Mt. Waterman, Mt. Baldy, the Angeles National Forest... I've spent a lot of time in the woods lately. Working down in the city, working at home, working in the desert, working in the bar... is working my head over. It is a wild, bewildering time. Just 34 miles from my front door,
things get less complicated, things get more matter of fact. Here, all is just physics, gravity, and a comforting stillness. Long horizons, dawn's radiant glow and dusk's dim haze. Foul sweat, billows of steam and diesel fumes. The snow, the trees, the sun and the birds... it all helps.
A few nights ago, February 6th, the Toronto band Fucked Up played at the Echoplex with Trash Talk & Mika Miko. It was a great show. A wondeful show. A life affirming and beautiful show. Though my heart is heavy with the news of Sharon's suicide, it would be foolish and unworthy to ignore how fine a time it was. I am so very grateful I went to this two nights prior to learning of her death. To the uninitiated it may seem clouded to say this, but it really is stuff like this that makes the hard times more manageable. That it takes up space in my mind, running tandem but in counter current to so many other grim thoughts right now, is no small blessing.
Pleasant art openings don't do it. Everyone chatting away noisily, awkwardly, has a way of making the severity of one's own dark times... that much darker. TV sitcoms don't do it. There is no solace in reruns of Friends. Fine dining doesn't do it. Purchasing power doesn't do it. Guzzling wine and huffing grizzlers most certainly doesn't do it. Not even sex and sleeping in does it.
When the heart and head are asunder, where do you go? What do you do to
find comfort and relief? I go to the music, the mountains, the skateboard, the books and words. In these things I find purpose, even if and especially when it is only so clearly a simple attempt to find reasons to keep going, to keep being and doing, to keep chronicling, seeing and participating. In these actions and sounds, places and people— I find my own kind of calm, my own semblance of peace. I lay down my weapons and go to where I am found.
Thanks Fucked Up, your band makes the brutality of life much more joyful.
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it. Let me not look for allies in life's battlefield but to my own strength. Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom. Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeing your mercy in my success alone; but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.
Rabindranath Tagore, Fruit-Gathering
Tonight I arrived home to learn that my longtime friend, mentor and ally Sharon Harrison has killed herself. I cannot say "passed away." She killed herself. Though the facts are still scattered, it appears doing so was a meticulous 8-months in the making. She prepared everything down to the last detail; changed her will, changed her life insurance policy, transferred funds to a family member's account to cover services, and sent out more than 40 ecards to her many friends and loved ones explaining her reasons. Ecards. Fuck, ecards. Sharon Harrison loved black humor. Her favorite holiday was Halloween, Day of the Dead.
Upon receiving the news and hearing the details of her planning laid out, I just—I just laughed like hell. A real raucous, full-bodied laugh, deep from my chest. I howled with laughter, my eyes alight and welling with tears. And I kept on laughing... through the entire hour-long conversation with our shared friend Leah Jones. Leah, however, was not laughing. She sobbed inconsolably, bewildered beyond comprehension.
I laughed because Sharon, too, was a writer. She was a planner, a traveler and a doer of many, many things. She was a former professional surfer, an excellent cook and a joyous eater, an amazing auntie, a wonderful listener and an even better storyteller, an exceptional editor, a great English professor, a confidante to all and an enemy to no one. She was a sharer, a peace maker and naturally inclined to tolerate the absurd, the juvenile and the terrified (as Darren—being all three—can well attest).
On this last point I laughed because I was well aware of her depression versus her brave face, her public life versus her many years of private sorrows. I laughed, more than anything, because I understood innately why she did it and the way she went about it. I laughed because Sharon knew me well, including my family history and my own lifelong bouts with psychic ills and suicidal dark places. I laughed because, sadly, I get it. The collapse too much, the betrayal too dragged out, the years lost...too many. Faced with it, she determined the future offered too little. I don't like it, and I certainly don't want to agree with it, but I do get it.
Though 14 years my senior, we were of a similar kind. Both raised in strange circumstances, both spent time in Hawaii growing up, both drawn to the world of punk rock & action-sports for the endorphin-highs & quasi-community it offered (decades prior to its gutted commoditization), both in love with written words and fascinated by how to fashion all these conflicting thoughts and emotions into some sort of coherent personal narrative.
Over our 17-year friendship, we spoke many times of how our brand of optimism was a hard won thing, of how we had to—every day—tell ourselves the world was an important, interesting place filled with joys, people and wonderful possibilities. Learning new things and meeting new people made the impossible task of living more liveable, and perhaps more than that it made life lovable.
Simply put, she cheered people up. It was a part of how she maintained the strength to keep giving all this a go. Her friendship and caring were actionable, tangible; a living, breathing, bountiful thing. She found jobs for capable and incapable people alike, she suffered idiots, she made savants see their worth, and she
taught kids how to read, write and maybe actually care about words and
authors. She forgave immaturity and selfishness in a way I always marveled at (but that I, shamefully so, have been entirely unable to mimic myself). Her heart was a wide landscape, and within it she carried and cared for a multitude of characters—some far less deserving than others. But she made room for everyone.
She called me "peanut," though for many years I had no idea why. Once, I asked her why she did this, she replied, "Because you're like a peanut, like a little guy full of anger and smarts, buried in the dirt. You don't quite know what to do with it all, but you'll figure it out, and one day you'll grow up to be a mighty koa tree. But for now you are my peanut."
I don't know that I believed her then (or even now—for peanuts do not grow up to be mighty koa trees), but the thought of it never ceased to amaze. With ease and good humor, she made me feel more okay with who I am and what I am, where I came from, and where I'm headed. Her talks always left me feeling more capable than before. She had faith in me, for no better reason than she liked me.
Sharon once told me she thought I should have a sister again—a surrogate to take the place of the one who'd raised me but that was now so long deceased, and to replace the other one who'd disappeared. Sharon did not need to be this person, but she'd decided I would benefit of it. And she was right.
Despite all that was so brutal and alienating in my nature, she saw something good. Indeed, several years before I ever did. Even when we'd go months without talking, just the thought of her would set my mind right, often inspiring me to call merely to thank her for being a presence in my life.
We met when I was about 19, she was my copy editor at one of the first magazines I ever worked for. She guided me through so many half-assed travel stories, I can't even recall, and in doing so she almost single-handedly taught me how to write, edit and turn in material on deadline. Her guidance in a lot of ways made it possible for me to even make a living, to pay the light bill, and to dream of bigger, more complicated tasks.
She saw me through financial woes, broken hearts and family problems. She taught me to negotiate fair pay for my writing, to invoice companies and build a body of work. With subtlety, she helped fight my battles; with others, as well as those within myself. During the years when I lived in bed, under the covers in a cold Seattle attic she often called simply to check in. From 1,221 miles away, she had an almost preternatural ability to sense when I was not doing well. She sent care packages, post cards, letters, notepads, weird Japanese stickers and holiday newsletters detailing her every thought and action.
Years later, when my band would tour through San Diego, she was always there to put us up, show us around town and feed us. She got me writing gigs with magazines, recommended me for copy editing jobs with brand clients, and she wrote reviews of our albums and profile pieces on my life and music for expn and other media outlets. Even her voicemail messages were profoundly uplifting verbal novellas full of anecdotal tales, necessary wisdom and love.
In every imaginable way she was a sister to me. She gave love. My God, she gave love. Thinking about it now, my eyes go
wide and I sigh a long, deep sigh, holding the air for a moment right
around my sternum before letting it escape. And when I let it go, I do
so as an acknowledgment that she is gone. The world does not make many
I do not laugh as I type this, instead my teeth chatter as I imagine her absence. My eyes spill over and I wash my face with the tears, both hands. I cry and I grind my teeth. I hold my breath and bite my tongue to keep from screaming out. I want to pull down the moon and crush all the stars. I want to tear it all down. I want to abandon hope. Instead I will ask my heart to conquer the pain and go on. This is all I can do, this is all I have ever done.
Sharon, thank you for all you've taught me. Even this.
Spanky and Co. got themselves a band together—The Goat. 80s-inspired skaterock in the vein of Los Olvidados, Drunk Injuns, Black Athletes, Big Boys, JFA... Good move, my friend. As far as I know, no one was asking for a skaterock revival, but Spanks, Andrew and Atiba are exactly the guys to give us a legit one. And it is legit, 100% skaterock. The kind of stuff that makes skaters and square-cools alike wanna drink gasoline and dance like howling chimps. Every song an exercise in intense energy—cocky frontman with obnoxious lyrics, bangin' drummer, keyboards wilding out, guitar players never looking at the audience. The whole thing a ferocious, fun, inside joke and a huge 'fuck you' to anyone who doesn't get it. Much like skateboarding itself.
Last Friday, Tam and I hauled ass back from Vegas in time to see them at Space 1520 in Hollywood. The cost? 97 in a 70mph zone. Brutal. It was The Goat's second show, wonderfully weird and god awfully loud. Also, Abe Vigoda played their last show with Reggie on drums, he's bailing to go to school. Bummer times now/good times ahead. It'll work itself out, Juan will see to it.
Most all the usual faces: Jimmy Jolliff, Nick Dewitt (
back from Seattle), Jesse Spears (a living/breathing miracle), Aska, Lil' Nate, Tony Hundreds, Ako, D. Monick, Caitlyn, David Scheid...even Jeff Electric and Amy Finnerty. Apart from a few conspicuous absences (abscesses?), damn near the whole extended swim team.
Happy to report Totally Tammy loved every second of The Goat's set. She really did. Smiling and clapping short, sweet little claps to herself during the songs. Not even waiting until the songs were over to clap. Amazed. The woman is baffling. With no knowledge of punk rock or underground culture really at all, she absolutely loves anything that makes a racket. Bashing + Noise, this is what she likes in a live setting. Put something pleasant on a stage in front of her and she's got no time, no love for it. She'll just frown and walk away. Makes no sense, but thank God for it, and for her.
On an entirely different note, it is now raining here in Los Angeles. We're having one of those near-biblical storms where it just comes down, down, down for three days straight and everyone drives like the wrath of God is upon them. Which, of course, it is not. The river rises, the paved river, that is—stupidly whooshing every oily drop out to the Pacific as quickly as possible. The palms and magnolias sway in the wind, breaking their shallow roots...toppling over in the water-logged soil. Everywhere you look, a casual disaster. In about an hour I'll be at the Echoplex watching Toronto's Fucked Up masterfully fuck up their audience with songs from Year of The Pig and The Chemistry of Common Life. Appropriate. The week's been a bear.
The SIA trade show made its final stand in Las Vegas last week before moving to Denver, CO next year. From one harsh zone to another. Oh well.
On the upside, Tam had never been to LVNV nor had she ever been around so many shred industry d-bags. A good, bewildering experience on both accounts.
Vegas—despite all the cranes and endless construction—is ever a landscape of approximations and fantasies... They can build whatever they want but it'll always be the same old cultural yard sale, conceived by cynics and bankrolled on bad credit. The whole fandango rooted in cornball nostalgia for times and places most of us never actually experienced or cared all that much about— that is until Vegas' approximators made it so.
One day they'll build a working model of the entire planet. The Globe Hotel & Casino. Weather micro-controlled by increments of longitude and latitude. Hologram decks featuring virtual rivers, freeways, blood banks, canneries, salons, farm lands, smog, train stations, killing fields, skyscrapers, soccer stadiums, high courts and broom closets...blah blah blah... Never mind sunning pool side, one day you'll canoe the Indian Ocean in microcosm. Such a clusterfuck. Such a wonderful, awful clusterfuck. Vegas delivers the sub par on the superhuman scale. The real world is simply not tenable or convenient enough. Some elements are more fun than others, sure, but it'll always just be Vegas. At its core, the experience is merely expensive and empty. I don't love it, but I don't exactly despise it either.
The reasonable action is to sleep late in a big, overstuffed hotel bed and stuff one's face on "French Cuisine" at every opportunity. The seafood tower at Bouchon, let's say. Aside from that, the only things worth a damn are the company you keep, the friends you bump into, and the strip clubs. Vegas is the safest, most pointless place on earth. Still, even with all that said, it beats the hell out of Denver. Nothing, except maybe a layover at the airport, could get me to spend more than an hour in Denver.