Tag Archives: The Beatles

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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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?

The First Time I Got High on Marijuana

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Red Eyes 12-2012

Red Eyes 12-2012 (Photo credit: daver6sf@yahoo.com)

By the time I had entered into my 9th grade year, the first year of high school, I was more into music than ever.  This was 1995, and it was officially becoming the “post-grunge” era.  Hootie and the Blowfish were popular, though me and my ever growing band of marauders were anti-pop and therefore anti-Hootie.  Silverchair, Greenday and Alanis Morrisette were big during this time.  And bands like “Bush” were making it truly official that “grunge rock” had met it’s end in commercialism.

At the beginning of the school year a TV series came on that changed the way I would look at music forever.  The 3 remaining Beatles who were alive at the time- Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, came out with a series of shows about their music career called “Anthology”.  My parents and I watched these shows as they came on religiously.  I was drawn in to the story and life of the Beatles, and most of all their later era of music.  It wasn’t long before I snatched up albums like “Rubber Soul”, “Revolver”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“, and “Abbey Road”.

In the story of the life of the Beatles, one of their most creative periods of songwriting began around 1965 when they released “Rubber Soul”.  There was a move away from the pop sound they had before and into a stranger, more speculative approach to songwriting.  This was the era where they began using marijuana regularly.

I remember the time in the Anthology series where they talked of marijuana as something that seemed to enlighten them spiritually, making them more creative and philosophical.  My Dad at the time seemed to agree with what they were saying, and I didn’t know why.  I didn’t talk to my parents about it either, but a deep curiosity was birthed in me as I learned of the Beatles’ creative crutch.

During this time I was making close friendships with a few friends, one named Mitchell and the other Duane.  Mitchell played guitar often, but was beginning to become a virtuoso on bass- getting into prog rock by Rush and Frank Zappa, and Duane played drums and was heavily into Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix experience and Jimmy Chamberlain from the Smashing Pumpkins.  I played guitar and sang, and we formed a band that we named “Mulberry Tree” to reflect the mixture of classic and grunge rock that made up our sound.

Because we wanted so much to be like the people we looked up to, the next step for us was to smoke marijuana.  Duane was into it before all of us, because he had older friends than we did, and we were ready and willing to join him.

In the Fall of 1995, we had a group of friends over (a band they called “Aftermath”) to play music at my house.  My parents were out of town, and Duane had filled a Black and Mild Cigar with dope.  These guys were not a part of the “popular crowd” by any means, but because of my 8th grade downfall from popularity I was making the effort to befriend people no matter what their social status was.  We set up all of our equipment, including drums, and amps and guitars in my parent’s garage.

Before we could finish setting up or even play one song, Duane pulled out the Black and Mild and convinced us we should light it up.  I was beginning to become less careful and encouraged him to go for it.  This was the 3rd time I had tried pot, and it hadn’t really intoxicated me yet.  Duane encouraged me to inhale it deep and hold it in.  I did just that and coughed and coughed until I felt like my lungs were going to pop out of my mouth.  I tried a few more hits just like that and then quit, letting Duane finish the rest.  I think Mitchell may have tried one hit, but backed off.

So we had finished smoking, and I went back to setting up equipment.  The last thing I remembered was being in my basement grabbing speakers and not being able to lift them.  I began to freak out as numbness filled my body and clouded my mind.

The next thing I remember is laying on the ground, with all the boys from Aftermath laughing at me and mocking me, though one named Antony was actually pretty concerned for me.  I was flipping out at this point, thinking that I was about to die.  I kept repeating that over and over to everyone around me, “I’m gonna die!”  And Duane once hovered over me as he made serpent rhythms with his hands and quoted Jim Morrison, saying “Don’t worry man!  Just ride the snake man, ride the snake!”  Duane was as high as me but had been there before.  At one point he sang the words of “Tomorrow Never Knows” by John Lennon and the Beatles, “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream… it is not dying, it is not dying…”

My next memory was playing music with my boys in Mulberry Tree.  I probably didn’t hit one correctly timed note on the guitar, and I was beside myself laughing and stumbling all about.

Later in the day I entered my first experience of “coming down”.  The high began to wear off and I was grateful to have felt such fear and yet survive it. Something within the experience in my mind became akin to why people ride rollercoasters, or bungee jump, or skydive, or steal something, or lie, or break in to someone’s house, or have sex with someone they’re not committed to.  The thrill of the adrenaline…  Knowing it was wrong but doing it anyways, and being afraid it would kill me, yet making it out on the other end, made me obsessed with the experience.

And somehow this feeling of “riding the edge”- something that felt like hanging over the edge of a cliff and then being pulled back- became an addiction.  Also, all the anger I felt towards my parents, the terrible grades I was getting in school, and the social pressures just seemed to fade away for 4 hours.  Later that night all those feelings magnified though.  I slipped into a more depressive state, clinging to the sounds of Beatles records, playing the guitar, and writing down poetry to comfort myself.

After that experience, the school week passed by in an anti-climactic fashion.  I talked to friends like Kaden about the experience, and it seemed to scare him.  Other pot-head kids which I had once viewed as crazy with a higher level of juvenile mania.  All of a sudden they became close acquaintances.  I longed to get high again and ride the edge of the cliff once more.

The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. (Prov. 15:14)