I turned out the lights, pressed record on the Realistic CTR-71 portable cassette recorder sitting on the windowsill beside my bed, and as my head hit the pillow I began to speak. What was once a device only used for listening to homemade mix-tapes of my favorite punk rock bands, it now served as my own personal therapist, an electronic ear to fill with my deepest secrets and childhood anxieties. Whispering in the dark, I could share anything with my new mechanical confidant, knowing that if I wanted to…I could erase everything. But rather than hit the eject button after my quiet confessions, I would rewind back, hit play, and drift off to sleep listening to my voice say the things I never had the courage to say to an actual person.
Except, now I was saying them to myself.
From adolescent girl trouble to the painfully complicated relationship I navigated with my father, my thoughts were no longer just neurons firing in my brain, they became sound, bouncing between the Kiss posters on my bedroom walls, liberated from the confines of my blurry mind and offered to the universe in a sort of sonic emancipation. I could step outside of myself and look back with a different lens, perhaps seeing what others saw. This new perspective developed into a whole new outlook on life:
Never erase. Always record.
Night after night I would follow this hilariously narcissistic routine, digging deeper and deeper into the jagged quarry of my flimsy little heart, mining for treasure one cassette at a time. Eventually, I simply couldn’t afford the batteries for all of the problems I needed to purge (apparently, my professional lawn mowing salary just didn’t seem to cut it) so I searched for a more economical method to do my emotional housekeeping. I picked up a pen and paper.
Journals and diaries followed. Though I was born into writing (both of my parents were great writers) I certainly didn’t inherit the knack. In clumsy ramblings that read like the rantings of the town drunk, I began to spill my simple thoughts onto the page, praying that I would be the only person ever to read them. Terribly awkward attempts at introspection, like a personal self-help program, one page at a time. Volumes of juvenile musings ensued…
“I think that in the past year I have changed both mentally and physically. Mentally, I have changed quite a bit. When I was 13 or 14 (I’m 15 now) I used to think of everything as one big joke. Life was one big party. But now I approach life with a more serious approach. School is no longer a social activity. It’s a part time job that requires a lot of attention and a lot of work. Physically, I have changed a great deal. I was about 6 inches shorter 1 year ago and had a different haircut, different clothes, etc…and now that I think about it…I’ve changed quite a bit. And, so I think that in the future I will change even more. Which makes me wonder…what will I be like in the future?” September 1983
Soon every page was filled with nauseating poetry and detailed reporting of life in my little Springfield, Virginia neighborhood. I began to naively fancy myself a wordsmith, diving headfirst into my new hobby with total disregard for purple prose, pretension and inspired by the flood of unfamiliar teenage emotion.
Before long, the music took over, and I was thrown into a world of expression that required only instruments to convey my deepest secrets and adolescent anxieties. From my heart to my hands, every note I played was a new journal entry, and music became my avenue to say the things I used to try to say with mere words. Soon the old cassette player on my windowsill was replaced with drums and guitars, and my journals were left to gather dust on the shelf, frozen in time. A library of my youth, scribbled in spiral notebooks and yellow legal pads, neatly kept to hopefully revisit someday with a much more mature set of eyes.
When I started touring the world at the age of 18 with my band Scream, I decided I would pick up the pen once again. “Surely this won’t last forever,” I thought, so I wanted to capture my experiences in as much detail as my limited education would allow. As I discovered the world with my closest friends through the windshield of an old Dodge van roaring down the highway, I kept the journal by my side, waxing poetic and making primitive sketches every time I needed to immortalize a moment. Whether it was walking through the front door of CBGB’s for the first time, taking acid with the Butthole Surfers in a Texas nightclub, or standing before the Pacific Ocean as the sun went down, I wanted to capture every experience. I was penning my own coming-of-age novel for an audience of one. Though, J.D. Salinger, I was not….
“Woke up, got ready for the massive drive to Chicago. Got some smoke from John. Drove forever. Had massive diarrhea. Ate Kaopectate like candy.” — First Scream tour, October 9, 1987
With every mile came another page, and my gypsy life as a punk-rockumentarian was off to a roaring start. Town to town, I chronicled the triumphs and struggles that every young touring musician was faced with when living out of a van on $7 a day per diem. There were skinhead riots, near death experiences and even a visit to Graceland in sweatpants, but a story was unfolding, whether I realized it or not, foreshadowing what was to come.
“Washington state is flat and fucking hot as shit. I always pictured it as being green and mountainous with lotsa rain. Well, this part sure ain’t. I don’t remember much from the last time we went through it, but I know we didn’t come this way. I can see mountains off in the distance but we’re still in the yellow grass farming flats. It’s so fucking hot. So, we took a swim in the old, fresh water of the Columbia river. Perfect. Even the wind is hot out here. It’s almost as bad as the desert, but the desert don’t have no Colombia river running through it. My shorts are still wet, so this heat don’t affect me none. 116 miles from Seattle. The fields are getting greener and there are signs of life everywhere. All the clouds are gone it is still hot as a motherfucker. This drive has turned out to be a once in a lifetime. What I once dreaded has turned into what I once dreamed about.”
— Final Scream Tour, 1990
Before long, life changed course and picked up speed, and I no longer had to rely on my own journaling because now, the world was watching. There were other voices telling my story for me. In a most surreal turn of events, all I had to do was pick up a magazine or turn on a television to see my life documented for me, but unlike that old cassette player on my windowsill or my ancient, dog-eared journals, this new lens could only see so much. Gone were the mortifying truths that I confided in those piles of cassettes as a child, replaced by a dumbed down, sometimes glorified version of life behind the curtain. MY life behind the curtain. So, I decided to take it back.
I retreated to the recording studio in my basement and began to pour my story into songs. After all, songs are nothing but stories set to music, no? Though, I would leave the interpretation of these lyrical puzzles for others to decode, I was still sharing my secrets, now hiding safely behind a wall of distortion and noise. My insatiable desire to express myself continued to bloom over time, and I started banking my admissions in the same prolific way that I stored my old diaries on the shelf. Except now they were for all to hear.
“If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
Gotta promise not to stop when I say when”
Just as I had done with my old cassette player, I was liberating my feelings from the confines of my blurry mind and offering them to the universe in a sort of sonic emancipation. I could once again step outside of myself and look back with a different lens, perhaps seeing what others saw. Over the years, this has thankfully served as my personal therapist, another electronic ear to fill with my deepest secrets and anxieties. Though, almost 200 songs later, I feel like I still haven’t scratched the surface.
So, I’ve written a book.
Having entertained the idea for years, and even offered a few questionable opportunities (“It’s a piece of cake! Just do 4 hours of interviews, find someone else to write it, put your face on the cover, and voila!”) I have decided to write these stories just as I have always done, in my own hand. The joy that I have felt from chronicling these tales is not unlike listening back to a song that I’ve recorded and can’t wait to share with the world, or reading a primitive journal entry from a stained notebook, or even hearing my voice bounce between the Kiss posters on my wall as a child.
This certainly doesn’t mean that I’m quitting my day job, but it does give me a place to shed a little light on what it’s like to be a kid from Springfield, Virginia, walking through life while living out the crazy dreams I had as young musician. From hitting the road with Scream at 18 years old, to my time in Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, jamming with Iggy Pop or playing at the Academy Awards or dancing with AC/DC and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, drumming for Tom Petty or meeting Sir Paul McCartney at Royal Albert Hall, bedtime stories with Joan Jett or a chance meeting with Little Richard, to flying halfway around the world for one epic night with my daughters…the list goes on. I look forward to focusing the lens through which I see these memories a little sharper for you with much excitement.
Because I never erase. I always record.