PUNK: Lonesome American Memoirs

23: Night music

I had been keeping a stash of new import singles in the office of Universal. I hid them back behind my punk records. They were turned around to face the wall so that if anyone looked through my collection they wouldn’t catch them. We didn’t pour over each record. We flipped them by the bunch to kill time, or see what might be there.

I had been getting into stuff like ‘Vienna’ by Ultravox, ‘Seventeen Seconds’ by The Cure and ‘The High Road’ by Roxy Music. There was a band I especially loved called Japan. They’d been a kind of a glam rock band, like Hanoi Rocks. But then they came out with an album called ‘Quiet Life’ which was amazing.

I listened to these records when I was alone. They were my special records. It had been a long time since I liked a punk band, or a new punk record. The records that were coming out were like The Meatmen, TSOL, Channel Three, and garbage that all sounded the same. People seemed to like it, but I just didn’t feel it like I had before.

I wasn’t angry, I was sad. And John Fox, Midge Ure, Robert Smith, Colin Newman, David Sylvian and Bryan Ferry sang to me. Just to me. I was glad to have something to listen to. I was ashamed of myself, but I would curl up into a ball and listen all night. It was night music.

I don’t remember anything about being dead. I wish I did. I had thought about death so much, for so long, that not remembering anything at all about it was pretty disappointing. I’d been hoping to hover over the people in the room, or follow some white light. Instead I woke up in the hospital with a plastic tube in my throat, and I was strapped down to the bed.

I went to see my mother and showed her the bruises on my arms.

“What are these?” I asked her.

“I don’t know. How did you get them?”

“Shooting up.”

“I see.” She didn’t respond like I thought she would. “Have you shown them to your step-father?”


He knows what they are. I break into tears. My mother starts to buckle and fall apart beside me.

My stepfather says, “Don’t listen to him. He’s a junkie, this is his craft.”

He was right.

What was I doing there? Was I looking for another rest? Another safe place to crash? Did I want any help? Was there any help out there?

That was the one and only time I ever asked for help. It was the only time I felt I needed it. I had come from the arms of Cheryl, who I thought I loved so much for so long. And when I was finally in her arms she didn’t care at all for me. Paul’s mother smiled at me when I said goodbye to her. I’d cleaned up her entire flat, and all the rooms were rented out to paying guests.

“It’s been good. I don’t feel like you own me anything.”


“Good luck.”

The hospital was very strange. It was full of adults. I was the only person there within ten years of my age. When you’re sixteen a year makes a big difference in people. So a ward full of people in their late twenties and early thirties felt like I was in an old folks home.

I tried the usual tricks. Lying, stealing, pretending to be too sick to get up and go to the classes, and even pretending to be English. No one was impressed. It got me nowhere.

A construction worker who was being released gave me three adult magazines. He asked me to “carry on the tradition.” I had no idea what he was talking about. I tossed them in the garbage can.

There was a woman who had tried to kill herself, but had slept on her arm for almost twenty-four hours, and now her arm was withered. The nerve was dead, and she couldn’t use it anymore. She was funny. I liked her. She reminded me of a girl I knew when I was six years old. They had the same hair. All she talked about was killing herself. She wanted to die, and was very sad that it hadn’t worked out.

“Why do you want to die?”

“I don’t know.”

“That’s pretty stupid.”


I was not allowed to talk to her anymore after that.

Counselors asked me questions. I told them lies. Doctors swabbed my eyelids, and the tip of my penis. They stood there and watched while I swallowed my pills, and then the nurse would check my mouth.

I overflowed the coffee machine one afternoon during group. I hadn’t meant to. It was broken, and you needed to flip the switch a couple times to get it to brew a full pot of coffee. I was just doing what everyone else did. Just flip it whenever you see it.

“You throw tantrums.”

“No I don’t”

“You’re like a little child.”

“No I’m not.”

“You don’t listen to anything anyone has to say to you.”

“Yes I do.”

“What did I just say? Can you tell me?”

“Fuck you!”

“You don’t know do you?”

“Yes I do.”

“No you don’t.”

“Fuck you.”

A woman from the telephone company came and talked to us about her experiences with alcohol and drugs. She’d talked about how much she used to drink. It didn’t sound like a lot to me. She said she’d felt out of control, and when she wanted to stop drinking and taking pills that it was difficult. She said that everything was much better now that she was sober. She also said that when she got tense at work now, she would sneak into the bathroom and masturbate instead of drinking or taking pills. I really liked that. It completely changed my opinion of the operator for years. Calling information was always a little bit sexy after that.

When it was time for me to leave there was a family session that didn’t go very well. I’d been given a choice between moving to Minnesota, joining a long-term facility as a means of being allowed to come home, or I could go back to the street where I’d come from with a bus pass and five dollars. I chose the street.

Afterward there was one last group. Everyone sat around me in a circle and shook their heads.

“You are not going to make it.”

“Why not?”

“Because you haven’t listened to a single word we’ve said while you were here.”

“Yes I have.”

“You’re not going to make it.”

“Fuck you, I am too.”

They explained to me that only two percent of all people under twenty one who try to kick and live a drug free life make it a year on the streets. They went on and said that only one percent of those who make it a year continue on to live entirely drug free lives. They assured me that I was most certainly not among that group of people.

All I could think was “I’ll show you.” I took my bus pass, handed in my final urine sample, said goodbye to the red headed nurse that had been so nice to me, and left.

I tried living in the office, and working at the record store. I tried spiking my hair back up and regaining my composure. But it wasn’t working. I was heavy now, and hungry. All the people I had known were gone. Some were dead, but most of them were just sparing me the trouble of having to avoid them.

I moved into a friend’s house. I shared a room with her. One night after a long shower I was getting something to eat in the kitchen when my friend’s mother struck up a conversation with me. She was a pretty lady. She had kind eyes, and soft hands. While we talked I crossed my legs so that I could give her a good view of my genitals. She looked at them, up at me, back at them, and then said, “I’m going to bed.” The next morning she asked me to please move out that day.

“Why?” I asked.

“It would be better for everyone.”

“Please can I stay?”


I went back to the record store and listened to music alone for a few days. On the morning of my next shift I got up early, walked to the Med for breakfast. I got a roll and an espresso. I didn’t eat the roll, but I drank the coffee and smoked a cigarette. Then I walked to the used clothing store and bought a suit jacket from the early sixties, a red button down shirt, and word them out of the store. Up the street I bought a pair of black converse high tops, and left my jack boots with the salesperson. Finally, I got a haircut. I went to the barbershop and asked him to “just cut it off.”

“With pleasure” He chuckled.

People came to look at me. They’d heard I wasn’t punk anymore and they wanted to come and see for themselves. No one could believe it.

“What happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“What happened?”

“I’m not a punk anymore.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not angry anymore. I was full of shit. I wanted to be honest.”

“You look like a fag now.”

“Sell out!”

“What happened?”

Joe wanted to kick my ass. Noah would yell at me whenever he saw me. Girls completely avoided me, but I didn’t care. Not in an angry way, I really didn’t care. I was happy. I was happy all the time.

I was so happy my face hurt from smiling. You know how you can really munch your cheek muscles trying to blow up a tiny little balloon, or one of those wiener balloons if you don’t stretch them out first? It was hurt like that. But When I figured out that it was from smiling, it made me smile some more.

I was free to admit that all I ever really wanted was to be ok. Just ok. Free to feel comfortable in my own skin wherever I went. Free to stop the voices in my head, to be able to sit somewhere without looking over my shoulder all the time. And I was more than ok. I was wonderful. I was beautiful. I was chubby, hairy, scared fucking shitless, and I felt fantastic.

I was free. I was free. I was finally fucking free.

The Clash ‘Straight to Hell’


Table of contents
Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19, Chapter 20, Chapter 21, Chapter 22, Chapter 23, Chapter 24
Musicology, Errata