Tag Archives: Nirvana

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.

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?

Chasing After the First High

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don't get high on my supply without me.

don’t get high on my supply without me. (Photo credit: Divine Harvester)

There was an entire scene that seemed to surround the new-found drug culture that Duane, Mitchell and I were about to be immersed in.  It centered around a place in the town of Hudson, Ohio called Arabica Coffee.  Coffee was becoming a popular fad and drug of choice amongst especially those in the middle class suburbs and urban centers in the mid-90’s.  Starbucks was starting to bust it’s way out of Seattle and all over the country, and even those of us in high school began to taste of the European twist on this little brown bean.  We drank it in the form of cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, and sometimes just straight regular coffee.

In the midst of Duane and I’s descent into the abyss of depression and skepticism that naturally came along with the things we were doing, we began to find solace at Arabica coffee house.  It was a place where we, as 14 year-old kids, could buy a coffee, and sit and smoke cigarettes inside. For some reason no one ever questioned us for doing this.  This was also 1996, long before smoking in indoor establishments was made illegal in Ohio.

When I got high for the second time Duane had filled a cigarette with a little bit of weed, and we only had smoked a bit of it.  For some reason this time was different than before.  We found ourselves later back at Arabica coffee shop, too high to drink coffee or smoke cigarettes, and we kept feeling like jolts of electricity were surging through us, and also the strange feeling of feeling like we were being poked by a hundred needles at once.  We must have looked like total goons sitting there with our heads down on the table, buried in our folded arms.

Duane had taken this same pot we had used, and filled up an entire cigarette with it to smoke it himself the next day in his bathroom at his parents’ house.  He described for us in detail how he was convinced that he would die all night.  He was twiddling a little piece of drumstick wood in his fingers and became persuaded that if he were to drop this piece of wood, his heart would stop.  We found out the next week from Duane’s older friend that we had in fact been smoking ganja laced with PCP.

It was during some of these strange moments of being high and sitting around talking about weird philosophy and sharing poetry and song lyrics that I first met Harmony.  Harmony was a striking sight of beauty to my 9th Grade eyes.  She was a hippie girl who smoked, talked eccentric chatter and had long brown hair.  Something within me was ignited and inspired.  I began to write songs and poems describing the way I felt about her.

It wasn’t long before Harmony and I were “going out”, which was just an official term for considering each other to be boyfriend and girlfriend.  I was such an odd kid, and during our 2 months of dating I couldn’t even work up the nerve to kiss her.  Somehow I had the audacity to put a lot of foreign unknown chemicals in my body, but not the confidence to make the move I so desperately wanted to make.  I was a walking contradiction of sin and naïve conscience.

So Harmony and I broke up, because nothing was happening.  I think I freaked her out because I was writing songs for her and hinting at being in love with her, yet surprised her by being so afraid to kiss her.  But we became the closest of friends.  We began to talk with each other every night on the phone.  Sometimes I would be up until 2am and my parents would bust me on my phone (this was when we still had land lines- not cell phones!)  We continued to be deeply close friends, sharing our love for classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, and pouring out our hearts to each other.

It was during this time that we also began to discover Pink Floyd.  Duane, Mitchell and I watched the movie “The Wall”, and began listening to albums like “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Meddle” and “Wish You Were Here”.  Something in the morose, dark psychedelic sounds of the Floyd seemed to provide the soundtrack for our venture into cannabis use.  The lyrics also spoke of a cynical, alienated view of the world.  We identified with them and their songs began to influence our song writing.

My songs took a turn into the world of melancholy.  They had a sombre tone.  I also discovered guitar and vocal effects like flangers, phasers, reverbs and delays that gave my music the simulation of surrealism.  These effects were also used by Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, the later career of the Beatles, and more.  My lyrics became even more philosophical in tone, at times entering into a dream like world apart from reality, and at other times expressing the ongoing isolation I felt within myself when standing in juxtaposition to society.  I became more addicted to pain and sorrow, as I began to felt they were a catalyst for “true art”.

The drugs began to consume my life.  Duane, Mitchell and I were continually searching for a heavier and heavier high on marijuana.  We bought pipes from older kids that could buy them legally at a head shop, and even obtained a plastic, purple bong which we used to fill with grape juice, smoking pot in it constantly.  It just seemed that we couldn’t get back to that first high we had, which felt so surreal, scary and surprising.  We would smoke and smoke until we felt our lungs barely worked, and still the high was never the same.

It was as if a mysterious stranger had fed us a tremendous fabrication.  We had felt as if we could be more like God or feel like gods ourselves, becoming completely entranced and absorbed into our own cerebral worlds.  But the first experience of this “godlike” feeling was more intense and profound than all the others after, and it was seemingly impossible to re-create the original experience.  This was the cycle of addiction that I began to understand was taking hold of me.  I was searching for that first high and I would never get it again, but felt a vacuum within my spirit.  It seemed that the quest would never meet its end, and it seemed to be plunging me into deeper despair and confusion.  My grades at school continued to plummet, and my relationship with my parents became more strained.  All that seemed to matter were drugs, our band, and my feelings for Harmony.