this longing in my heart has been abated upon this earth as I look at my life now, I realize that back then it seemed to be so desperately far from me that I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Doing Mushrooms at Prom

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Nathan Hale HS Prom, 1983

Nathan Hale HS Prom, 1983 (Photo credit: litlnemo)

As the year slid into the summer of 1999, I wanted my world to be freer than ever.  I had stayed sober from psychedelic and harder drugs for 3 months in order to attempt graduating high school.  I had succeeded by the skin of my teeth, and my marginal success had dumped me back into libertine freedom.  I had used self-control to avoid the humiliation of staying back a grade in my senior year and joining the class of 2000.  As soon as I accomplished what I had to, I let my inhibitions go once again.

There is no institutional moment that a typical high-school student longs for more than their senior prom.  Mine was on its’ way.  My girlfriend Jamie had been away at an all-girls school in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, for almost the entire spring semester of that year.  She was to return back to the town of Hudson, Ohio, and back into my life.  She had made a few friends during her stint at the school who were partiers, but she swore up and down that her sobriety had remained in tact.  She had only continued to smoke Camel Red Lights daily, drink coffee, and study, or so she said.  Of course, our MDMA fueled romance led me to believe what I wanted to believe- that she was completely faithful to her word and to me.  To this day, I’m unsure of details as to how many lies were flying around, but I was equally guilty of living in a fantasy world.

Jamie was to be my prom date at the senior prom of 1999.  Hudson High School was a wealthy school fueled by stinking rich, Upper-Middle class taxpayers.  We were to have our senior prom at the newly built Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland Ohio.  This should have been a dream come true for me, as my life was fueled by the inductees who did and were to line the halls…  people like Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Sting, Jim Morrison, Bono, Eddie Van Halen, Kurt Cobain and Lars Ulrich.  But by this point, drugs and their subsequent selfish pursuits had pulled me far away from pursuing the heights with playing music.  I hadn’t been in a well functioning band in years, and my efforts at making music were very secluded and personal.  I made songs for Jaime and myself instead of sharing them with my peers.  To make it worse, the rival high-school band, who went by the name “Discordant”, had become far more popular than me and my friends.  They were going to play live on the Rock Hall’s prestigious stage during our prom.  I hated them passionately for this.  Joni Mitchell, the great folk songwriter who began her career in the late sixties once wrote;

Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unraveling

It’s the unraveling

And it undoes all the joy that could be

When James, the brother of Jesus, spoke of the jealousy that was among Jesus’ early followers, he said that “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:16), and he was speaking to people who were supposed to have known better.  I suppose in a way, I should’ve known better as well.  But just like Joni Mitchell and James the brother of Jesus collaboratively pointed out nineteen centuries apart, my jealousy was unraveling my soul and leading me down a road of bitterness and stagnant soul-eradication.

This is the downward spiral of the drug user.  One who uses drugs to cope with life becomes more and more disabled within reality.  Deep inside I hated most everyone, especially those who were “succeeding” in life, I loathed myself for my disinclined suicidal tendencies and instead of rightfully blaming myself and beginning to deal with the problems that plagued me, I blamed everyone else.  I was the victim in their cruel game.  As long as I stayed high or drunk, everything would at least seem serene.

The High School prom of Hudson High in 1999 was an amazing party that only the most privileged would have attended, relishing the memory for years beyond.  Jamie and I went and had dinner with another couple, my friend Duane and his date Kali, we attended the prom, fueled by an over-load of caffeine and nicotine.  We slow danced a few times and I sat in rage and sweaty bitterness as Discordant played through their pop rock set, complaining to Jamie about how much they were sell-outs that sucked, though inwardly I wished I was in their place.  In my mind were delusions of grandeur, the way life should have been.  Me up there on the Rock Hall stage playing solo with my back up band…  “Ben White and the Misfits of Love”, singing original tunes that made people cry and ponder the deep things of life.  Instead, I was a washed up drug addict that had barely made it out of High School, with his drug addict girlfriend who was two years younger than him.

During the “after-prom”, they had decked out the Hudson High School gymnasium with inflatable obstacle courses, games, photo booths, memories, and other joyous moments of the past four years that our entire class could share together.

Jamie and I ditched the after-prom, and headed to the backyard of my parents’ house.  It was 1 a.m. and they were asleep.  I had a half ounce of psilocybin mushrooms, and we were going to take a small dose and trip the night away.  Forget our peers.  Forget meaningful social ties.  We were wanna-be hippies and just wanted to do what we always did best; hide in a vacuum and waste our lives away.

We each took a small dose of psilocybin mushrooms and sat in my parents’ backyard, staring at the canopy of the trees above us as it merged and twisted like a kaleidoscope.  Our peers were at the all night lock-in at my High School, which was a couple of miles away from my parents’ house.  There we were, alone and tripping, the dissenters continuing their lone escapade.  We stayed up all night, most of which I don’t recall, and the morning brought in a new summer that would certainly be filled with wanton hedonism.

We had purchased these mushrooms at a large reenactment of the 1969 Woodstock concert aptly named “Hookahville” somewhere in the middle of nowhere in central Ohio.  Jamie and I had paid about $50 apiece to enter the concert for one day, even though we paid for the three day event.  We couldn’t come up with lies to stay all three days together, because we knew our parents would figure out we were both gone.

Hookahville was a wild array of hippies, and proved that even in the year 1999, the Grateful Dead’s anthem “Golden road to unlimited devotion”, written in 1967, was still being lived out;

Well everybody’s dancin’ in a ring around the sun

Nobody’s finished, we ain’t even begun.

So take off your shoes, child, and take off your hat.

Try on your wings and find out where it’s at.

This place was a huge collection of hippies.  There were people with long hair and beards that walked around in a thick haze of psychedelic craziness.  Many people were wearing tie-dyes and bell bottoms, and the air smelled of dope smoke and patchouli incense.  These were happenings where somehow the cops couldn’t come, either.  So there were literally little stands that sold balls of peanut butter and marijuana for $10 and called them “Dank Goo-Balls”.  For me at the time, I felt that I had stepped into a utopian dream, though really, it was a disturbing place full of darkness and people wandering around on an imaginary lost planet.

But being the gregarious one I was, I knew what Jamie and I had come for.  I wanted to find a bag of psilocybin mushrooms.  I literally walked around just yelling; “Shrooms!  Does anybody have shrooms?”  Even Jamie thought I was totally crazy.

A wild cat heard me.  He had black opal dilated pupils, and was thin as a rail with a huge beard, long hair, and a tall hat that belonged on the head of the Mad Hatter of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  “Hey man, you need shrooms?”  He said, obviously tripping on them himself.  “Yeah that’d be great man.”  I responded, trying my best at the age of seventeen to appear like an experienced hippie.

That was where we scored our half ounce of mushrooms for prom.  We didn’t stick around long for Hookahville after, even though the Grateful Dead spin-off band “Ratdog” led by ex-Dead guitarist and singer Bob Weir, were on the stage, making all the hippies dance like it was the summer of love.  We needed to get back home before curfew.

Fast-forward to the day after prom, after the first dose of those shrooms had been consumed.  Jaime had to head back to her boarding school in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania to take her finals.  We had only taken a very small amount of these mushrooms, and I was left with more than three-eighths of an ounce of them to myself.  When Jaime headed back for her finals, she made me promise her something.  She pleaded with me; “Ben, please save these for me so we can do them together again.”  Of course I agreed.  But I was a drug-head with an insatiable hunger to do stupid things.  I hadn’t yet tasted the sweet honey of wisdom, the “drippings of the honeycomb sweet to the taste, such could wisdom have been to my soul; where if I had found it, there would be a future, and my hope would not be cut off.” (Prov. 24:13-14)  Instead, I was often tasting the bitter gall of sin and self-loathing.  Leaving a huge bag of mushrooms in the hands of such a young man was a bad thing to do…