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Interlude 3: Two more thoughts on The Executioner’s Song and a brief excursion into memory.

6 Nov


The middle third of The Executioner’s Song lags a little. It follows the media circus around Gilmore’s case. Reporters, agents, writers, movers and shakers, all descend on Gilmore and his family, looking for releases, waivers, offering cash, television appearances, and so on. Mailer makes his point: we cannot escape the celebrity culture woven into our country. The public relations industry has eroded the very concept of quiet dignity. Mailer was—when he wasn’t bloviating, boozing, head-butting his enemies or stabbing his wives—an insightful interpreter of our society and culture. Gilmore’s implacable drive to finish his own story , without providing ease or comfort to himself or others, feels so alien, like the actions of an ancient Spartan, or some pagan philosopher facing the rise of monotheism. He’s a marked contrast to the money-grubbing schemers around him who want to turn his life story into something neat, tidy, understandable, digestible, and therefore profitable.


It’s rare, but reading sometimes brings another consciousness tumbling into my own. It can be a phrase, a character, something about the author’s way of description. It’s a plunging, disorienting, fantastic feeling, as if your life has been mapped out before you were born, or this author knows you better than you know yourself. (Philip K. Dick’s The Divine Invasion is a book that did this to me, as well as George Saunders’s short stories, Steve Erickson’s Zeroville, Tom Franklin’s introduction to Poachers.) It’s psychic immersion, and the closest thing to magic we have.

The Executioner’s Song has done this very feat. I feel weirdly connected to Gary Gilmore.

Gilmore says in a letter that his favorite novel he’s read in the past year is The Ginger Man. This sent me thinking about my childhood.

I was an imaginative child, sensitive to criticism. My imagination manifested through play. I loved action figures. I created backstories. I enacted battles on alien worlds. I was happy, I smiled a lot. I had friends, I played soccer, I loved to draw.

But somewhere around 13, darkness entered. I still smiled a lot, kept a happy face to the world, but inside, I had macabre thoughts. I daydreamed about the deaths of my family. I visited my own funeral. My friends were murdered, I found corpses in closets, I fled from cannibals across malevolent cornfields. I watched too many horror movies. I had terrible nightmares. Sometimes, I sleepwalked. My outlook wasn’t misanthropic so much as disturbed.

As I neared the end of high school, I maintained my happy countenance. Inside, I brooded, fretted, worried. I had malformed thoughts. I sometimes felt that my nature was evil. It was a psychic split, mild but real[1]. I didn’t turn cruel. Over my life I’ve had a few moments of disassociation, where I feel like I’m watching someone else make my body’s decisions. My morbid, brooding interior life stayed melancholy, internalized. I didn’t hurt anyone; I started writing stories.

As I got older, I developed anxiety, paranoia. I felt unsafe walking by alleys. I always looked over my shoulder at night. I had a palpable fear I would be attacked on an elevator. I developed a conspiratorial frame of mind. I felt prematurely aged, weary. I was the very picture of the haunted man. I dieted on a steady meal of existentialism. Literature didn’t help this feeling. Far from it. Good books made me feel inadequate. I felt death lurking over everything, a vile sludge running in the invisible country that lay just beneath the surface of the visible world. I didn’t know why I was here, or what it all amounted to. Mixed in with the anxiety was a stony feeling of my own capacity for violence. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but I could. It was there, the impulse, the wherewithal, the moral flexibility.

Which makes Mailer’s representation of Gilmore so spooky and personal to me. The Ginger Man is the best book I’ve read this past year, too, or at least one of them. And seeing Gilmore talk about it reverberated with me. If raised in a different milieu, could I have ended up like Gilmore? Mean, raw, and punishing? In another reality, could I have murdered someone for no reason at all?

I outgrew some of my paranoia, sublimated (most of) my feelings of violence, developed a perspective on much of the anxiety and learned to deal with it. I absorbed my literary failings and even grew to admire my fortitude in the face of them. I stabilized. I had children. The darkness eventually gave way to new, more mundane worries. The occasional anhedonia seems to be the extent of my psychological problems. The rest of the dark stuff I squeezed into fiction manuscripts.

Some of them are even pretty good.

Enough Norman Mailer. On to a man I love, trust, admire: Bernard Malamud.

[1] Perhaps the major reason why I write novels.

Simone meets Al Jolson.

6 Jul


We’re in Pensacola for a stint, it won’t stop raining, and Simone keeps watching The Al Jolson Story with my dad.

She loves it. She can’t quite follow the story, so she’s been making up her own, narrating the movie into a bizarre quest where Jolson is looking for his sister, I think? And trying to stop the jealousy of his brothers by singing really well. It changes each time she watches it.

The movie is fascinating, very fine if eccentric and hard to define. It has a lengthy sequence where Jolson is cutting his teeth in the entertainment business as a minstrel singer. The minstrel scenes are unsettling to watch, but they are a faithful record of a major strand of entertainment, and the movie documents them well. Jolson isn’t racist—or, being Jewish, he’s less racist than the other people in the movie—and he wants to move the minstrel show out of its narrow confines, bring in Jazz and more modern ideas. For this, he’s bounced.

The movie then follows his ascendancy as a stage actor. His ego balloons. His need for validation and praise become a millstone around his neck, destroying his marriage and leaving him a dancing body and singing face with little heart or soul. He becomes a huge star on Broadway, at the expense of anything resembling a close friend.

The songs are great, if a touch dated, and the movie is fascinating, almost thrilling, despite its length and (relatively) slow pace. It’s a time capsule. And one of the best entertainment biographies ever made. Jolson’s voice is one in a million, deep and sonorous, kind of throaty, kind of scratchy, kind of bronchial and chesty, often booming. He’s one of the greatest of crooners, with a voice that rips and roars through the speakers.

Jolson wanted to play himself in the movie, as a young upstart making his way through the business. He was 59 when the movie was made.


Simone’s diet has changed. She doesn’t eat much, subsisting mostly on purple yogurt (yogurt with frozen blueberries) and Bebel cheese. She also loves chicken sausage, which pales my vegetarian heart. The trip has exaggerated these tendencies. Today, she ate two purple popsicles, a few bites of eggs, a few bites of noodles, and five kilos of cheese.

Pearl is the opposite. She eats constantly, like some medieval knight after a long day’s slaughter. Her favorite food is blueberries, which is also one of her first words. She also loves peaches, nectarines, eggs, avocado, noodles, and, yes, sausage. Also, scraps of paper on the floor, chess pieces, magnets, my shoulders and nose, and, when she’s angry, Simone’s arms.

She can run and climb, which is wild. It isn’t uncommon for us to find her sitting on a table or standing on a chair. She remains an impish presence. She loves to raise both hands in the air and scream, “Yeah!”


I’m slowly, with Beth’s help, working my way through the novellas for a third pass. More to come.

I’ve been reading a ton. I read James Salter’s All That Is. It’s superb, elegant, melancholy, and laced with exquisite sex scenes. Here’s one: “. . . . She wanted to be liked. Later they came into the kitchen and drank some wine. Eddins was sitting sideways to the table. Without a word she knelt in front of him and began, a little awkwardly because she was near-sighted, to unfasten his clothing. The zipper of his pants melted, tooth by tooth. She was a little nervous, but it was almost as she had pictured it, the Apis bull. Smooth and just swelling his cock almost fell into her mouth and gaining confidence she began. It was the act of a believer. She had never done it before, not with her husband, not with anyone. This was what it was like, to do things you had never done before, only imagined. The light was soft, late in the day. It just sort of flopped out, she later wrote in her diary. He must of been thinking about it. It was ready.” I’ve liked Salter for years, and his latest novel doesn’t disappoint.

Among other things, I also read Frye Galliard’s The Books That Mattered. It’s his personal evolution with literature and writers. I’m a sucker for book’s like this; David Denby’s The Great Books is one of the best books I read last year—he’s a film critic who decides to take the Great Books courses at NYU, when he was in his late forties—and probably the best book on the culture wars of the 1990s. Gailliard’s book is simpler, but very, very good. His picks are often predictable—who doesn’t love Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird?—but he manages to situate them in his own reading life in a way that makes them seem new.

First lines. Work in progress. Novellas.

28 Jun

Finished second draft of new novellas. They are tentatively titled 1. The Sleepless Dragon on the Snow-white Sands; 2. The Utility Organism; and 3. The Brotherhood of the Eye and the Nation of Perverts. Here are the first lines:


Sleepless Dragon:

“February 5. Dear Evan, You’re in Afghanistan by now, and I’m in Pensacola, and I don’t know who has it worse. That’s a joke.”


Utility Organism:

“The dawn appears in silver ribbons and Joe’s head aches with his love for the world.”



“September 14. I’ve been instructed by my doctor to keep a diary. He’s established some rules.”

Will keep people updated. Wish me luck.

Salvation Songs, part 6: Loser.

14 May

(They aren’t always good songs. Sometimes they’re terrible. But they’re the right songs. Ordained by God, and transmitted through an invisible stream of auditorial alchemy. Salvation songs. Read parts 1 and 2.)


I knew Beck’s “Loser” was special the first time I heard it. The guitar is so distinct and pure, the drum machine and loops and the superb, mystifying lyrics. Despite the numerous records and the shifting, mercurial sound, Beck wouldn’t make a song as perfect again. Sometimes you get it right the first time. It came out in 1993. I was 16 years old. It was one of the first Buzzclips, back when MTV still had musical cache and when the label alternative meant something. Although I was characterized by punk and power pop, some of these early alternative bands made the cut. Beck was one. Tool, strangely, was another.

My sophomore year of high school, I started hanging out with a handful of juniors: Chad B., Tim H., and Matt W. They introduced me to a lot of things. Tim lived in a little side room off his parents’ house, and we spent a lot of time in there. He was an artist and a poet, he listened to Pink Floyd.

I knew Matt from soccer. He was hilarious, caustic and disparaging, an old kvetch in a young man’s body.

Chad was honest, sincere, yet mysterious. He lived nearby[1]. He had a mystical slant to his thoughts.

I don’t know why, but they liked me and included me in their group. They brought introspection, poetry, oddball literature and drug music into my life. We spent our time driving around town or hanging out at Tim’s. Wild man Robert (I’ve mentioned him before) often came along. (Jeff and Chris had their first girlfriends.)

One night Chad and I drove an hour out towards Alabama to go to a party at Braden Rogers’s house. Braden’s name means nothing to most people reading this, and I didn’t and don’t know him well. But I feel an enormous debt of gratitude towards him. When I was fourteen, just a fifteen months earlier, he saved my life.


Like all high schools, Pensacola Catholic had some bullies, those ’roided up, prematurely muscled assholes who stalk the hallways looking for hair to pull and faces to smash. Some bullies drape their immense self-loathing with mean-spirited, always close to violence joking (a dude named Clayton operated in this mold, sort of like the joker, laughing maniacally while inflicting pain); some bullies are simply transferring their unhappiness from their homes; and some are just vicious and violent and mean. Chance W. was this third kind of bully. He had huge pectoral muscles when he was in tenth grade. He had three o’clock shadow at 15. He was rich and strong and rotten to the core, an unfeeling, nasty shell of a person. Most people from those years at Catholic have some story of a Chance encounter. This is mine.

One day Chance and two other sophomores named Neil and Tony came up to me in the lunchroom. “That’s him,” Tony said.

“I hear you been talking about my mama,” Chance said.

I looked around. I was over six feet tall and I weighed under 150 pounds. I was a walking skeleton, scrawny and under-muscled and absolutely not a fighter at all. I minded my own business. I kept to my friends. I had no clue what was going on.

“That wasn’t me,” I said. I tried to walk back to my table.

“No, I heard you were talking about my mama,” Chance said. Neil and Tony smiled and nodded their heads.

“I swear I didn’t.”

After lunch I went outside to wait for the bell with a kid named Cody. Chance and the others followed me. Where the teachers were I had no idea. Chance continued with his bullshit. The day was warm but not hot, and the interior quad was small. A little group formed. I continued with my protestations of innocence, but I was feeling exposed and threatened.

Then Chance shoved me and, remembering all the idiotic anti-bullying literature and after-school specials, I shoved him back. Cody took a deep breath and took a few steps back. He was terrified of blowback.

Chance swelled up right in front of me like some cartoon villain. He puffed up to swing. Time stopped. I had no skills to fall back on. I had my bony hands in fists and thought, Well, here comes your first thrashing. I was afraid, but there was a tinny little internal voice saying, How bad can a beating be?

Then Braden appeared.

“Nah, man, leave him alone. He’s cool.”

He pulled Chance aside and cooled him down. I waited. The bell rang. I didn’t move. Chance came back over. “So you weren’t talking about my mama?” he said.

“No, man, no,” I said.

He let me go.

I had known Braden from middle school. But we hadn’t been friends, and I hadn’t spoken to him in years. I didn’t really speak to him after that, either. But I felt and feel an immense debt of gratitude to him. I wasn’t cool. I had nothing to offer him. He protected me because it was the right thing to do. And, well, I’ve always loved him for it.

(As for Chance, he would later infamously kick Devin Kennedy in the face! after Devin and Peyton fought in front of half the school, and Peyton had knocked Devin down. Chance had nothing to do with the fight and didn’t know either of them very well. He told me later in a rare moment of candor, and I’m not making this up, that he was pissed because “they both fought like pussies.” We were at a basketball game, the only two upper grades students in attendance, and I was wise enough to sort of nod my head, a very minor betrayal of my values, and in retrospect, totally worth it. Chance didn’t mention our little dust-up and I was happy to let bygones be. Later that year he slapped me in the back of the head at a party. Chad ushered me out before I did anything stupid.)


Back to Chad in his little white Honda and our late night trek to Braden’s house party.

We got there late, close to ten, and stayed under two hours. It wasn’t our kind of people. There was a bonfire and the others were mostly hunters and fishers and outdoorsy types, Alabama folk, good country people. The antithesis of Chad and me, basically.  Braden was there in full country regalia, camouflage and a hunting cap, the kind of vibe I would have mocked on another person, but suited him just fine. I didn’t speak to him, not really, but I wanted to hug him and say thanks. I never did.

Chad drank too much and I had to drive us home. I drove cautiously, just at the speed limit. We ambled along some forgotten highway in the country, surrounded by immense black trees and the gray night, the kind of evening that feels like it could go on forever and ever.

The whole car ride we listened to “Loser” over and over, some twenty times. We both sang along.

[1] I still know him.

Salvation Songs, part 5: Steppin’ Stone.

15 Jan

(I’ve been posting less for two reasons. One, I’m working hard on a third draft of my latest novel manuscript. Two, I was doing my writing between 5 and 6 in the morning. But my two daughters now get up, too—I’m writing this one-handed with two little children squirming in my lap.)

The last new tape I ever bought was U2’s Achtung Baby! The first cd I bought was Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted. Between these two albums there was a world of discomfort and pain and musical growth. The boy loved U2. The young man dug Pavement.

I entered high school enthralled with progressive, college rock and what is now called Britpop. I liked R.E.M., The Las, early U2, The Soup Dragons, The Stone Roses, and Jellyfish. I also maintained an adoration for power ballads and hair metal until a disparaging comment from Jackson George about a Warrant concert ruined the whole genre, at least in public. I held on to the classic rock thing, still listening to the Beatles and The Doors and so on.

I caught the indie rock/slacker rock bug. I listened to Dinosaur, Jr. and Pavement. I listened to Jane’s Addiction and Mudhoney. I listened to the first wave of grunge, but was already too hip for the next big thing; like all self-respecting musical aficionados, I favored Mother Love Bone to Pearl Jam[1]. I was on my way to an ensconced spot with the slacker crowd, despite year-round soccer and my strict religious household. Two of the coolest slacker kids in the city, Jay Thomas and Ryan Nalley, were my friends.

But then punk hit. A meteor, and the world changed. The simplicity of punk’s rage, the howl of its rancor, the disgust with the material world, the immense discontent—these things spoke to me in a profound way, and delivered a temporary outlet for my darker impulses.

I was a (mostly) sweet and (overly) sensitive kid. Yet I had the same macho self-destructive impulses as other teenage males. Some of my friends fought. Some smashed up mailboxes. Some sublimated their aggression through sports. For me, my anger manifested in the music.

Metallica was serious business when I was in middle school. They had long hair, bleak videos, and crushing music[2]. Guns N Roses were around, too, a segue from the hair metal power pop to garage rock. I had tapes of both, but had to discard Appetite for Destruction because one of my mom’s Christian radio announcers had denounced it in a vituperative and very public speech.

But Metallica’s primary focus was paganism and the terrors of Christianity[3]. Punk was concerned with the social and political. Most punk was squeegeed clean of sex. Punk was pure. It was atonal, discordant, and grating, too, but the essence of it was a counter narrative to the mainstream. I loved it.

And unlike other musical dalliances, punk stayed, a pungent force in my teenage years.

Around 16, I started going to shows at the Nite Owl—they had shows at Sluggo’s too, but I was too young to get in–where I was purged in the pit. The pit wasn’t about hurting other people, although this happened quite a lot. It also wasn’t about being out of control. The only time I saw someone totally out of control was at a music festival; some bizarre proto-goth kid ran and dove into a group of people standing outside the pit. They kicked at him some and then booed him away from the music. The pit wasn’t about dancing, it wasn’t about looking cool, although there was an etiquette, there were expectations as to how you would move. No, the pit was a way to express naked aggression without fighting. In a large mosh pit, you’d get kicked, slapped, punched and head-butted. But you took it with an inner smile.

Ian MacKaye in the crowd; look at the joy.

Ian MacKaye in the crowd; look at the unbridled joy.

This isn’t new. In an earlier generation, most of us would have become soldiers. Or we would have worked on the farm, or done some other manual labor. Or, we would have hung out in pool halls, smoked cheap cigarettes and punched out rival gang members.

Punk allowed me to circumvent some of the more unfortunate musical trends of the nineties, but I missed out on some cool stuff, too. Punk is an invasive plant, like kudzu; it drives out anything that isn’t punk.

I scoured the used record stores for punk tapes. Somehow, the economics of things made punk tapes cool. I went backwards in time. I listened to the Sex Pistols. I listened to The Circle Jerks. I listened to NOFX. I listened to Swingin’ Utters and Avail and Hot Water Music and Face to Face and Lagwagon and Bad Brains and Christian punk[4], too. And I listened to the best tape in my possession, Minor Threat[5].

The best hardcore/punk tape of all time.

The best hardcore/punk tape of all time.

Minor Threat was the punkest of the punk. They advocated straight edge living—no drugs, no alcohol, no caffeine, a spartan existence. Most of the vegans I knew in the ’90s were also straight edge people. They lived with a set of principles more austere than the Old Testament values my mom espoused. I dabbled with straight edge from time to time, and I’m a strict vegetarian now.

The cover was solid blue, of a skinhead sitting down with his shaved head leaning on his black trousers. The album is short, less than 30 minutes for the whole thing. And it is a humdinger, a raucous, virile, primal scream of a punk record. The whole tape is killer, but my favorite track was a cover of a Sex Pistols’ cover of a Monkees’ song. Written by Neil Diamond, no less.

One time I played it so loud I blew out one of my dad’s car speakers. Another time I screamed along with such conviction I damaged my vocal chords. My friends all loved it, too.

Listening to it years later, the song is catchy, hardly punk at all, MacKaye’s immense vocals firing on all cylinders. I don’t need to write about the sound; it speaks for itself.

[1] I’m still a touch embarrassed by the little pockets of snobbery in my former self.

[2] I didn’t see the humor in their work until much later.

[3] The common thread of heavy metal; it’s primary focus is always religious.

[4] I will write on this, later.

[5] I know I’m supposed to like Mackaye’s Fugazi better, but I don’t. Waiting Room belongs on any desert island juke box, however.

Salvation Songs, part 4: Waiting for a Star to Fall

2 Jan

Secular music, excepting oldies music with my dad (always in the car), was banned in my parents’ house when I was growing up. I listened to kids’ praise, Christian radio plays, Christian audio books, and Focus on the Family, a radio station that broadcast sermons and homilies from a variety of pastors, scholars, theologians and blowhards. No Bach, Handel, or Mendelssohn. No Stryper or Petra either, but I now count this as a good thing.

My older sister had Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. I had nothing and no one. Only Psalty. And if you don’t know who Psalty is, you didn’t grow up in the Southern Baptist church. (He’s still around.)

This all changed when I was in sixth grade. For Christmas, my dad bought me a two-cassette boom box[1]. I had a handful of Bill Cosby tapes and a Ricky Nelson album. But the stereo brought me radio, and the world blossomed into something new and rich and strange[2].

I had to listen to the radio with headphones, else my mom would hear and I would be lectured. Or, worse, have the radio policed or even taken away.

Christmas morning, I put in the large batteries, jacked in the headphones, and then lied down on my single bed. I propped my feet up on the end of the wooden frame and, tired out from the late night anticipation from Christmas Eve, closed my eyes while turning on the stereo. And the first song I heard was “Waiting for a Star to Fall.”

There’s a strange revisionism to eighties music. Hugely popular bands, like U2 and the Police, are seen as precursors to progressive and underground music. They really weren’t. They filled arenas and scored number one hits. Some of the more underground stuff has, as Chuck Klosterman is always pointing out, remained viable because critics like it. (See early R.E.M.) Meanwhile, other enormous acts of the decade, such as Ratt, have been completely forgotten. Klosterman argues that the underground and the outside, over time, becomes in. Liking popular music from years ago, such as KISS, becomes the true underground. Every professes a love for The Pixies now. But who listens to Frankie Goes to Hollywood anymore?

The music of the eighties feels shimmery and ethereal. New Wave and Post-punk were great things—I still listen to the Talking Heads, XTC, James, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, Prince, (some) Tom Petty and The Pet Shop Boys, among others—and hair metal and 1980s R & B were pretty terrible. But there was a strand of pop music that was pure, light as air, and streaked with sugary life. The tone was airy, a kind of light-weight synth pop that worked as dance music for people who couldn’t really dance. As a genre, this 1980s pop music could manifest as a kind of lame pseudo rock—think of Roxette or David Essex and Eric Carmen (I admit a weak spot for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack)—or as a kind of precursor to the teen pop of today, such as Paula Abdul.

I speak of Dan Hartman, Crowded House, Taylor Dane, Timmie T., Duran Duran, Go West, and yes, Boy Meets Girl. Anthemic pop music that is catchy but forgettable. Unified less by a sound than a set of (vacuous) musical values. I’m immensely fond of this body of work; I find it to be aesthetically distasteful but sentimentally satisfying.

Back to my first day with the stereo. I fell asleep with the headphones on, and my mom awakened me some time later in the day. “What are you listening to?” she asked. The headphones were cheap, the music too loud. I was stone cold busted.

“Oh, nothing. You know. I was just fooling around.” I put on my best stupefied face. “I don’t really know how to use this thing yet.”

She gave me a disapproving shake of the head and then left the room. I dodged my first bullet. It wouldn’t be the last.

Here’s the song. It means nothing to me now, musically, but everything to me emotionally. Strange.

[1] I cringe to say it now, but at the time we called this type of setup “ghetto-blasters.”

[2] Up to this point I only had the rollerskating rink for my pop music fix.

Salvation Songs, part 3: Nobody’s Fool.

21 Dec


Middle school is a strange time for music. You don’t have tastes, not really, just hormones and the hangover of your parents’ ideas.

And, of course, your friends.

My best friend at the time—and still one of my closest, although I never see him—was Jason Elzy. He was a dynamo in the pop music world. He started reading Variety when he was 12. He tracked singles. He knew pop musical trends at 13. He bought comedy tapes; he bought Chris Rock’s comedy tape years before his first HBO special. He was a boy ahead of his time.

Jason would tape singles off the radio. He made these into a series he called “assorted singles[1].” He made it somewhere near Assorted Singles 20.

At my house we had kids’ praise, Michael W. Smith, Baptist hymns and Amy Grant. In the car with my dad we had golden oldies. I had one conduit to pop music, the frenetic soundtrack and backbeat in my heart and head, and that was Jason.

Like me, secular music was banned in Jason’s house. By his dad. His mom let him listen to as much as he could stomach. I benefited immensely.

This was in the glory days of MTV. Before the reality shows, before the grind. Just music videos, all the time. We didn’t just watch it, we absorbed it. We percolated it. We marinated in it.

Jason had wider tastes than I did; he introduced me to Big Daddy Kane, Young MC, LL Cool J, and, regrettably, the Fat Boys. His tastes ran to hair metal, though, and in Pensacola he was the king. Unlike everyone else, he would go backwards into a band’s back catalog, buying their earlier tapes and studying the music. He would make arguments for earlier glory, although I rarely bought it. (He insisted that Def Leppard had good records before Hysteria. I thought he was crazy.)

He also bought singles. I would listen to his tapes, either with headphones or through the speakers when his dad wasn’t around. We were around each other so much that we had tons of time to do this sort of thing and I took advantage of the freedom by imbibing as much secular music as I could. (We also played with M.A.S.K., Muscles, G.I. Joe, and basketball.) Not my finest hour, musically. I loved “Last Train,” by Cinderella, “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” by Def Leppard, “Deeper Shade of Soul,” by Urban Dance Squad, and “Sometimes She Cries,” by Warrant.

But my absolute favorite was, oddly, Kenny Loggins’s “Nobody’s Fool.”


This was the title song to Caddyshack II, not that I knew it at the time. I spend two or three months listening to this four or five times in a row, every time I went to Jason’s house. It was a compulsive, pathological attachment; the song crowded out other music.

(Sadly, this puts the song in the pantheon of most listened to songs in my life, alongside “Home Sweet Home,” by Motley Crue, “Whipping Boy,” by Lagwagon, “Don’t Know What You Got,” by Whiskeytown, “Nantes,” by Beirut, and “The Seed,” by the Roots.)

Re-listening to it, it’s a strange song. The verses are dated, cheesy and vaguely sexual; I didn’t like this style of music, even then. The guitar lines are cheap, derivative and cloying. You can’t hear the other instruments at all. There’s a drummer, but what’s he doing?

And yet, the chorus simply rocks. It’s the type of fist-pumping arena anthem that feels timeless, irresistible, like a piece of cheap birthday cake crusted over with confectioner’s sugar. Even now, it gets me.


I moved on, eventually, into other, equally lame areas of pop music. But I kept this power ballad near and dear to my heart.

Jason moved to Kentucky in eighth grade. We stayed friends. He attended the University of Kentucky after graduating. We drifted apart. Then he began visiting me in the summers. He became more relaxed as I grew introverted and uptight. He outgrew the detritus of our childhood faster than I did. Yet, the essential balance remained. Our friendship was rekindled. He moved to L.A., got into the music business, became a hotshot publicist. I fell into movie junket work, and visited him twice. We stayed in posh hotels. We ordered room service. Our childhood friendship blossomed into something richer, and stranger, as we had an immense foundation of shared stories, jokes and references that no one else knew. We can fall into this comfort zone with just a few second’s worth of conversation, even after months and months of no contact.

Fifteen years after I spent those weekend nights blasting “Nobody’s Fool” into my ears, he got married.

I was in the wedding party. We spent the day in the hotel room, listening to music while Jason paced a little bit, worrying over the details. His computer had some 12,000 songs, and we each tried to pick the perfect song for the occasion, sipping on cans of beer. We played quality stuff for a while, before the mood of the room turned nostalgic and we made our way to the power ballads of our youth.

The wedding was amazing. The weather was perfect. At the reception, Jason picked theme music for each member. We waited in the hallway until our name was announced. I was fourth in line. The doors opened, and Kenny Loggins’s feathery voice welcomed me to the party. He hadn’t forgotten.

[1] He still has them.