Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Time Just Fades The Pages In My Book Of Memories...

Well, the air outside is freezing-ass cold and so filthy you can taste it. The grass is turning random shades of brown and there's barely enough time after the frost comes off to finish eighteen holes these days. Yep, it's Winter, and that means I finally have some time to sit down and put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, or something to something. After a summer in which I finally achieved some success, made a competitive comeback, fell back into some bad habits and ultimately walked away from my dream, I've got some shit to get off my chest. And in the next couple months, I'm going to cover that and a whole lot more. It's time to GET IT ON!

Last week Guns N' Roses made their way back to Salt Lick for the first time since the Use Your Illusion era, eighteen years ago. In that span a whole lot of things have changed. Everybody knows that the band is completely different these days. Lunatic frontman, Axl Rose, is the only member left from the famed Appetite For Destruction lineup.  In the twenty years since Appetite era drummer, and famed coke fiend, Steven Adler quit/got shitcanned, the band has gone through almost as many lineup changes as my beloved Chicago Bears have had starting quarterbacks.  Yet still, Axl remains, after eighteen different members have come and gone and come back and went away again, he's the only really consistent thing about that band anymore. 

In that same period of time, my own life has taken many turns as well. Even in my early teenage years, where every kid is a crazy, loud asshole, well I was still and asshole, but a quiet and reserved asshole. Thinking back, I kinda was the creepy kid in the back of the classroom that liked reading non-age appropriate novels and listening to oldies bands that went out of fashion twenty years previous. But I did play baseball, and I was pretty good at it so nobody gave me any shit. As much as I loved it though, the game eventually started to feel more like work than anything else. So I took up golf, simply because it was something almost nobody my age was doing at the time. In fact, since this was the pre-Tiger Woods era, playing golf was about the least cool thing you could probably do at that age.

But a new kid came to school in the ninth grade, Bryan, a big Texan kid and the first person my age that I knew could swing a club. Together we were the lone freshman kids on the Carbon High golf team that season and through that, we started hanging out. He was really one of the first post-baseball world friends that I had where we'd hang out other than at school or practice. It was Bryan that introduced me to one of the segments of pop culture that have really defined me in the last twenty years, the world of hard rock and heavy metal.

As I mentioned before somewhere along the line, we didn't have much for local radio in Price. We had a right-wing talk station, a soft rock station, six or seven country stations (at least that's what it seemed like) and the one I gravitated towards (because that's all my dad listened to), the oldies station. We had cable, but outside of Remote Control, I didn't watch a ton of MTV back then. Of course, why would I?  Most of the bands I knew and loved at the time had their heyday twenty years before then! I think I was hipster before hipster was hipster! But I remember vividly, always stopping while flipping channels by three videos in particular:  Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer," Metallica's "Enter Sandman," and Guns N' Roses' "November Rain." So I kinda always was a closet hard rock fan, but I felt like I'd painted myself in a corner as far as my musical tastes go. I was so scared to fucking death of looking ignorant discussing it, because it was one of the few things I didn't feel like I had and encyclopedic knowledge of and because I was so afraid of being considered "uncool." I ultimately didn't realize that I was already the least cool kid in my hometown (which considering where I grew up put me in contention for least "with it" guy nationwide,) simply because I was always afraid of being true to myself. In other words, a typical teenager.

In keeping with the trend of staying about ten years behind the times, I got my first stereo and Sony Discman for Christmas in '95 and began spending almost all of my job and lawn mowing money building a music collection.  My first two CD's:  The Best of The Doors, and the soundtrack to The Big Chill. I WAS 16 GOING ON 50! But in the Summer of '96 things kicked into high gear as far as my musical education goes. We had a full-fledged group now. Bryan, Odie, Jahon, White Chocolate, Trey, Olie and myself formed our very own band of idiots. Also that Summer, Bryan introduced "The Tape."

"The Tape" was a mixtape he had made containing all the popular standards of heavy music from back then, Metallica, Megadeth, GN'R, Ozzy Osbourne, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Van Halen and more. We played that fucking thing back to back in Bryan's "Pimp-Mobile," a shit-brown 1982 Buick Regal, all summer long. And while the grunge tunes didn't excite me too much, I was fiercely attracted to the speed and power of the thrash bands, the technical mastery of Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, and the sleazy swagger of Guns N' Roses. I set about spending almost every spare penny I had for the rest of my high school life finding every recording I could of the 80's hard rock and thrash bands. I'd finally found a real passion about something outside of sports that I could share with my friends. And with the way the dynamic of that group was set up, and the way we busted balls, quiet and shy no longer cut the mustard. So I was forced to discover a confidence that I never thought I had. Didn't help much with girls, hell, I still clam up and have no idea how to act cool around the ladies, but I was at least finally sociable.
The Crew. Probably before a nice night of roadblocking or committing random acts of mischief!

Two years later, my folks split up and my family melted down. By that time, I'd taken a couple sophomore kids (Little Nick and Ben) under my wing and brought them into the fold. I'll always be thankful for the support of my friends during that time, but I was a mess. I took up drinking as a hobby and started to retreat back into myself again. To their credit, they wouldn't let me crawl all the way in that hole. But I was a pretty pissed off guy and not happy with life in general. Other than gaining another new friend in my Junior College coach, Skwez, by the time the JC years were over I was ready to get the fuck out of town. I was ready to put it all in the rear-view and move on.

Towards the end of that last summer, we got the whole gang back together for one last barbecue. I spent a good chunk of the evening out on the patio, brooding, pounding Miller Genuine Drafts and generally being a drag. Bryan sat down and started talking, but I wasn't in too much of a listening mood. He was talking about who was hooking up with who, how they had the dog eat some of the tapped melon and how excited but nervous he was about Metallica's upcoming album release of their collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, S&M. He realized he wasn't getting through too well until he launched in with a tirade that has stuck with me since that day. My recollection for detail in that era is for shit, so I'll paraphrase:

"Nickas, stop being a dick. Do you think you're the only one here with any problems? Tomorrow, I'm leaving for Colorado, and you're moving to Salt Lake. Tomorrow, we're both starting from square one in the friend department. Sure, there might be a few people you know in the community, but that's not going to be enough. We're both living in dorms and are going to be around strangers nonstop. Would you want to live with someone that hates the fucking world?"

He was right. I had a real choice to make. Be the type of antisocial asshole I always was scared shitless of becoming, or at least put on a good face and be sociable. Thankfully I made the right choice. As luck would have it, or maybe it was some kind of sick experiment in the Dean's office, everyone in my dorm unit came from a broken home. Some more recently than others, but we all had that in common so we had a place to start. And we all helped each other deal with those issues that will always linger.

It didn't take long, but soon I was no longer faking happiness, I was enjoying my place in the world. That confidence came roaring back, and soon, some of my more overbearing personality traits took over and I got LOUD. I started to preach the gospel of rock and roll to my new friends and before long, I was getting them into hard rock and metal tunes too, dragging them to shows, meeting some rock stars. I was simply excited to share my passion, and I was going to do it whether they liked it or not. It was like I didn't just come out of my shell, I completely obliterated it! Some of them probably didn't like it, but by the time school was done, I'm pretty sure they at least had an appreciation for it that they didn't have before.

In late 2008 Guns N' Roses released their first all-original album since I was twelve years old, Chinese Democracy. My old college roommate, and biggest GN'R fan that I know, VodkaRob and I hit the indie record store on the very night of its release to pick it up. By then we'd both settled into careers. He was a computer tech, I'd just been promoted to Head Golf Professional at the University of Utah. And even though that record sounded absolutely nothing like the classic GN'R of my youth, and you can argue that it doesn't hold up at all, I couldn't deny that chill I got when I heard the first chord on the title track officially (heard tons of demos over the years,) for the first time. I realized that while the band was completely different, I was completely different as well. An hour later we came to the conclusion that with the exception of a few songs, that album basically sucked! But deep down, I didn't really care, I was just happy to share that experience with a friend. And folks, that's one of those things that makes life worth living. Experiencing that kind of shit with your friends.

When I started writing this, I fully intended to do a concert review of that GN'R show from last week. Instead I had a flood of memories and got a little sidetracked. If ya'll don't mind, I'll give the review its own post later this weekend. And down the road, I'll be sharing a few stories from the shenanigans that my old crew of high school buddies and I would get into.  Think of them as a "dorm days prequel!"