I am a textbook example of an alcoholic depressive. I never felt comfortable or okay or like I fit in. I was always comparing myself to others and coming up short. I sucked. Nothing would ever work out. I would get lost in fantasies about some far off future in which everything would suddenly work out perfectly for me, life would be easy and I would smite my enemies with battleaxes and fire, then a teacher would call on me and I wouldn’t know the answer. Happened a million times. I discovered alcohol when I was fifteen or so. Changed everything. When I was knee-walking drunk, I felt okay. Really, really okay. I never got the “ten-feet-tall-and-bullet-proof” thing that some drunks get, but I did get okay. I discovered punk rock around the same time, which was awesome. Suddenly having a shitty attitude and an aura of inarticulate angst was cool – well, nobody else thought it was cool, but they didn’t know about punk. I got an electric guitar – the red Hondo All-Star that I still have and still use – and a really crappy amp that some guy’s older brother built – it had car stereo speakers, I shit you not – and started thrashing. Senior year of high school, I noticed that another spazz/reject in the cafeteria had on plaid thriftstore pants. We got to talking, discovered we had a lot in common besides awkward taste in trousers: we both enjoyed punk, theft and alcohol. I had a girlfriend at that point and the three of us formed a band, the Impediments. We got the name from an article about the Replacements – they had originally been the Impediments, but had showed up drunk and played horribly under that name so many times that word had gotten around and they had to change their name to get gigs. I thought it was perfect. My girlfriend didn’t really care and the other guy was just killing time ‘til he could get the hell out of the Valley. I think he’s in Taiwan now. He and I “obtained” a drum set and he traded me his half of something else we “obtained” for my half of the drum set, so he was the drummer. My girlfriend was female and couldn’t play an instrument, so, obviously, she was the bassist. I owned a guitar.
What I wanted the Impediments to be was a synthesis of the loud, fast three-chord riff-rock of the early Replacements and the noisiest, freakouts of Sonic Youth. And I wanted to be drunk. Basically, the Replacements with less talent and more free-form feedback scree.
We had a few practices at my girlfriend’s house which basically consisted of drinking, setting up, drinking, playing the “Louie, Louie” riff, drinking, talking about how much we hated high school, me presenting some lyrics I’d written while not paying attention in class and the three-chord riff I’d come up with to accompany them, which was usually a variation on the “Louie, Louie” riff, and drinking. Sometimes we also smoked pot. Occasionally, we watched Rock’n’Roll High School. I actually convinced some college student I knew to let us play at a party at her house. The other Impediments were not as sure as I was that we should do it. They kept talking about the fact that we didn’t really know any songs. I was absolutely certain that if we showed up, drank a lot and attacked our instruments like we were trying to kill them before they killed us, we could blow minds and break hearts. As it happened, the other two didn’t show up at the party, the college student told me she’d only said yes because she thought I wasn’t serious and they wouldn’t let me drink their beer because I was a minor.
The Impediments did actually play publicly a few months later. Some kid’s parents were out of town the day after graduation so the kid had a party. I didn’t know the guy – I think the drummer knew a guy who went to another high school and that’s how we found out about the party. There were going to be bands playing on the back porch and a lot of beer. My girlfriend got thrown off a horse and broke her arm the day of the party, which seemed like a good omen since, according to the aforementioned article, the Replacements bass player had broken his arm the day of their first gig. I think he fell out of a tree. At any rate, the drummer and I went to the party and got drunk while some guys played B.T.O.’s “Takin’ Care Of Business” and shit like that. I don’t know if we’d forgotten our gear or if it was a conscious decision, but we were planning on using other peoples’ stuff. Nobody wanted to let us do that. When it started raining, everybody went inside and we saw our chance. We managed to make some goddawful racket for several minutes before the guys who owned the stuff we were banging around in the rain came out and threatened to kick our asses. That was pretty much the end of that band.
I am not sorry. I remain, to this day, 100% convinced that the Impediments was a grand idea. Sloppy, three-chord riffs and freakout noise made by angsty, drunk teenagers in cultural dead-zones is what keeps rock’n’roll alive. Oh yeah , I also wanted to do Hank Williams covers. That would’ve been awesome.
I was in a band or so after the Impediments, and I eventually married that girlfriend, who never did learn to play bass. The drinking and the drugging and the depression kept on getting worse. I quit playing guitar after I threw the red Hondo in a fit of punque pique and busted the humbucker (I eventually had another humbucker and two single-coils installed). The marriage didn’t last. I hadn’t felt okay in so long I didn’t know what okay was. Plus I kept developing new symptoms – agoraphobia, panic attacks, compulsive self-mutilation, aural and visual hallucinations, paranoia, psychotic breaks with reality, insomnia and on and on. I would go days without eating for no reason. Another girlfriend told me that sleeping beside me was “like sleeping next to an epileptic having a fit” – that I thrashed around and made weird incoherent noises all night. The nightmares were so horrible I would take speed to stay awake and then take a handful of downers so I could go straight to unconsciousness and hopefully miss the dreaming state, which never worked. I fucked up my liver so bad it stopped functioning properly. I had out-of-body experiences at inconvenient times. I was batshit crazy and I knew it, but knowing it only made it worse.
At any rate, I eventually got sober and started looking into mythology. I stopped arguing that there was no value in the world’s religions and became open-minded. I went to the local Community Services Board and got some selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors and I actually took them – and take them – as prescribed. I didn’t get all better overnight – Christ, I spent over a decade digging myself into a hole, I’m amazed that I survived – but I did get better. And better and better.
I haven’t had a drink or drug in a long time, thank gods. I no longer keep a loaded shotgun under the bed to defend my stash in case the feds/aliens/Mormons show up and/or I ever get up the nerve to blow my head off. I do still get mildly depressed occasionally, but thanks to the Rx, I don’t become catatonic and because of my spiritual condition, I’m able to just keep on keeping on. I’m able to pay my bills, play with my daughter, perform with my band, go hiking, ride my skateboard in the parking lot of the Baptist church up the street late at night…I have a good life.
Depression and addiction cost me years. Medication, myth and a lot of great friends gave me my life. I encourage anyone who suspects that they may have an emotional imbalance and/or problem with drugs/alcohol to seek help. The religions of the world, read metaphorically, were and are incredibly helpful to me. They might help you, too. If you do not have such an imbalance, you might still benefit from the myths – that is, after all, what they’re there for.
And if you happen to be a teenager with a cheap guitar, shitty amp and a couple of friends, don’t stop rockin’.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.