Boulder, CO – Fatty J & Not Eric – February 9, 1998

So I guess I’m staying.  Boulder, its flatironed red mountains stabbing at the sky, holds something mysterious for me.   I rented a 2nd-floor apartment at 9th and University and converted the porch overlooking the cemetery into a makeshift bedroom hanging some found fabric on the windows.  The first night I moved in, there was a mound of rubbish outside my front door.  As I moved my furniture in, I moved someone else’s garbage out.  My desk in, someone else’s broken TV out.  My CD collection in, Someone else’s smelly hefty bag out.  As I was nearing the bottom of the stack of trash something in a glass terrarium moved.  I thought it was a rat and nearly fell down the stairs backward.  But it wasn’t a rat.  It was a softball-sized hedgehog some a-hole had abandoned.

“People do that,” explained the vet I rushed the spinny orphan to.  “They buy hedgehogs as novelty pets, over feed ‘um and when they realize they can’t pick ‘um up or play with ‘um they abandon them.” 

“Well that sucks,” I said.

“This one is about two times the size it should be.” She said, donning gloves and retrieving the critter from the terrarium.  “They’re supposed to curl into a ball when they’re scared but this one is way too fat.”  Indeed, as she hoisted the little guy up he gave what looked like a lazy abb crunch but nothing that much resembled a ball. 

“He’s got parasites too, see?  He’s losing a bunch of quills.  You’ll have to buy a pair of gloves and feed him a dropper of medicine every day.”  So, I took the pathetic little beast back to my new apartment and named him “Fatty J” after the all-night stoner pizzeria down the street.   

The floors in my living area are so wrapped that after a day of classes (I signed up for at CU Boulder in an attempt to finish my college credits) my furniture migrates into the center of the room.  Fatty J is always buried in the center of the pile and I make a game of finding him while peeling back tables, armchairs, and rugs to their original positions.  He’s a free-range hog.

I took the gig with “Mary Sister Reload” and we’re now calling ourselves “Not Eric.” Rehearsals are weekly.   I’ve since washed the orange plaid jacket from the ceiling insulation and wear it with pride every freezing practice. 

Last week we recorded an assortment of songs at The Red Door Studio.  As we arrived at the back-alley studio, ½ frozen flakes the size of watch faces were just starting to litter the air.  We took turns laying down tracks, stepping over each other’s semi-reclined bodies to get into the clenched fist size of a control room.  There we drank skunked beer and re-listened to parts we’d just played.  We made up band names.  Steve, engineering the session suggested, “Big Head Sally and the Monsters.” Dave offered “Naked Trout” and Rob suggested the alteration “Just Trout.” Names were thrown around like spaghetti at a wall: “Emotional Blender” “Sounds Good Naked” & “Spudboy”.  We laughed, we ate, we drank, we recorded, and repeated until 12:30 at which point I was wasted, exhausted, and back in the damp snow.

Boulder, CO – Anonymous – January 10, 1998

No one knows me here.  I like it that way.  I often feel my parent’s names too tight around me, like a corset or a wool turtleneck sweater.  Here, in this new town of Boulder, Colorado, I feel anonymous, naked and free.  I don’t know if I’ll stay or drive back east yet, but I’m here now and loosely dipping my toe into the music scene around the mountain town.

Right now, I’m sitting behind the wheel of my Rav 4 playing guitar in the parking lot of a “Buffalo Exchange” second-hand clothing store.  It’s cold.  I’ve been sleeping in my car the last couple nights as I recently broke up with the boyfriend I moved to Colorado for.  My tiny storm purple Rav 4 is packed to the gills with my life.  Boots and empty coffee cups and baseball caps and hairbrushes roll onto the pavement whenever I open the door. 

This parking lot outside “Buffalo Exchange” on Walnut Street is perfect for me, despite a scary vagrant knocking on my door asking for a light every now and then.   It’s the only spot in downtown Boulder that’s both abandoned at night and well-lit.  It’s also, conveniently right around the corner from “Robb’s Music,” where I go in the morning (after gas station pretzels and black coffee) to harvest tabs from fliers of bands “looking for lead singers.”  I’ve already auditioned for three since I got here last week.

The first two weren’t right but the group I played with tonight has potential.  They call themselves “Mary Sister Reload.”  I have no idea what the name means and I’m not sure they do either.  I showed up to their rehearsal garage at seven, after eating a very messy falafel inside my car.  Their rented space was one in a strand of 10 garages on a dark lot littered with industrial garbage just down the street from “The Bus Stop,” The only strip joint in town.  Each garage door seemed to struggle to contain a different indi-band’s music.  As I approached the strand of garage bands, a salad of screeching feedback, bluegrass, infighting, and grateful dead cover tunes could be heard bleeding out into the dry cold air.  Some roll top doors were opened and inside I could see bandmates practicing drinking beer more than songs.   They held drumsticks and guitar necks in one hand and bottles and joints in the other as they called out to me salaciously when I pulled up.

A fiercely handsome frontman passed me on his way out of auditioning for the same gig I was going for.  I knocked feeling slightly self-conscious about my unwashed hair and brushing falafel crumbs off my flannel.  Jeff, Dave and Tom introduced themselves inside the frigid rehearsal space and launched into a cover of “Brown Sugar” which luckily, I knew the words to. 

After a few more familiar tunes, the boys talked amongst themselves while I shivered on a raft of dirty carpets.  I noticed an orange plaid coat stuffed into the ceiling insulation above my head patching up a beige leaky hole.  I asked if I could wear it to get warm.  “’’Snot ours, sure, keep it.”  As I pulled on a loose sleeve a pinata of mouse shit and roofing came down on me.  Gross.  It is a testament to the state of my depravity that not only did I still wear the coat, but I am also still wearing it now.

I got the gig though I have no idea what “Mary Sister Reload actually plays (besides loudly).  They did suggest they’d like me to write some lyrics to some of their material which seems promising.  They also seem to be open to a name change which seems even more promising.

So now I’m here.  Cradling my guitar vertically, like a lover in the front seat of my Rav, trying to figure out whether to drive back home to my family on the East Coast or plant my feet in the soil out here.  I’m writing a song about my recent breakup.  I think I’ll call it “Happy Now.”

Martha’s Vineyard, MA – Fausta’s Shack – July 12, 1997

“So, you do or don’t think it’s crazy for me to consider a music career?” I ask my barefoot, hippie, moth-eaten sweater-wearing, therapist.  We’re in the shack we meet in weekly.  There are lace doily-like curtains in a single pane window and otherwise, no light in the damp hut.   I can’t believe I’m speaking these words out loud, let alone considering the possibility I might follow in my parent’s footsteps.  But I was recently in a plane accident in Peru flying in a small plane over the “Nazca Lines” where an oil tank unceremoniously flew off my side of the plane.  Before I could even wonder what happened, the propellers on either wing clamped still like a bear trap. 

The cabin went completely silent. I remember the acrid smell of stale cigarette smoke on a fellow passenger’s breath and thinking, with curiosity bated, “I wonder what happens next?” I watched the pilot, whose seat I sat directly behind, slowly stitch his shoulders to his ears.  There they dangled like frozen icebergs. Past him through the windshield, I saw what I thought must be a runway, a good sign I thought, until I noticed cars driving on it.  We would be forced to make an emergency landing on The Pan-American Highway. The angle at which we hit the blacktop was steep and made the plane jump and stumble like a drunk at a traffic stop.   As we slowed, our left wing hit a car.

Miraculously, no one was hurt, and a shaman who said he’d intuited the whole affair, climbed out from the back seat and rubbed blessing oil on each of us before helping us push the plane out of the road. Confronted with mortality, we hitched a ride back to the airport.   Two things were overwhelmingly clear in my mind. 

Before I leave the planet:

 1. I want to have a child.

 2. I want the songs I’ve written organized on a CD.

At sixteen I started waking up with lyrics and melodies in my head. Each morning throughout high school and into college I’d diligently retrieve them upon waking, weeding through the shrapnel of dreams and dusting off half-bent choruses and meandering verses.  I kept a sandwich-sized cassette recorder by my bedside and hit record immediately after hitting my alarm.  I would sing into it what I could groggily remember before teetering off to the rec hall for eggs and oatmeal.

My mom bought me a D-1 Martin guitar at “Manny’s” in Times Square in New York on a snowy weekend home from Brown during my freshman year. Overhearing some of my morning songwriting sessions she insisted I have a way to accompany myself.  Soon after I began performing some of my songs, securing a weekly local gig at “Z-Bar,” a smoke-filled sports bar on Providence RI’s legendary Wickenden Street.

As my life and death flashed before my eyes on that tiny plane in Peru, I imagined all those songs I’d written, those sweet little gifts from the depths of my unguarded night-time heartbeats, strewn across miles of cassette tape never to be finished or polished or probably ever heard from again and I wanted to finish them in a way I felt honored them.  But at what price?  It was pure madness to consider following in my famous parents’ musical footsteps.  Wasn’t it?

My therapist, her face cradled in a nest of wiry graying hair (1/2 of which I’m sure I put there), crooked her head in consideration.  Her eyes fix on the ceiling as though there were something other than a field of white up there and responded:

“No, not so crazy.” 

However she agreed that I should put some parameters in place to protect me from any potential success or failure.  Together we imagined some preliminary measures if I, in fact, ever decided a life in music was the right path for me…

  1. I shouldn’t be tempted to take the same path my parents had.  I should probably not sign a record deal (if one is ever an option for me) and instead get my hands dirty.  I should teach myself the ins and outs and the nitty-gritty of running a label myself before delegating roles to others.
  2. I should never read reviews.  This was my dad’s advice “If you believe the good reviews, you’ll believe the bad reviews when they come.  Best not to read them at all.”
  3. If at any time your ego gets in the driver’s seat don’t be afraid to “Jump Ship!”

But as I left my Fausta’s hut and walked barefoot back through the woods to my house I discounted my urge to record my own music.  I was happy enough playing with my disco band “The Boogies,” every Thursday night.  I didn’t need to put myself out there for the sake of some songs on a sandwich-sized tape recorder.  Or did I?