6:00 p.m. Tower Cafe, The Police on the headphones. That’s a bit contrived, though. This whole set up is, beginning with that notation. I have made the same notation on every journal entry for the last twenty years. Every Tuesday evening I come here, sit alone with notebook, sketchbook, book book, and either draft what I’ve been noodling about or polish previous noodles. I drink the same thing and if I’m lucky I sit at the same table, but you’ve heard this story before.
The routine works for me, and that’s all that matters. The locus of writing is simply doing the work, but the magic is in the voodoo ritual — whatever secret combination of factors that calms my panic long enough to allow pen to meet paper. I worry, though. Playing with routine and ritual is for me a bit like a junkie playing with heroin. Since at least my early twenties I’ve dealt with — or more appropriately haven’t dealt with — obsessive compulsive disorder. I wasn’t aware of this until a few months ago, though the few friends I’ve told have greeted the news with a “duh” and a laugh, so apparently I’m the last one to the party. They seem to think its funny — that OCD is some quirky personality trait. It’s more like chassis rust on your ’65 Mustang: You’re not likely to notice it until you snap in two while speeding down the highway.
Medication has been a tremendous help. I owe apologies to those who have suffered due to my reluctance to tamper with my brain chemistry. I am truly sorry, and I hope you never have to face how hard it is to accept chemical help for a broken brain. I could try to explain further, I suppose, but that would seem defensive; besides, there are lots of places on the intergooglewebtubes to find such material.
This business of electronic publishing pushes my compulsive button, as one of my behaviors is counting. I guess it’s not the publishing that’s a potential issue so much as the logging. Over here on this side of the curtain I have nifty little tools that show me how many people each day waste their time reading my blather. The tallies and the graphs and the charts lead to patterns, and that way lies ritual. Simply writing this paragraph drove me to my phone for a quick stats check.
Even more than quantity I run the risk of obsessing over quality. Unobtainable perfection cripples me — relentless editing and revision, never right, never good enough. I started Why It Matters the same week that I started medication. It seemed like the right write gesture — get the words out there without suffocating them. First thought best thought, prove to myself that my house of cards won’t crumble if I don’t get it right, whatever “right” means.
Electronic publishing is a bit like sticking a note in a bottle. Pressing that button is like watching one’s meager effort to connect be consumed by the vast blue of an apathetic ocean. And then I stand there on the shore, looking for the “likes” and comments that prove that someone got my message in a bottle. What’s interesting to me as I sit here in the same restaurant at the same table on the same night drinking the same thing is the realization that none of this has anything to do with my broken brain. Presumably one who has cancer views the world through a cancer lens, and similarly I have fallen into the trap of seeing the world through an OCD lens. But every day on the Internet one hundred million bottles wash up on the shore, each carrying their own unique message. The greatest invention in the history of bringing people together demonstrates daily how lonely we are. Which I suppose is all a very long-winded way of saying: Thank you for reading; feel free to comment or email; and don’t hesitate to say hello to the guy feverishly scribbling away at the deuce in the corner.
All of this has rendered The Police’s “Message In A Bottle” my earworm of the day. As earworms go one can do much worse. The Police were perfect and beautiful. Five perfect albums. I can’t say that about my beloved Bowie or my precious Beatles. Five perfect albums. I can’t help but wonder if overwhelmed by the urge to suck Sting left rather than blow the no-hitter. Take me out, coach, I feel a lute solo coming on.
The best evidence that The Police were perfect is that only Sean Puffy Diddy Fizzy Shizzy Combs can ruin one of their songs. I can’t sing a lick, and I once surprised the gifted Lee G by singing harmony to “Message In A Bottle” during a car trip.
I’m jumping quite a bit ahead here, but age eighteen found me living in a drafty old Victorian in downtown Spartanburg. I shared the first floor of this former brothel with two buddies who will receive much ink before I dot my final “i.” We also shared food, art supplies, music, everything. Lee G was a frequent guest as were others.
My closest friend in that house was Jeff, and although we haven’t maintained very close contact I still count him among my dearest friends. I honestly can’t wait to bring him into this story in a meaningful way, but for now what matters is that Jeff and I were big Todd Rundgren fans. Another friend of ours was, too. So are you — you just don’t know it. Todd Rundgren produced some of the biggest selling albums of all time but he has been reduced to “bang on me drum all day” background music for cheesy zoo crew DJs. But albums long forgotten like Healing and The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect are true classics.
So for this little group of music nerds finding out that Todd Rundgren was playing a club in Charlotte was like finding out that The Stones were playing a frat party. I talked someone into covering my shift at the record store and the three of us piled into Jeff’s Camaro for a road trip. For seventy miles we played Todd Rundgren cassettes and listened to the only musician among us deconstruct the master.
We stood in line at the club for a good hour only to learn that it wasn’t an all ages show. No amount of pleading swayed the bouncer. “Fuck it. I drove to Charlotte to hear live music and I’m not leaving until I do.” I don’t remember who said it, but we were all thinking it. We piled back into Jeff’s Camaro, stopped at every club we passed until we finally found a bouncer apathetic enough not to card us.
It was a little place — The Crow’s Nest, I think. We grabbed a table by the stage, ordered some dollar beers and waited for the show. Three beers later a big old boy, moustached and mulleted, Telecaster strapped across his beer belly, stepped onto the stage. He looked like Danny Joe Brown from Molly Hatchet. The whole band looked like Molly Hatchet. I looked over at the one musician among us. He gave me the “who farted” look.
People in glass Camaros should not throw The Stones. Danny Joe plugged in, the drummer counted off, and Mini-Hatchet launched into “Message In A Bottle.” It was beautiful and perfect. No it wasn’t. It was sloppy and Southern-fried, but it was still beautiful because only Puff Shirty can ruin a Police song. This was the greatest evening I would never spend with Todd Rundgren.
Now it is time to roll this up, slip it into the narrow green neck of my bottle and press <publish>. I won’t stand here and count while I wait for it to disappear beneath the waves, I won’t. As far as you know.