Music

Driving and Singing: Megadeth, “Addicted to Chaos”

Every Friday for a while I’ll be sharing songs I love to sing and telling stories about their place in my life. Singing is cathartic for me. I can’t imagine not singing. I do most of my singing while driving, listening to my favorite songs on my car stereo.

I was a metalhead in the 80s. Even looked the part, with the long hair and the black concert T-shirts and the worn-out jeans. I looked way meaner than I was.

But apparently I looked too mean for a professional job. So I cut the hair and dressed business casual, and my career promptly took off. But I was still metal inside, or at least I felt that way in 1994 when one of my favorite metal bands, Megadeth, released their sixth CD, Youthanasia, full of punch and power and melody. It was in heavy rotation on my car’s CD player for years.

MegadethYouthanasia

And that’s all I thought about it until after my wife divorced me. Long story short, during my divorce all my records and CDs were lost. As I rebuilt my life, I bought my favorite CDs again one by one. Soon enough I came to this disc. And when I really listened this time to the second song, “Addicted to Chaos,” I was flattened. Poked right between the eyes. Pierced through the heart. Because through the crunchy guitar and the growling, wailing vocals, I heard my own experience.

Megadeth’s founder Dave Mustaine was famous in the day for abusing alcohol and drugs in stupefying quantities — and for raging and fighting with anyone within reach while drunk or high. He did rehab something like 15 times, even lay briefly dead of an overdose and was somehow revived at the hospital. At some point, he got himself clean. He even found God and says he’s a Christian now.

I know what it’s like to be addicted — I had my own monkey on my back in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Those chaotic, destructive days contributed directly to my marriage failing. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with an addicted partner.

My marriage a shambles, headed for divorce, unable to stop using and hating myself for it, I finally hit rock bottom. I found a 12-step meeting and kept going back, and slowly got clean. It not only restored my life to sanity, but let me finally truly come to not only know God, but see that he has my back. Recovery is where my faith in God began. I never want to go back to those awful days, but I’ll always be grateful for the blessing they led to.

Recovery was hard work, and never a straight line — and I played it out against turmoil and anxiety as my marriage finally ended in a bitter, protracted divorce. It was in the midst of those crushingly stressful days when I picked up my new copy of this CD. And then I heard Mustaine sing:

Monkey on my back, aching in my bones
I forgot you said “One day you’ll walk alone”
I said I need you, does that make me wrong?
Am I a weak man? Are you feeling strong?
My heart was blackened, it’s bloody red
A hole in my heart, a hole in my head

I felt like I’d been slugged in the jaw. My emotions went right back to the addicted days, overpowered and outmaneuvered, lost and trapped, weak and shamed. I could feel it: the “you” of which Mustaine sang was the addiction. I always knew mine was going to turn on me and do me in.

But in the second verse, Mustaine sang of having turned the corner.

Light shined on my path, turned bad days into good
Turned breakdowns into blocks, smashed them ’cause I could
My brain was labored, my head would spin
Don’t let me down, don’t give up, don’t give in
The rain comes down, the cold wind blows
The plans we made are back up on the road
Turn up my collar, welcome the unknown
Remember that you said, “one day you’ll walk alone”

Turn up my collar, welcome the unknown. Maybe you have to have been through this to understand, but for me that line is the center of the song. I had tried to salve my fears of life and ended up addicted. But thanks to recovery, I need fear nothing. Life? Bring it on. No need to hide! Such a joy and blessing recovery gave me.

And then it turns out I wasn’t interpreting the song right at all. Mustaine explained it in several interviews; here’s what he said in one of them:

…The subject of it is my drug counselor who got me sober. When he said that I would walk alone, it was after counseling me for a period of time, and he said “You know I’m gonna have to cut you loose some day.” The finality of it was two puncture wounds in his arm and an overdose on heroin. My drug counselor died.

No matter. I still hear my own experience in Mustaine’s words. And today, going on thirteen years sober, singing this song out loud does two things: it tears up my voice, as I can’t keep up with Mustaine’s growling and wailing vocal — and it makes me cry.

Click Play to listen to “Addicted to Chaos.”

Standard
Music, Stories Told

Driving and singing: Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”

Every Friday for a while I’ll be sharing songs I love to sing and telling stories about their place in my life. Singing is cathartic for me. I can’t imagine not singing. I do most of my singing while driving, listening to my favorite songs on my car stereo.

Grandma and Grandpa retired to a small lake, or rather a big pond, among the cornfields and hog farms in southwest Michigan. It was my favorite place in the world to go. Sitting in the gazebo overlooking the lake, staying up too late listening to stories of the Great Depression, and just running around here and there in Grandma’s big Chevy Blazer; it was a relaxed life. When we were out, we inevitably ended up at a bar for lunch. I guess in 1970s Michigan it wasn’t any big deal for children to go into bars, because I surely spent a lot of time in them.

We usually visited The Inn Between, a little joint on the highway at the end of their gravel road, “in between” two villages that highway linked. It was dim inside, with square tables with laminate woodgrain tops, brown padded stackable chairs, a wooden bar with a handful of stools, PBR and Budweiser signs on the walls, a jukebox in the corner. There was a menu, there was beer, there was probably whiskey but I didn’t know much about such things when I was that young.

Everybody at the Inn Between knew my grandparents. They’d walk up to say hello as we sat, calling them George and Kath-ern, which apparently is how Kathryn is pronounced in Michigan farm country. A fellow who must have run the place always came over to chat and take our order. My brother and I would order cheeseburgers, and I always got orange Crush, which in my earliest memories still had real orange pulp in it. The fellow would tease my brother and I a little, asking us if we’d like to try the frog legs instead. Our chorus of “ick, ew!” always made the fellow smile, at least until Grandma finally said, “You should try them. They’re delicious.” So we did, and they were, and we ate them often.

The Inn Between was on the same lake my grandparents lived on, so sometimes we’d motor over there for dinner on their little pontoon boat. We’d linger. Grandma and Grandpa would chat with the other customers, mostly neighbors, all friends. Grandma made sure our red plastic tumblers were always full of icy Coke, and fed us quarters for the jukebox.

In those days, country music was crossing over to the pop charts, and the jukebox was loaded with those songs. It’s where I first heard Olivia Newton-John and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. I played them all, but I liked Glen Campbell the best. I played “Galveston” and “Country Boy” but leaned extra heavy on “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Everybody drinking their beer at the Inn Between must have been glad when we left so they didn’t have to hear it again.

GlennCampbellWichitaLineman

But really, I have always favored the sad songs, and so my favorite Glen Campbell song is “Wichita Lineman.” And I have a bonus memory of my dad around this song. I couldn’t have been 10 yet. We sat in dad’s white Matador in the shopping-center parking lot waiting for Mom to come out of the store. The AM radio played the local music station. This song came on, and Dad sang the chorus low, mostly to himself. Dad can carry a tune. And I sing this song when my iPhone serves it up in my car, too, doing my best to channel Glenn Campbell. But I belt it right out, because it feels so good.

Click Play to listen to “Wichita Lineman.”

Standard
Music, Stories Told

Driving and singing: Rod Stewart, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”

Every Friday for a while I’ll be sharing songs I love to sing and telling stories about their place in my life. Singing is cathartic for me. I can’t imagine not singing. I do most of my singing while driving, listening to my favorite songs on my car stereo.

I dated Alison the summer I turned 19. She was small and lovely and smart and gentle, and I was happy to keep her company.

And that’s all I really wanted: her companionship. I was such a late bloomer. I think she was interested in more. I’m sure I frustrated her.

At least we had old TV shows and music in common. Many of our evenings were spent snuggled on the couch in her parents’ family room in front of the TV. The Monkees was being rerun on MTV and we watched episode after episode. I made her cassette tapes of the six or seven Monkees albums my brother owned. I made her a mixtape of some of my favorite songs.

And then Alison made me a mixtape of her music, too. She favored singer-songwriters with something to say, their spare arrangements cradling words of love or pain. I don’t know what became of that tape, but I remember it leaned heavily on Carole King, Carly Simon, James Taylor, and Bob Dylan.

I found one Dylan song especially hard to access, a delicate tune called “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” It spoke of a love experienced as a refuge, a love in which he found identity — words that wanted to fill me with smoldering joy but for Dylan’s brooding guitar and voice, a sharp counterpoint that I couldn’t reconcile. If he had found that kind of love, then why did he sound like he wanted to put a bullet in his brain?

EveryPictureTellsAStory

I sought new music voraciously then. I had joined my college’s radio station as a disk jockey, and regularly borrowed short stacks of records from our vast collection — about 5,000 LPs — of rock, pop, and jazz reaching back 25 years. The songs I discovered then still heavily influence my personal playlist. One of those short stacks included Rod Stewart’s 1971 album Every Picture Tells a Story. I wasn’t a big Rod Stewart fan, but I remembered hearing “Maggie May” on the radio as a boy and wanted to hear the rest of the album that song came from. On it was a cover of Dylan’s love song. Where Dylan broods, Stewart soars, bringing out joy found in this love. He also makes the song more melodic and therefore a real joy to sing.

If Alison knew me at all, she would understand. But if I knew her at all, I’m sure she would tried to convince me of the strengths in Dylan’s recording.

Click Play to listen to “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”

Standard
Music, Stories Told

Headstone’s

I first told this story when this blog was young, eight years ago. I haven’t been back to Headstone’s in almost that many years. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I still have the tie-dye shirt I mention in this story.

Headstone Friends

When I was in college, I should have just had my work-study paycheck direct-deposited into Headstone Friends’ bank account. I spent most of it there anyway on used records and CDs.

Headstone’s is a music store in head-shop trappings. Step inside, and suddenly it’s 1969. Or at least it is after your eyes adjust to the dim light. But you smell the sweet incense the second you enter. Heck, you can hear the loud music way out in the parking lot.

The counter is on the left, offering jewelry and silly buttons and, at least at one time, scales and rolling papers. On the right are ceramic dragons and fabric Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix wall hangings and a rack of incense sticks. Then racks of CDs line the wall all the way to the back where a few bins of records remain. In the corner, next to the drinking fountain that has never worked, is a room aglow with black-light posters.

Things do change at Headstone’s. When I first set foot in the place thirty years ago it was half the size it is now, full of waist-high record bins. They expanded into the building’s back section a few years later, and slowly tall homemade CD racks crowded out most of the record bins. And every so many years, when the building’s mural and sign are faded and worn almost beyond recognition, they repaint. On the day I visited it looked pretty fresh.

Headstone Friends

Headstone’s is seriously old school. They have one location, on Poplar at 12th Street in Terre Haute. They’re not on the Web. They don’t take credit cards. The owners, aging hippies who were younger than I am now when I first visited, work the counter. They keep inventory records on index cards in cardboard boxes. When you find a CD you want, you go to the counter and have someone come unlock the cabinet for you. Then they total your purchases on paper receipts and calculate the tax by hand.

The staff is very low key, but while I lived in Terre Haute I visited so often that they came to recognize me. One fellow named Harold became friendly and came to recognize my buying habits. One day a college friend came by my dorm room and said that I should see Harold next time I was in. He had set aside a promotional poster from a Paul McCartney album for me. The album wasn’t Paul’s best, but the the cover photo, of Paul and his wife taken with the kind of camera used for 1940s Hollywood glamor shots, was outstanding, and larger than life on the poster. “We get this junk all the time and never use it,” he said. “You buy all kinds of Beatles and McCartney so I figured you’d like to have it.” Sure enough! I had it framed. Despite generous offers from collectors, it still hangs in my house.

Tie-dye

Harold was there that day. I hadn’t seen him in at least ten years, but he looked just the same – long brown-and-gray hair curling halfway down his back, reading glasses at the end of his nose, and a round, tan fisherman’s hat covering his head. There was a glimmer of recognition on his face when he saw me, but it had been so long I wasn’t sure he’d remember me even if I did give him my name, so I kept to myself. I didn’t find any CDs I couldn’t live without, but just for fun I did buy a tie-dyed T-shirt. It filled my car with Headstone’s scent all the way home. I hated to wash it.

Standard
Music, Stories Told

Driving and singing: Carpenters, “A Song For You”

Every Friday for a while I’ll be sharing songs I love to sing and telling stories about their place in my life. Here I tell a story about the first celebrity death that hit me hard. I wrote this before the recent deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, deaths that did not hit me particularly hard but did deeply affect many of my friends, and maybe you. It’s just part of being human to mourn the loss of people we didn’t really know, but whose work made us feel like we did. I wish somebody had explained that to me when I was a kid.

It could well be my first memory. Workday mornings, Dad’s alarm blaring, I’d get down out of bed and pad quietly into his room. If I lay still on the corner of his bed, he’d let me stay. While he got dressed in the dim light of his side-table lamp, his clock radio played softly on the Hit Parade station. I must have been three, because that’s how old I was when the Carpenters’ “Close to You” went to number one. Hit Parade played it every morning and I so looked forward to it. When it played, I’d close my eyes to see colors that flowed and shifted as Karen Carpenter sang. Such joy!

Growing up in the 1970s as I did, it was easy to be a Carpenters fan because their music saturated radio: “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Top of the World,” “It’s Going to Take Some Time,” “Rainy Days and Mondays.” I especially loved “Only Yesterday.” I used to glide back and forth on our back-yard swing and sing it over and over again. I was in love with Karen Carpenter’s voice!

Those early records remained such radio staples that it was easy not to notice that the duo had few hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their early success brought enormous pressure, and they struggled to handle it. Richard wound up addicted to Quaaludes, a sedative. Karen dieted compulsively, to the point of damaging her health. Her case thrust anorexia nervosa into the public consciousness. Not only did they take time off to rest and recover, but the few songs they did release in those years just didn’t connect with as many people. Few became radio hits.

Meanwhile, I was just a teen who loved to hear and sing the songs from my favorite band. I had no idea the challenges Karen and Richard faced; all I knew of them as people came from their smiling personas on their frequent TV specials. And then, while idly watching TV one February evening in 1983, I caught this news brief on ABC:

I was shocked so deeply, so sharply, that I felt like I had suddenly been set on fire. The report went by so fast that part of me wasn’t even sure I had really heard it. There was no Internet to check for confirmation, and we didn’t have cable so I couldn’t switch to the fledgling CNN for more information.

I was deeply confused by the depth of my reaction. So much pain, so much grief, over a woman I didn’t actually know! I told my mom, my dad; they said they were sorry, but they were clearly surprised by how hard I was taking the news and didn’t know how to comfort me. I felt alone with my grief, which I couldn’t shake. Nobody knew how important Karen’s voice was to me. I scarcely knew until Karen died.

I had just one Carpenters album, a gift from my parents several years before. I ached to buy more so I could hear more of their songs. I saved my meager allowance and I did chores for neighbors for money for weeks and weeks until I had saved enough to buy another. Money in pocket, I rode the city bus to the mall, walked into Musicland, and picked an album out almost at random: A Song For You, from 1973.

ASongForYou

I came right back home and put the platter on my record player. The title track opened the album, and shortly Karen sang these words:

I love you in a place where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you

I could scarcely believe what I heard, and my head spun. I knew it wasn’t possible for Karen’s words to be a direct message for me, yet how could I not let them penetrate and help me grieve? At last, I cried openly. I began to move on.

I would buy the rest of the Carpenters’ catalog over the next couple years. Their music remains a beloved part of the soundtrack of my life. And I’ll always be grateful that fate, or perhaps random chance, delivered “A Song For You” to me first.

Click Play to listen to “A Song For You.”

Standard
Music, Stories Told

Driving and singing: Wings, “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”

I sing. My goodness, do I love it. It’s a cathartic pleasure that lets me vent steam. Singing is key to my mental health!

While I’ll never be a singing star, I’ve got a decent voice, I can carry a tune, and I can sing out. If you want to hear, just join me at church on Sunday morning. But I do most of my singing in the car, alone. I plug in my iPhone and sing along to my entire music library. I know the words to most of the songs, a couple thousand in the library so far. They are the soundtrack of my life, and I love them.

In the weeks to come I’m going to share with you the songs I like to sing most. I’ll tell you something about them: a story about how they came to be, or how I came to know them, or stories from my life when I discovered them, or why I like to sing them.

DNS

The first is “Daytime Nighttime Suffering,” the B-side to Paul McCartney and Wings’ 1979 disco-flamenco hit, “Goodnight Tonight.” That song was a staple of my school’s dances when it was new. I will always count it among my favorites, too.

But I didn’t know about “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” until college, when I bought my first copy of “Goodnight Tonight.” (It was actually a used copy of the 12-inch dance single!) “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” is so infectious and well constructed that it could have been a very successful hit, too. Who but Paul McCartney has such talent that he could afford to make a B side out A-side material?

When I finally did discover this song, it instantly became one of my top ten favorites from McCartney. And that’s saying something, because I’m an enormous McCartney fan and own all of his records.

But I find most of McCartney’s songs to be frustrating to sing because his vocal range and mine don’t line up. I’m forever straining to hit the highs or lows. Sometimes I just give up and switch octaves as needed to keep up with him. I’m sure that doesn’t sound all that great. But I can sing Daytime Nighttime Suffering all the way through in the same octave, and that’s satisfying!

Click Play to listen to “Daytime Nighttime Suffering:”

Standard