I suppose you ought to know you’re in trouble when you realize you consider your daily dive into the soothing depths of the bottle to be somehow heroic.
But the truth is that I was not just a willful and enthusiastic drunk, I didn’t just romanticize drunken nescience — I exulted it as somehow emblematic of man’s struggle with his own weaker nature.
In those days — and for a long time after — I viewed my drinking as a badge of honor, like a wounded survivor proud of his crutch.
So, where you might see the protagonist of this song as, oh, say, for arguments sake, a pathetic loser, when I was writing it, I saw the guy as a tragic hero, battered and wounded, yet rising (through the haze of a thousand hangovers stretched end to end) to face the sysiphean ordeal of daily life…
He could give up.
But, somehow, he reaches deep inside himself to find that last bit of courage, reaches for his medicine, and goes on to face another day.
My pals have been shuffling off this mortal coil faster than I can recover my equilibrium, here.
I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised, Ben had been in the hospital a month or two ago with congestive heart failure. Still, though there’s not much about congestive heart failure that sounds like a walk in the park, it seemed like things were coming back together.
It looked like he’d even be going back to the work he loved: animation. He’d talked to Nickelodeon and it looked like they would be hiring him for a new project.
But it wasn’t to be.
Still, thing were looking up. He slipped into unconsciousness at his home and passed away not long after.
It was a rainy, March day in 1973 — a little like this rainy, March day.
My ex-GF was wrapped up in the ratty old full-length mink we’d bought for a few bucks at a Purple Hearts Veteran Thrift Store. When the sun started poking out from the gray clouds, she’d pulled her long, jet black hair out and now it was down, hanging across the damp and mottled fur… she couldn’t possibly have looked any cuter. As we walked the wet and puddled streets, we talked, our shoulders bumping together. I chewed a soggy, rum-soaked cigar that kept going out.
We’d been broken up for a while. She’d taken up with an old drinking buddy of mine, one of her teachers at the state university we both attended. Her new boyfriend had taken a teaching job in Germany and she was waiting to finish school (or something… damn, how fast it does all fade away) and in a few weeks, she too, would have packed up and moved to Germany.
It was the seventies, of course, and there was no such thing as a simple relationship in those days — at least not among the college hippies and disaffected bohos that formed our extended social set.
With our relationship officially over for many months, we’d drifted into a relatively easy and comfortable friendship… a complex one, to be sure… still deeply shot through with longing on my part — yet it had been my insistence on a completely open relationship (in order to pursue what I’m positive we both thought at the time was the “great lost love” of my life) that had finally heaped enough pain on that relationship that it finally shattered in a devastating explosion of raw emotion and pain… I realized for the first time that it was pain that I had caused.
It sounds, I suppose, impossibly callow, but until that moment it had never completely sunk in that I was capable of causing pain to my loved ones… it was, I suppose, my portal into adulthood… a transition I’m not sure that I’ve really completed. (And I’m sure that regular AYoS readers are nodding their heads knowingly right now.)
But on that day, the memory of the pain was submerged a little… though we were walking the same streets around the neighborhood we’d shared for several years — the same streets we walked obsessively the day some months before when she finally managed to communicate the pain I’d caused her.
Early in the relationship, she had moved across the street from the tiny bungalow I’d rented for a few years in college. It wasn’t my idea and it had made those open relationship, free love early 70s sometimes awkward and, on one pivotal night, deeply, deeply painful for her — and for me, as well, as, over the years, the memory of that night and all that flowed from it burned ever deeper into my memory… like an acid tear eating always, ever deeper into my soul.
And yet they kept on coming. A procession of rosy futures… glimmering… flickering… fading.
He stared at the surface of the coffee sitting in the stained mug on his warehouse desk. There was just something wrong with the way he was doing this life thing…
A decade earlier, starting out in life, he thought he had it all lined up. A smart, cute, funny girlfriend who put up with his bullshit, his wandering eye, his compulsive, no-end-to-it truth-telling. (“Well, at least I never lied to you!” he said way too often to his tearful, agonized girlfriend.)
But now, looking at a string of broken relationships stretching back to those golden-seeming days, it looked like an empty, bitter joke…
But, as always, a new dream would come… a new girl, a new set of possibilities… a new set of lies he would tell to her, to himself.
A new dream — but always the same, sad story arc.
He remembered a brief moment when he was about four or five, watching himself standing over a toilet and thinking, this can’t be a TV show, ’cause no one ever goes to the bathroom on TV. But it sure does feel like one…
His bitter laugh echoed against the concrete walls of the warehouse when he thought, Man, I should just fire the writing staff…
OK…. enough of all that. Today’s version of this song is kind of fun, I think, a funky, glam-folk reading of what I’ve always thought of as kind of a sleeper.