The Strokes – Under Control

When: Late at night, October 2007
Where: My mother’s car
Who: My mom
Weather: Warm, dry

Me: “Hey, Tom, I gotta tell you something.”

Tom: “Go right ahead.”

Me: “I’m really sorry about homecoming. I voted for Karen. But I think something good came out of it.”

Tom: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Well, I’ve been writing this…screenplay.”

Tom: “Yeah?”

Mee: “Basically it’s everything that just happened, except that I stole your girlfriend.”

(long pause)
Tom: “What the fuck, dude?”

I love the motown quality of this song as well.

Next: Kanye touches down.

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Travis – “Selfish Jean”

When: after sunset, 24 May 2007
Where: Westbound on East Orange Grove Boulevard
Who: My mom
Weather: Warm, clear

By the end of the school year, I’d come to realize I was on a roll. I had accomplished everything I wanted to do; I’d published some films (well, a vlog, but you have to start somewhere) and established a stage persona. I’d chosen a college, passed my SAT’s with flying colors, I’d been in a goddamn tornado, and I had a schedule. Now I was coming into school an hour early. Maybe I’d go out for breakfast, maybe I’d just like the peace and quiet of an empty bus and library. I could have gone either way.

It was during my morning downtime that I discovered something amazing– the Cold War was back on. I’d heard rumors after the Polonium incident, but this was thrilling news. By now the Cold War was a nostalgic memory, more straightforward and understandable than what we were going through at the time. I got my analysis on the situation from The Daily Show, which I watched every morning with my friend Wyatt. This led me to Demetri Martin, which led me to this:

I watched it when I woke up, before dawn. I couldn’t get it out of my head, but I didn’t care. This was a different kind of song. Rather than a soaring quality, painful angst or a certain sleaze, it was fun. It was like a feather. It could have been at home in the early sixties, and there was nothing else like it out there. Today we call that pop revival, but it won’t show up again here for a long, long time.

When I got home, I downloaded it, before meeting some friends in Lamanda Park. As my mom picked me up, we passed the globular street lamps of the wide boulevard, the song enveloping the car, and thinking, “this would be a great season finale.” I was living my dream, however modest it was, and wasn’t going to stop any time soon. But before the real weirdness kicked in, I at least had that moment of accomplishment. I had become the man I wanted to be, the man for his time and place. For the first time, I was proud to be me.

Next: Soaring guitars have their downside.

Arctic Monkeys – “Brianstorm”

When: April 2007
Where: My mom’s car, northbound on San Gabriel at Garvey on the way back from Parent-Teacher Conferences
Who: My mom
Weather: Warm, sunny

Jed the Fish again. “This is a band from Coachella,” he said. “It’s a very loud band. It’s Arctic Monkeys.” I was very confused. The Arctic Monkeys weren’t a Loud band!

Of course, they were very loud, but in 2007, “Loud,” capital L, was a genre, and garage rockers weren’t part of it. Metal was Loud. Post-Grunge. Loud music was supposed to be generic and ooze like molasses. Such had the term drifted that the loudest band on the radio wasn’t loud. It was indie. The danger of the nineties had come to pass; the terminology of music had drifted out of reality, and it wouldn’t change for a long time. But from then on, the Arctic Monkeys were loud.

Earlier that day, I visited the counselor’s office. My grades weren’t good, and certainly there was not enough money for me to attend any of the better film schools. But she disagreed.

“Have you considered San Francisco State?” she asked in an Oxford accent that suggested she was about to die. I had never heard of San Francisco State. But I’d just been in a tornado, and was compelled to make San Francisco State my first choice then and there, regardless of how little I knew about it.

Elliott Smith – “A Fond Farewell”

When: 27 March 2007
Where: Portable room 701, Bosco
Who: Several classmates
Weather: Well, let’s just tell the story…

“Is it Argentines or Argentinians?” Marc Meehan turned to ask me. Everybody called him Father Marc, and while he intended to come back to Bosco to teach, he was emphatic that he wouldn’t become a priest. Too bad, I thought, you’ll have to pay your own rent. Most priests had affairs off-campus anyway.

“It could be either,” I replied, “but if it were up to me, I’d say Argentine.” I always preferred shorter demonyms.

Bosco was on a block schedule, so all of our classes lasted an hour and a half. It gave us enough time to actually learn things, but just as often gave us ridiculous amounts of free time if we had a test. We had such a test in Mr. Rod’s algebra 4 class that fateful March day. It was raining as I listened to This American Life. The story of the journal of David Ben Gurion. Fearing for my lost memories, I began to play with the idea of not only keeping a journal, but giving myself the discipline to write reliably in it as he did.

Rod’s cell phone rang. There was no landline. “Okay,” he said, “we’re having a lockdown.” I was used to lockdowns from my middle school days as we were located next to the Motel 6 where Hunter Thompson wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But somehow lockdowns seemed more serious in high school. It’s a shooting, I thought, some psychotic freshman. And we began to formulate a plan to defend ourselves. But Bosco didn’t have a gunman. The reality was so thoroughly beyond our experience that we couldn’t imagine it until we saw it happen.

We looked out the window. The parking lot was gone, only a dark grey void. The raindrops on the glass became longer. Before long, single drops were stretching across the entirety of the plane. The heavy metal doors rattled, and a whole limb of the tree outside our portable slammed against us. Mr. Rod had us close the windows. I continued to listen to This American Life, and eventually they played this song.

Finally, some students came to tell us we could go to the next class. When we got out, there was a straight line of devastation across the campus. Bits of trees, cracks in buildings. I had been in the eye of a fucking tornado.

Contrary to popular belief, California has more tornadoes per year than any other state, but they are generally not very strong, seldom in populated places, and never on the top of a hill. And yet there we were. I went home, dove into my old middle school stuff, and pulled out the blank journal from the Renaissance Fair four years earlier, and started writing.

And I was going to need it, because the tornado was just the beginning.

Next: The drifting meaning of “loud.”

Incubus – “Rogues”

When: January 2012
Where: Northbound M20 on San Gabriel Boulevard
Who: Assorted students
Weather: cold, clear

It was an unusually cold winter in Pasadena. Citrus crops were ruined, pipes burst, lawns turned white, and in an unprecedented act, I wore a jacket over my sweatshirt. This was the last time anyone cared about Incubus.

My favorite teacher, Mr. Montes, had just left Bosco, and his replacement…well, he wasn’t worthy. He was a cholo reasearching the role of Mexican-Americans in World War II, and the actual teaching was somewhat secondary. At one point he seemed to support executing the mentally ill.

For the most part he showed us movies, including Blade Runner, which was my first experience of the film, and I didn’t initially like it. Listening to this album initially put me in mind of the soundtrack to that film, but that wore off and I got some good mileage out of the album.

I was done with Incubus, it was time for something new. I yearned for a more adventurous life, and I was soon to get one.

Next: “Are they Argentines or Argentinians?”

AFI – “Affliction”

When: December 2006
Where: San Gabriel Boulevard
Who: Alone
Weather: Cool, breathtakingly clear

One day, not long before winter break, I went home sick. I don’t think I was sick, but when I got on the bus home, I was awestruck. I was alone on the bus, the driver was the same guy who usually went the other way in the mornings, and as the bus went over the top of the hill I saw the clearest view of the San Gabriel Valley I had ever seen. And this was a song I had not previously listened to on my CD. Little did I know it would be the last CD I ever listened to.

My 17th birthday came during finals. I got an iPod, much to my surprise, and a copy of A Walk in the Woods. I was really into Bill Bryson; even now he’s my biggest influence, and there was plenty more of his work to read.

It was an uncommonly mild winter. During finals and before christmas, it was cool and clear. James Brown, Saddam Hussein, and Gerald Ford all died. And I was Time Magazine’s man of the year. And having written my longest screenplay ever at 60 pages, I was feeling warm in the winter breeze.

It did rain torrentially between Christmas and New Years,’ but that was about it. I went to school with an iPod full of This American Life audiobooks. One of them would change everything.

In Catholic School, you take religious classes, and this time it was Stroup’s Social Justice class. It was cool, because it was a small class, lots of videos, and the teacher actually worked with gangsters, giving him a considerable edge over the other teachers. It was at the end of the day, and a lot of the time we didn’t actually do any work, leaving me to listen to my iPod. One story in particular took me. Alez Zharov, a person the same age as me, stranded on a desert island…in Brooklyn. And he wants nothing more than to go back, and be done by dinnertime, and then find something new and different, never knowing where he would end up.

It was at that moment that I decided to live an interesting life. As it turned out, finding adventure would not be as difficult as I thought.

Next: 2007 begins in earnest, and the adventure takes off.

Foo Fighters – “Ain’t It the Life”

When: 21 November 2006
Where: Valley and San Gabriel Boulevards
Who: Several classmates, several students at a rival school
Weather: Sunny

For some reason on the day after the midterm elections, we got a half-day at school and my mom, who was somehow also off work, took me to Canterbury Records on Colorado. She bought Incubus’ Light Grenades (as I mentioned before), I bought AFI’s Decemberunderground and There is Nothing Left to Lose by the Foo Fighters, the only one of their albums I didn’t have. I spent the following day absorbing it.

It was a busy time– I was catching up on 24, trying to get a film festival started at Bosco, and everybody was watching the Polonium story unfolding overseas in the hope it would lead to a new Cold War.. Most notably I was in the process of writing my first feature script, not counting Dublin. This was a comedy, set in the early sixties and written as a ploy to get closer to a girl who went to Gabrielino. It was my first attempt at sweetness; sadly if any hard copy of the script still exists, I have yet to find it.

We rode the bus home every night, in the encroaching dark and often alone, as I took the opportunity to get my friends to review the screenplay. I dubbed us “Team Huddy.” I’d been recently listening to Al Franken’s book on CD, but this Foo Fighters album was often my companion on the long rides home.

Bodies had been showing up in the middle of the street on the way to school lately, which aside from being disturbing and inexplicable created massive detours that caused tons of trouble not only for us, but for the students at Gabrielino High School which was on our way. I had a huge crush on a girl who went there, but that’s for a whole other series.

Anyway, one of the bodies finally showed up in front of their school, and as the traffic here was already impossibly bad, we took an hour through residential streets to traverse one net block. That’s when I saw the body. In the spirit of seeing something so gruesome, I thought it appropriate to listen to something completely at odds with the situation. So I played “Ain’t it the Life,” and I never forgot it.

Next: Wives and knives